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Child Support

Steps to Collect Back Child Support Payments in San Diego

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If you are a custodial parent, you are eligible to receive child support payments from the non-custodial parent. These payments are designed to help provide financial support to the custodial parent to assist in providing care and support for the children.

Child support can be sought for all children under 18 years old, or those still attending high school. Unfortunately, an oral agreement between both parents is not enough to ensure child support payment, and is also not enforceable by the courts in California.

It is highly recommended that you obtain a Child Support Order from the San Diego courts.
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Do I Need a Lawyer For My Child Support Case?


Under California Family Code section 3900, both parents have a duty to support their minor children until at least the age of 18. There are times the requirement is extended, such as when a child is disabled. A support obligation may also continue until the age of 19 if the child is still in high school and/or unmarried. The code dictates that minor children must be supported “in the manner suitable to the child’s circumstances.”

How to Get a Child Support Order

Whether you are the parent seeking support or the one being asked to pay it, if you’re about to start on a child support case you have several options for handling it. You can contact a local child support agency, hire a family law attorney, or use the services of a family court law facilitator. 

California Code Section 4053 sets out a mandatory formula the court must take into account regarding child support.

  • Both parents have a mutual obligation to support their child.
  • The obligation is based on each parent’s income, time with the child, and ability to pay.
  • Child support may also improve a custodial parent’s standard of living if it improves the child’s standard. This also reduces the disparity between each parent’s standard.
  • There is a presumption that the parent who has the majority parenting time already contributes significant resources to the child’s care.

California’s child support guidelines are meant to reduce conflict between parents and decrease the need for litigation. Above all, they are designed to protect a child’s best interests.

Whichever method you choose for obtaining an order, you will need to supply the court with certain information and documents.

How to Start the Process

Child support cases often, but not always, start during divorce proceedings. Paternity actions are also common. No matter who handles the process, it all begins with a “request for order.” An accurate income and expense declaration must also be included. 

While child support agreements must meet certain legal guidelines (and must gain the approval of child support services, if involved), the court will generally allow parents to create their own agreement if it’s in the interest of the child. 

Keep in mind that if you use Child Support Services to help you obtain a support order, it may prolong the process to obtain the final signed order.

Do You Need a Family Law Attorney?

It is certainly possible to handle a request for child support without the services of an attorney. But California family law can be complicated. An experienced family lawyer can help ensure:

  • Your child or children get the financial support they need.
  • Your financial standing is correctly represented in court.
  • You’re adequately represented for a modification or if you get behind in making court ordered payments.

One of the greatest benefits to working with a family law attorney is she or he is knowledgeable about the most recent changes to the California Family Code. For example, in 2019 there were important changes made relating to parental duty and a child’s right to be supported in light of a parent’s earning capacity. 

The California courts consider many variables when calculating a child support order. Even if both parents agree in advance on the amount of child support, the court will apply conditions like the needs of the children being adequately met. 

A child support agreement can have far-reaching implications for your child and should not be taken lightly. Many family law attorneys offer a courtesy consultation and the time invested in one can be very well worth helping you decide how to proceed.

Can California Child Support be Changed Without Going to Court?

Types of Restraining Orders in a Divorce

In California, a change in child support must be approved by the court but it is possible to modify your child support order without stepping foot inside a court room. Parents may come to an agreement outside the courtroom, but they will still need to file a stipulation or request a change to the original order by filing a motion for modification with the court.

Child Support in California

Parents in California have a legal obligation to financially support their children, typically through the age of maturity (age 18). Sometimes a situation arises where the parent ordered to pay support cannot or does not want to continue paying. Some parents simply stop making the payments altogether. 

California law does not look kindly on parents who fail to make their child support payments or who take it upon themselves to make a change in those payments without approval of the court or the person receiving support. If a change is required in child support due to a life event or situation, the law requires the paying parent follow proper legal procedures. If you do not have your order changed properly, this could mean financial ramifications for you down the road including losing your drivers license or passport.

Reasons for a Child Support Modification

California courts recognize there are many reasons why a child support order might need to be changed. The basis for modification is often referred to as a “change in circumstances.”

  • One or both parents has had a change in income.
  • A parent has lost their job.
  • One parent has been incarcerated.
  • There is now another child from another relationship.
  • How much time the child spends with each parent has changed significantly.
  • Costs for the child’s current healthcare, education, and/or childcare have increased.

The court will also consider a modification when any of the factors used to calculate child support have changed.

It’s crucial that anyone who anticipates or has a change in circumstances let the original family court know immediately that they need the child support order modified. If you’re the parent unable to make payments, ignoring the situation can have serious, negative legal consequences.

How to Get a Child Support Order Modified

You have several options for starting the modification process: contact a local child support agency, hire a family law attorney, or use the services of a family court law facilitator. No matter who you choose to ask for assistance, you’ll need the following information when requesting a modification

  • Current income and expenses.
  • Proof of childcare expenses.
  • Medical insurance.
  • Unemployment benefits.
  • Retirement income.
  • Disability information such as SSI, SDI, and SSA.
  • Jail or prison status, if applicable.
  • Current and proposed custody and visitation arrangements.

California courts generally believe a modification is in order when the change is either 20% or $50, whichever is less. Keep in mind that if the request is approved, the court will not apply the change to outstanding back payments. The new amount applies only to future support payments unless you agree otherwise.

If you and the other parent can amicably agree on the changed amount, you can sign an agreement or stipulation and submit it to the court for approval. If you cannot come to an agreement, the court will set a hearing date at which time the judge will review the request and, if she or he agrees with the changes, issue a new order.

Child support is ordered to ensure that children are taken care of after their parents no longer live together. There are many valid reasons for seeking a change in child support including the loss of a job, serious injury, or a change household income. It can be a complicated process, especially when the parents do not agree. A great way to start, even if you have reached an agreement, is to speak with an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process.

