Child Support – What is Included and What is Not?

Where does California child support law come from?

2 parents holding a ripped apart "dollar sign"
Child Support in California - what is included and what is not?

Starting in the 1980s, there was a national level effort to standardize and deal with enforcement of child support obligations. The Feds required each and every state, with a uniform, statewide formula, for imputing child support, rather than leave it to the vagaries of what an individual judge felt was right. California took quite a while to get their act together in response to this federal mandate, but finally came up with a relatively complicated formula that can be found at

Most attorneys that practice family law have third party software package that calculates child support with the most popular program being called DissoMaster, which is used by most courts. The child support guideline formula applies one corner of California to the other corner, regardless of the difference in economy and cost-of-living of San Diego County versus Imperial County.

In California, a parent is obligated to support their children through age 18, if they have graduated from high school, or through high school graduation, assuming the child is attending high school full-time, but not past reaching the age of 19 in any event. There is a law that supports a continuing child support obligation for disabled adult children.


What is included in "guideline" California child support?

"Guideline" California child support is supposed to in include a contribution towards the food, shelter and clothing of the child from one parent to the other. The formula compares the before tax income, less allowable inductions of each parent, and then factors in at what extent the children are being shared by the parents. The formula allocates a certain amount of financial contribution by both parents towards the support of their children as a first priority expense, after taxes, health insurance premiums and other allowable deductions and then allocates that amount between the parents, depending upon their relative incomes and timeshare with the children.


What are California child support add-ons?

Girl at the dentist with her mother
Healthcare expenses included in child support

Additional "mandatory" child support includes work or school related childcare expenses and out of pocket, after insurance coverage, healthcare expenses incurred for the benefit of the minor children. Childcare expenses can be divided between the parents or paid by one parent and reimbursed by the other, and are generally shared equally. There are complex rules regarding out-of-pocket healthcare expenses that require these expenses to be billed to the other parent within 30 days, but these are also generally shared equally. "Healthcare expenses" generally include psychological, medical, dental, vision care and pharmacy expenses.

What is not included in California child support?

Of course, there are multitude of different expenses that can be incurred for the benefit of children such as tutoring, private school, activity expenses, school trips, back-to-school clothing purchases, toys and organized sports expenses. Under certain circumstances, the court can order sharing of tutoring and school related expenses.

However, as a general rule, all of the other expenses are left to the parents to agree, unless there is a stipulated order that requires a sharing of these other kinds of expenses.


How is child support paid and enforced?

For the most part, child is voluntarily paid by parents that cooperate on a monthly, biweekly, or even weekly. These days, it is often most convenient to pay child support by electronic transfer that can be automated. Child support can also be paid by an automatic deduction form the payer's wages by an Income Withholding Order. An Income Withholding order pays the child support directly from the payer's wages electronically to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU), which then electronically distributes the money to the payee's account or a debit type card. The payee must set up an account with the SDU for this to happen.

If child support is not properly paid, each individual monthly amount will bear 10% simple interest, until it is paid. Child support owing cannot be bankrupted. There is also a law providing for an additional penalty on each amount of child support owing if it has been properly noticed. The Department of Child Support Services (DCSS), which is a cabinet level, state agency can be engaged, upon application, to enforce a child support obligation for free. DCSS has their own court to handle these matters and will automatically seek an Income Withholding Order and record a lien, so that if a person wants to get a loan, they will have to satisfy any arrears.


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