Going through a divorce, even if you want it, is difficult because of the major changes to your living arrangements and lifestyle. Add children to the equation and it becomes more difficult as you have to make decisions about child support, visitation and custody in California – it may also be hard to explain this to the children, especially if they are younger.
If the divorce is contentious, it could be more difficult as you and your spouse have to be civil to each other in front of the children. You also have to foster a loving relationship between the children and your spouse, which may be difficult, especially when your spouse insists on negatively presenting your issues to the children.
Child Support, Visitation and Custody in California
One of the biggest reasons for arguments when it comes to children is because one parent feels slighted that he or she has to pay the other parent to take care of the children. In reality, it just looks that way on paper. California uses child support guidelines, which is a set of rules determining how much each parent should contribute to the upbringing of their child.
Generally, the spouse who makes more money contributes more money, which means that spouse pays the support to the other spouse.
Child Support Guidelines
The guidelines are based on several factors, including:
- The amount of money each parent makes or is able to make;
- The number of children born to you and your spouse;
- The amount of time the children live with each spouse (time-sharing);
- The tax status of each parent;
- The amount of support for children from other relationships;
- How much health insurance costs and who pays the insurance, whether directly or through employment;
- Whether you have mandatory union dues and/or retirement contributions;
- The cost of childcare, daycare or other school-related tuition costs; and
- The cost of uninsured healthcare costs, including premiums, co-pays, and prescriptions.
Depending on the situation, the cost of travel between the parents’ homes may be calculated into the child support guidelines. In many cases, the cost is figured separately and the parents either alternate paying for travel or they contribute the same percentage determined by the child support guidelines. For example, one spouse makes more than the other and pays 60 percent of the costs to raise the child. That spouse would pay 60 percent of travel costs such as airline or bus tickets.
The other spouse would reimburse the other spouse for the other 40 percent. Certain other educational needs or special needs may also be calculated in the child support payments or may be paid outside the guidelines based on the percentage determined by the guidelines.
In special circumstances, the court may order an amount that deviates from the child support guidelines, though that is rare. Also, if both parents decide that one parent does not need to pay child support or may pay a lesser amount, then both parents must sign an agreement and the court must approve the agreement. Spouses may agree to this if one spouse takes primary custody and agrees that the other spouse does not need to pay.
Examples might be that the non-paying spouse has medical issues that prevent him or her from working or uses up a good portion of his or her income. Parents may have other reasons to decline child support, but the court will have to approve this.
Time-sharing could be handled in many ways. One of the more common ways is that one spouse has the children during the week, except for one weeknight. The parents alternate weekends. However, 50/50 custody is becoming increasingly common, especially if the parents live close enough together. Other types of time-sharing include sole custody and supervised visitation. You may get sole custody if your spouse is in jail or has been abusive to the children. Supervised visitation is often ordered if one spouse cannot control his or her behavior around the children or abuses illegal substances.
Time-Sharing and Child Support
Once you determine each parent’s percentage of support for the children, the guidelines take into consideration the amount of time spent with each parent. If your time-sharing schedule is such that the children are with one spouse for most of the time, that parent will get the bulk of the support. If you choose 50/50 custody and you both make an equal amount, you both contribute equally, which may cancel out actual payments. However, there is always something that upsets that applecart.
In this situation, if one spouse pays for the health insurance, the other will owe a percentage of that obligation. If the children are in daycare or private school, one parent will be financially responsible and the other will have to pay his or her percentage to the responsible parent.
Time-Sharing and Holidays
While each parent wants to spend the major holidays with their children, that is not possible. Instead, the parents alternate the holidays. In most cases, one parent has Thanksgiving on even-numbered years while the other gets Christmas. Then on odd-numbered years, it switches so the parent that had Thanksgiving the year before has the children on Christmas. Other holidays that are often alternated include Easter, spring break, Memorial Day, Labor Day, winter break, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The children’s birthdays are usually alternated. Other special days may also be worked into the time-sharing plan, including the parents’ birthdays and other holidays for those who do not celebrate Christmas.
Working Together for the Children
When you and your spouse do not get along, it’s tempting to tell the children, “Daddy did this,” or, “Mommy did this.” Instead, for the sake of the children, keep your animosity toward your spouse at bay. Always make sure the children understand that it is not their fault that you and your spouse can no longer live together. If the other parent wishes to speak with the children on the phone, you should let him or her. Always talk nicely about each other to the children so the children love both parents.
If you don’t, you may find yourself in court. The parent that you are maligning may ask the court to ask you to stop the destructive behavior. If you do not, it could cost you in sanctions or even a change in the time-sharing schedule—and it may not be for the better. Keep in mind that the court is always going to look out for the best interests of the children.
On a final note, the money you pay to your spouse is for your children. It covers food, clothing, housing, medical expenses, schooling expenses including tuition and supplies and activities the children want to participate in. If you are ready to file for divorce or you have been served with a divorce, or if you are preparing for a legal separation, contact a family law attorney for a consultation.
Carla Hartley has worked in the legal field for well over ten years. She has worked every position in a law firm, from receptionist to law clerk to managing attorney for the Firm. A former U.S. Marine, Ms. Hartley brings diligence and willingness to fight for her client’s rights to every case in which she is involved. An experienced litigator, Ms. Hartley works aggressively to keep her skills, abilities, and knowledge base at the cutting edge of family law. www.carlahartleylaw.com