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Child Support Rights Explained

California child support laws reflect a child's right to be financially supported by his parent or legal guardian. Those same laws reflect a parent’s (and/or legal guardian’s) obligation to support his or her minor child in a manner suitable to the minor’s child's circumstances.

For example, a child’s parent(s) has all of the following legal obligation placed upon him or her as it relates to his or her child: Provide for child’s housing and personal security, provide for child’s food and clothing, provide for child’s medical and dental insurance, provide for child’s education, care for child’s physical and mental well-being, and more.

Note: The obligation of a parent or legal guardian to support a child is not affected by the marital status of the child’s parents (i.e. child’s parents are married, divorced, legally separated, never married, etc.); similarly, the legal obligations of a parent or legal guardian to support his or her child applies whether or not the parent’s child is a an adoptive stepchild and whether or not the child is the biological child of his or her legal parent (subject to voluntary declarations of paternity, see below), and more.

Note: Non-adoptive stepparents do not have the same support obligations as do legally adoptive stepparents.

Financial Child Support

When a person thinks of “child support,” they usually think of an amount of money that is either paid, or received, on behalf of a child’s, and which is intended to cover the cost of financially supporting their shared child. People do not typically think of the term “child support” in the context of emotional and/or physical support of a child. This is likely due to the fact that emotional and/or physical support of a child is more commonly referenced in legal proceedings related to the issues of child custody and/or child visitation (parenting time).

Financial Support: As stated, the term “child support” usually, but not always, refers to a child’s parent’s legal obligation to pay money on behalf of his or her child in order to financially support the child. Also, financial “child support” may refer to past due financial child support, also called “arrears.”

Note:  Where a child’s parent or legal guardian does not have sufficient financial resources to provide for his or her child’s financial well-being, then that child’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s) have an obligation to request assistance from relevant private and governmental agencies related to their child’s needs (i.e. government subsidized health insurance, welfare, etc.).

Financial Child Support Amount

As stated, each parent owes a duty to provide for the support of his or her child (financial and emotional support). Ordinarily, financial child support is not given a dollar value when a child’s parents are married and living together with their child; however, when a child’s parents divorce, become legally separated, obtain an annulment, or otherwise dispute the amount of financial support their child requires, then one or both of the child’s parents will petition the court to establish and order to pay child support.


An order to pay child support includes the estimated costs related to financially supporting their child (court’s estimate using a “child support calculator”).

Child Support Calculations: The amount of California child support that a parent or legal guardian is ordered to pay his or her child’s other parent (or legal guardian) is established using a mathematical formula that takes into account the percentage of actual time that a parent spends with a child (parenting time) and the respective incomes of the child's parents (or legal guardians).

Note: Child parenting time issues, such as who is credited with “parenting time” when a child is in school or with a grandparent, can sometimes be settled by agreement between the parents. But, if there is disagreement as to parenting time, a child custody lawyer can help explain what the family law court will likely decide if the issue is brought before the judge.

Once the child support judge knows the parents’ respective income, if any, and the parents’ respective parenting time (time share) the judge will enter that information into a “child support calculator.” The amount that the child support calculator returns is known as the “presumptive amount” of child support (or guideline child support).


Once guideline child support is established, the family law court will order that amount, if any, to be paid from one parent (paying parent) to the receiving parent (receiving parent).

Note: “Guideline child support” can be reduced or increased depending on several factors, such as one parent having an unusually high income, a disability of the child or parent, a parent’s fluctuating income (seasonal type work), the ability of a parent to earn more income (i.e. higher education not being utilized to find more gainful employment, etc.), the presence of unusual types of income such as securities or trusts, the respective amount of property owned by the child's parents, whether or not there exists child support obligations for step-siblings, and more.

Changing Child Support Orders

Most child support cases surround the investigation or discovery of the other parent's actual income (i.e. hidden income, under the table income, ability to work, hidden assets, etc.), and extra cost, if any, needed to care any disabilities associated with a child.

Note: Some parents attempt to avoid high child support payments by way of working “under the table,” working for tips, voluntarily reducing their hours at work, working for services (as opposed to money), working for trade (goods), or working without an income (or low income) on behalf of a family member or friend. This types of child support fraud is dealt with harshly in family law court and lawyers familiar with child support cases have learned how to discover these hidden assets in child support cases.

Modifying Child Support: To change the financial amount of child support ordered by the court requires a “change in circumstance.”

For example a change in income of one of the parents or a change in the amount of time that a child spends with one of the parents might be sufficient to request a downward or upward modification of child support.

Note: Parents may agree on an amount of financial child support that is to be paid from one parent to another, so long as the amount of child support that is agreed upon is permitted by a family law judge after a formal hearing on the matter, or where the agreement is signed by a county prosecutor in charge of child support matters. If the amount selected by the child’s parents is close to the guideline child support amount, then the family law judge will not usually upset the parents’ agreement, but the court’s primary concern is the child’s welfare and the court will not simply sign off on a child support agreement between parents.

For example, a parent who agrees to receive no child support in exchange for the other parent's promise to not seek or enforce child custody or child visitation orders is not an agreement the court will endorse.


