Child support is the amount of money a court orders a parent to pay each month to help pay for a child’s living expenses (such as food, clothing, medical care and educational costs).

California law requires both parents to be equally responsible for providing for their child’s financial needs—regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried. However, the court cannot enforce this obligation until it makes a child support order.


When parents separate, a parent must request an order for child support from the court. Child support can be requested alone, or as part of a family law case such as:

  • Divorce or Legal Separation
  • Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (for unmarried parents)
  • Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Order

If one of the parents is receiving public assistance, or if a case has been opened with the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS), the state agency will automatically start a child support case against the other parent.

(If the mother and father are not married, the court cannot make any child support orders until paternity is established.  For more information regarding establishing paternity, please click here.)


California has established a statewide formula (called a “guideline”) to calculate child support. At a hearing on a parent’s request for child support, the court will determine the amount of child support based on this formula.

The guideline calculation depends on:

  • Amount of time each parent spends with their child
  • Amount of income each parent earns (or has the ability to earn)
  • Amount of additional other income each parent receives
  • Number of children the parents have together
  • Tax filing status of each parent
  • Whether a parent supports children from other relationships
  • Health insurance expenses
  • Mandatory union dues
  • Mandatory retirement contributions
  • Cost of daycare
  • Cost of uninsured health-care costs
  • Other factors, such as traveling expenses for visitation and a child’s educational or special needs.

The court will order the child support amount based on this guideline calculation. The guideline amount is presumed to be correct, and the court will only order an amount other than the guideline amount in very limited situations.

If the parents are able to agree on a child support amount, they do not have to request a hearing. The parents can agree to an amount based on guideline, or they can agree to an amount based on “non-guideline” if they:

  • Understand their child support rights fully;
  • Know the guideline child support amount;
  • Are not pressured or forced to agree to the child support amount;
  • Are not receiving public assistance;
  • Have not applied for public assistance;
  • Agree the amount of support will meet their child’s needs;
  • Believe the child support amount is in their child’s best interest; and
  • A judge approves the amount of child support

Parents can submit their agreement regarding child support for a court’s approval. If approved and signed by the judge, the agreement becomes an enforceable child support order.

(If DCSS is involved in the case, the agreement will also need to be signed by the state agency.)


Basic child support does not include the cost of childcare, a child’s uninsured healthcare expenses (such as premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), travel expenses for visitation and a child’s educational and special needs.

The court may consider these additional costs (called “add-on” costs) and can order either one parent to pay or both parents to share in these costs (which is in addition to basic child support).


In California, every child support order must include an order regarding health insurance (which includes medical, dental and vision coverage). This means the court may order one or both parents to provide health insurance for the child as long as it is available at a reasonable cost. The cost is presumed to be reasonable if the cost does not exceed 5% of a parent’s gross income.


Parents have a legal obligation to pay child support until the child turns18 years of age and has graduated from high school, or turns 19 years old if they are still in high school and still reside with the parents (whichever occurs first); is emancipated; joins the military; marries; or dies.

Parents may also agree to support a child longer than legally obligated. In addition, the court can order both parents to continue supporting a disabled adult child if that child cannot support him or herself.


Child support is a complex area of the law that can become highly contested. Whether you are seeking child support or responding to a request for support, contact our office today for a free confidential phone consultation so we can discuss your situation and provide you with an assessment of how you will need to proceed.