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Child Support

Before the Case

A parent can ask for child support alone, or as part of another family law court case.

For example:

  1. A parent can ask for child support if they are married or are in a registered domestic partnership and want to get a divorce, legal separation or annulment.
  2. If the parents are married or in a domestic partnership and do not want to get a divorce, legal separation or annulment, one parent can still ask for child support by submitting to the court a:
    • Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
      (Form FL-260)
      See the instructions for this form.
  3. A parent can ask for child support if they have been a victim of domestic violence and are asking for a domestic violence restraining order. Get more information about Domestic Violence and Restraining Orders.
  4. A parent can ask for child support as part of a parentage court case. A parentage case is for parents who are not married and have children together. It establishes who the legal parents of a child are.

Notes:

If one of the parents has been getting public assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF) - or if you open a private case with the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). DCSS will automatically start a child support case against the other parent.
If your child is in foster care, the Department of Child Support Services may start a child support case.

Child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent to pay every month to help pay for their child’s living expenses.

California uses a formula to calculate what amount one parent should pay to the other for child support. Child support is usually paid by the parent with less time with the child to the parent who has more time with this child. However, sometimes the parent with more time with the child will be ordered to pay child support to the other parent if there is a big difference in their financial situations.

If parents can't agree on child support, the judge must decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. Only in very rare cases can the judge order something other than the guideline amount.

The guideline calculation depends on:

  • How much money the parents earn or can earn.
  • How much other income each parent receives.
  • How many children these parents have together.
  • How much time each parent spends with their children.
  • The tax filing status of each parent.
  • Support of children from other relationships.
  • Health insurance expenses.
  • Mandatory union dues.
  • Mandatory retirement contributions.
  • The cost of sharing daycare and health-care costs.
  • Other relevant factors.

Handling a court case can be difficult and confusing. Many people get help from an expert.

For free and low-cost legal help in California:

Go to the California Courts website for information about:

  • Court-based self-help services
  • Legal aid agencies
  • Government agencies
  • Lawyer-referral services
  • Dispute resolution programs

Some other resources or options to consider:

People often need more than just legal help when asking for custody. The parents and children may be afraid. They may have a hard time dealing with their emotions. They may also be worried about where they will live, how they will find work, or pay for child care. For help with these concerns:

  • Go to a law library, buy a self-help book, or look on the internet.
  • Find resources for
  • Spiritual Support from a priest, rabbi, minister, or other religious leader
  • Support for children affected by divorce
  • Mexican citizens living in Northern California can get free legal help through a hot line launched by the Bay Area's Mexican Consulate: 1-800-668-1005.
  • DO make sure you fully understand every document before you sign it.
  • DO make sure that you explain and have some written proof of your financial situation so that your child support order can be set at a realistic amount.
  • DON’T assume that just because you are the parent of a child and pay support that you will have visitation with or custody of that child unless you get a court order granting you one of these.
  • DON’T put off dealing with your child support case, it may only make your
    situation worse.
  • DON’T ignore your case because you think you can’t handle it. There are resources available to assist you. You are not alone.