The good and bad news is that each parent has a legal duty to support their minor children to the best of their ability. With equality and financial success comes responsibility. The courts expect both parents to work to support their children.
Child support is based on timeshare and income. Unfortunately, too many “uninvolved parents” suddenly want to spend time with their children. Why? To reduce their child-support obligations. The former absentee parent is now taking the children to Disneyland, buying them clothes, and telling them how awful the other parent is. The children are now getting the attention they have always wanted from that absentee parent. Unfortunately, the reality is that this former absentee parent, who is suddenly loving and involved, may convince the Family Court Services’ mediators that they regret the wasted years and have now rearranged their work schedule to be available to take responsibility for their children. That parent may get more time, which equates to paying less support.
Courts and attorneys use computer programs to determine California “Guideline” Child Support. Income from all sources is to be used to determine child support. Income for child-support purposes includes salary, bonuses, commissions, pensions, disability, child and/or spousal support from another relationship, social security, unemployment, gross rents, net rents, interest, dividends, public assistance, BAQ/BAH, trust income or annuities, and any other income you have.
Income documents that you file with the court require you attach financial information, including copies of your last three pay stubs. If you have your own business, profit-and-loss statements need to be attached. Even if your business is a home-based “hobby” business used more for tax purposes than income generation, the court may impute income to you from that business, so be prepared. I recommend that any business owner have an accountant prepare all the documentation. However, certain business expenses allowable for tax purposes may be “added back” when determining income available for child support.
It is crucial to have the correct information to put into the program in order to accurately determine child support. The court does not have discretion when determining child support. However, the court does have discretion regarding whether or not to impute some income to a non-working parent, even if that parent has not worked in years.
The court cannot control how child support is used, and the court does not care whether or not you have high credit-card debt. The numbers are put into the formula and the child support determined. Supporting children is of paramount importance.
Anne B. Howard is a divorce attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist practicing in Carlsbad, California. She serves North County and San Diego Courts as well as the Hemet Family Court in Riverside County.