California family lawyer Hal Bartholomew answers: Child support refers to the legal obligation to support a child financially or an amount owed to a county for reimbursement of public assistance paid to support that child. The father and mother of a minor child have an equal responsibility to support the child.
Is there a child support guideline?
The California legislature enacted a statewide uniform child support guideline that adheres to the standard that a parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life. Therefore, child support obligations are not dischargeable in bankruptcy nor can a parent waive their child’s right to receive child support.
The support is determined by a software program, such as DissoMaster, that computes the guideline amount of child support from a variety of factors. For example, the software program will take into account the pre-tax incomes of both parents and the amount of time the child spends with each parent when setting the required amount of child support.
Who has the right to child support?
It is important to understand what children qualify as minor children and therefore have a right to support. Minor children include:
- Unborn children
- A duty of support can be assessed against a father while the mother is still pregnant.
- Children conceived by artificial insemination
- If the mother was inseminated by another man with her husband’s consent, then the child is treated as her husband’s natural child and the donor is not obligated to pay support.
- Adopted children & step-children
- Parents that adopt children and/or step-children during the marriage are obligated to support their adopted children, even if they get a divorce just a few months after the adoption becomes final.
When does the obligation to pay child support terminate?
The duty to support the child terminates when the child is 18 years of age and out of high school. If the child is in high school, then support continues until the child graduates or turns 19, whichever is first.
Is a parent obligated to support the child during college?
A parent will only be expected to pay for college expenses if there is an agreement to do so that has been filed with the court and it is not an undue burden on the parent to do so. A judge may modify such an agreement if it is found to be too burdensome.
What if I’m not married and the paternity of my child is contested?
Paternity must be established regardless of the marital status of the parties. If the parties are not married, they will need to file a Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) with the court or contact the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). By filing the UPA with the court, the parties by-pass any delay they could experience with DCSS. However, some parties are not comfortable dealing directly with the court and therefore choose to go through DCSS. An attorney is helpful in this situation because they can easily handle the required paperwork and procedure involved in filing a UPA action. With DCSS, the parties will go through the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) in order to establish paternity. Here, the parties will be asked whether paternity is contested and, if so, DCSS will perform a DNA test.
What if I’m married, but my spouse contests the paternity of our child?
If the parties are married, then the procedure to determine paternity is different. The parties will file a dissolution or legal separation action. Once the petition is filed and served on the other party, the party contesting the paternity needs to file an order to show cause or a notice of motion to request a court order for DNA testing. Under the California Family Code, it is assumed that the child is the husband’s biological child if the child was born during the marriage. If the DNA test proves that the husband is not the father, then the husband has two years from discovery of this information to renounce paternity. It is important that the husband brings a hearing to do this before the two year statute of limitations runs because otherwise he could be responsible for support for an indefinite period of time.