How Can I Impute Income To The Other Parent?


Under California law, both parents are equally responsible for the financial support of their children. When computing how much child support is owed or received, the court considers each parent’s income to be a key factor. Some parents choose to deliberately reduce their income to avoid the responsibility of paying support, or to increase the amount of support the other parent is ordered to pay.

Unfortunately, the children become the victims of this behavior. The court is invested in doing what is in the best interests of a child, so often it will attribute – or impute – income to one or both parents before ordering support.

Imputed Income Defined

If the court imputes income to one or both parents it is, in effect, saying that is the amount the parent could be earning. The court then bases its award of child support on that income, not what the parent claims to be earning. Judges do this to make sure children are receiving an amount that ensures their needs are met – and to prevent a parent avoiding child support altogether. For example, if a parent up until the divorce has been earning $75,000 per year and then suddenly claims they’re earning minimum wage, the court will ask for information to determine if the decrease was due to a parent trying to minimize his or her child support obligation.

When Courts Impute Income

If the court finds that the parent ordered to pay child support voluntarily quit work or deliberately lowered their income, the court may decide to ignore that change and use the most recent amount ($75,000 in our example) they were earning. The order for child support would then be based on that figure. California family courts look at three main factors when determining if income imputation is called for:

  • The ability of the unemployed or underemployed parent to earn income.
  • The opportunity for the unemployed or underemployed parent to earn income.
  • The willingness of the unemployed or underemployed parent to earn income.

If the court finds the parent has a legitimate case of job loss or pay reduction, it will not necessarily or immediately impute income to him or her.

How Do Courts Arrive at an Imputed Income Amount?

Courts look to a parent’s “earning capacity” when deciding how much income to impute:

  • Willingness to work is decided by looking at whether the parent is looking for a job, sending out his or her resume, or going for job interviews.
  • Opportunity to work looks at what, if any, appropriate jobs are available in the area.
  • Ability is usually determined by looking at a parent’s educational level, works skills, and employment history.

As evidence of a parent’s ability and opportunity to work, the court will look at various evidence.For example, it may use a vocational expert’s report or testimony and/or the most recent salary the parent was earning. If the court cannot arrive at an amount using these methods, it may impute minimum wage.

If you’re divorcing and believe your spouse should be imputed income for the purposes of child support, you may want to consult with an experienced and qualified California family law attorney to help you better understand your options.

Tips to Calculating Child Support

Calculating Child Support in California 

Every parent has an obligation to care for their child, even if their marriage falls apart. California law imposes guidelines on the local courts that help judges determine the appropriate amount of child support to award a family. Calculating child support in California is based on a calculation that takes both the parties income and how much time they spend with the child into consideration.

It’s important to note, California law requires all sources of income to be included with calculating child support.  This is outlined in Family Code Section 4058, it includes but is not limited to the following: commissions, salaries, royalties, wages, bonuses, rents, dividends, pensions, interest,  and trust income.

The process of gathering and assessing all of the information that is needed in order to provide an accurate decision is time consuming and frustrating.  However, it is important to ensure the continued stability of the child following a separation. Each parent should feel confident about the amount that has been ordered by the court to benefit their child.

1.  Make sure you are well organized!

One of the first steps in dealing with child support effectively and efficiently is to ensure that you are well organized. In the state of California, child support amounts will be calculated using a number of factors that are entered into a child support calculator.

Like any other form of data, the calculator will only be able to provide your judge with an accurate number if you provide accurate information. This means that you will need to ensure you have access to all necessary documents that contain information on your taxes, deductions and monthly income, including:

  • Wage stubs
  • Tax returns
  • Childcare expenses
  • Unemployment or disability benefits
  • Premiums for health insurance
  • Spousal support that is being paid into other relationships
  • Necessary expenses related to your job that are not reimbursed by an employer
  • Retirement contributions that are mandatory
  • Uninsured losses
  • Health care expenses
  • Child support paid for children within other relationships

You have to be able to prove, with documentation, the expenses and income that you list on your income and expense declaration.  Gathering up your information ahead of time will save time and money.  The court requires your last two month of paystubs if you are a W2 employee and you should be able to produce your last years taxes if asked.  If you are self employed, you will have to produce a profit and loss statement for the last 2 years.

2.  Has there been a change in your situation?

There are some instances in which an order for child support can be altered or changed if there is a change in circumstances for the individuals involved. A change in circumstances can be recognized in a variety of different forms, but some of the most common options include:

  • The incarceration of a parent
  • The loss of a job
  • One parent having a child in another relationship
  • A change in income
  • A significant change to the child’s needs which may increase the costs of healthcare, childcare, or education
  • Change in the amount of time a child spends with each of his or her parents

It is important to have your request pending immediately as it does take time to get into court.  Sometimes it can take months before you will be able to have your case heard.  Filing right away will reserve the retroactivity date.

3. Work with a professional attorney in your area!

Although it is possible to access free child-support calculators online, it is easy to call their accuracy into doubt. Calculating child support on your own can be done however you will usually find this will only lead to confusion and frustration. There is no way to ensure that you are taking all the deductions that you can or using the right figures.  Usually, working with an experienced and professional family lawyer will ensure that you have all the information you need regarding child support payments.

You may still get along with your former spouse but this is a legal matter now and you want to have someone who knows this arena on your side.

Minella Law Group can Help with California Child Support Issues

If you think you need assistance with calculating your child support, or you feel your support order is too high, we can help. We can take a look at the order and determine if there is a way to reduce or increase support based on the needs of the child and income of the parties. For more information or to schedule an appointment, click the button below, or call us at (619) 289-7948. We look forward to helping you.

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