Divorce is almost always a legally complex and emotionally charged legal proceeding. When a divorce involves minor children, it becomes even more distressing. Often, matters of deciding child custody, parenting time, and child support are the most contentious and emotionally fraught battles between divorcing parents.

No parent looks forward to a judge telling them when they may see their children, and often one spouse paying their ex-spouse a percentage of their income feels like a punishment, even when it’s in the best interests of the children.

Child support serves to minimize a divorce’s disruption to the lives of a couple’s children by keeping them in the living standards to which they’re accustomed, but whether you’re the paying parent or the receiving one after the order comes down in court, you may wonder, “is my child support payment fair?”

How Are Child Support Payments Decided in California?

California courts use a mathematical formula in the state’s child support calculator. The formula uses a model that considers the gross incomes of both parents and the number of children they share as well as each parent’s amount of custodial time with the children. The formula considers all sources of income including:

  • Salary or wages
  • Commissions
  • Bonuses
  • Tips
  • Unemployment or social security benefits
  • Income from interest and dividends
  • Disability, workers’ compensation, or VA benefits
  • Rental property income
  • Independent contractor income
  • Lottery winnings and insurance payouts

The larger the wage gap between parents as well as the amount of time each parent has the children in their custody impacts not only which parent pays the other but also the amount they pay. If one parent has a significantly greater amount of parenting time than the other in their custody agreement or judgment, the amount they’ll receive in child support adjusts upward accordingly.

What If I Feel Like the Amount of Child Support I Pay/Receive is Unfair?

There are specific circumstances in which a judge may deviate from the amount of child support determined by the state’s child support calculator, but only if they document the reason for their deviation from the record. Parents may also seek a modification of existing child support orders if they’ve had a significant and long-term change in circumstances.

If you feel that the amount of child support you pay or receive is unjust, speak to an experienced family law attorney about your options. A judge may agree to modify an order or deviate from the standard formula under the following circumstances:

  • When a parent loses a job or becomes demoted to a lower-earning status
  • If a parent becomes disabled
  • If one parent earns an extraordinarily high income and the formula produces an amount of child support that far exceeds the needs of the children
  • If a child becomes disabled or chronically ill, requiring special care and or special education
  • If the amount of the order causes significant financial hardship for the paying parent

If one parent or both parents agree that the ordered amount of child support is unfair or one parent experiences a significant and ongoing change in circumstances, they can petition the court to request a hearing for a modification of their existing child support order.

It’s always best to consult with an experienced child support attorney about your concerns with an unfair child support amount so they can review your options, clarify your rights and obligations, and represent your interests in court if you choose to pursue a modification of child support orders.