Note: Note: Generally, only a legal parent’s (or legal guardian's) income is relevant in determining child support; the income of a non-adoptive stepparent is not considered in determining child support orders; however, a family law court may consider the obligated parent’s living costs in setting child support orders and if those costs are reduced because the child’s non-adoptive stepparent pays those costs then the paying parent can be ordered to pay an increased amount of child support. Always seek the advice of an experienced family law lawyer familiar with child support court before filing or responding to any request for child support. Mistakes made by non-lawyers in family law court are common and costly.


Enforcing Child Support Orders

Enforcing child support orders is accomplished in several ways: 1) Petition the court for wage garnishment (garnish wages), also called wage assignment, 2) file a contempt of court petition, 3) request civil penalties for failure to pay child support, 4) contact child support court services in an effort to have the paying parent's professional or driving license suspended until payment is received.

Child support lawyers are familiar with these remedies and it is highly recommended that a litigant to a child support case use child support lawyers familiar with these remedies before selecting any option. Keep in mind that contempt proceedings carry many of the rights associated with criminal defense for the defendant (i.e. right to remain silent, etc.). Also, some of these remedies can have negative side affects (Example: loss of a professional license could lead to a loss of income, for the paying parent, which can lead to a reduction of child support that can be paid by the paying parent, etc.).

Note: Failure to pay child support can lead to revocation of a professional licenses, or a driver's license, property liens, tax liens, civil and criminal penalties, and more. Also, if a business is ordered to garnish wages and does not follow that order the business may suffer penalties and civil or criminal contempt of court. Of course, a business will usually comply with a wage garnishment. This is true even when the parent who was ordered to pay child support works for themselves or works for a close relative. Nevertheless, family law lawyers should always be employed where a parent works for his or her parent in a child support obligation case; this is especially true in independent contractor (1099 employees) type work.

Non-Willful Violation of Court’s Order: If a parent is not capable of paying financial child support due to a lack of income then neither the county (DCSS), nor a child support attorney, can bring a contempt proceeding against the non-paying parent. This is because the child support attorney must prove that the failure to pay child support is willful.

If you are considering establishing, stopping, enforcing, or modifying a child support order, contact the child support and family law attorneys at Dorado & Dorado. We are experienced in child support court (DCSS) and family law court. We will patiently guide you through this emotional time. We also offer legal services related to other family law issues, including Father’s Rights, Child Custody, Child Visitation, Child Protective Service (CPS) Defense, Child Abuse Central Indexing (CACI) Defense, Divorce, Legal Separation, Paternity Suits, Annulments, legal Separations, and more. Consultations are free. Call today!


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Information contained in this website is provided for informational purposes only. While we strive to provide current and accurate information, we do not guarantee the information to be current and/or accurate. No attorney - client relationship is created by use of this information. If you are in need of a divorce or family law attorney, contact a lawyer without delay. 

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Child Support

Selected Legal References for California Child Support Law

FL 3900: Subject to this division, the father and mother of a minor child have an equal responsibility to support their child in the manner suitable to the child’s circumstances.

FL 3901(a)(1): The duty of support imposed by Section 3900 continues as to an unmarried child who has attained 18 years of age, is a full-time high school student, unless excused pursuant to paragraph (2), and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains 19 years of age, whichever occurs first.

(2) A child is excused from the requirement to be a full-time high school student for purposes of paragraph (1) if the child has a medical condition documented by a physician that prevents full-time school attendance.

(b) This section does not limit a parent’s ability to agree to provide additional support or the court’s power to inquire whether an agreement to provide additional support has been made.

Note: A parent does not have the duty to support a child of the parent’s child (FL 3930). Essentially, this means that there is no duty to a grandparent to support a grandchild without either the grandparent’s legal adoption of the grandchild, the grandparent’s establishment grandparent’s visitation rights of the grandchild, or without the grandparent’s legal guardianship of the grandchild).

FL 3951(a): A parent is not bound to compensate the other parent, or a relative, for the voluntary support of the parent’s child, without an agreement for compensation.

(b) A parent is not bound to compensate a stranger for the support of a child who has abandoned the parent without just cause.

(c) Nothing in this section relieves a parent of the obligation to support a child during any period in which the state, county, or other governmental entity provides support for the child.

FL 4000: If a parent has the duty to provide for the support of the parent’s child and willfully fails to so provide, the other parent, or the child by a guardian ad litem, may bring an action against the parent to enforce the duty.

FL 4001: In any proceeding where there is at issue the support of a minor child or a child for whom support is authorized under Section 3901 or 3910, the court may order either or both parents to pay an amount necessary for the support of the child.

FL 4002(a): The county may proceed on behalf of a child to enforce the child’s right of support against a parent.

(b) If the county furnishes support to a child, the county has the same right as the child to secure reimbursement and obtain continuing support. The right of the county to reimbursement is subject to any limitation otherwise imposed by the law of this state.

(c) The court may order the parent to pay the county reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in a proceeding brought by the county pursuant to this section.

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