The laws of California governing child custody, child support, and visitation are contained in the California Family Code, available here.
To fully understand California law, it may be necessary to read and interpret statutes with case law and regulatory law. It is also important to know if law is up to date. For these and other reasons, it is always best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to know how the law applies to your particular situation. The following legal summaries are not intended as legal advice and should not be relied on as such. They are intended only as an introduction to the way that the law functions in these areas.
Child Support in California
Child support is a court-ordered payment by one parent to the custodial parent of a minor child, generally after divorce or separation. In California, the Court can impose support until the age of 19 or until the child finishes 12th grade, whichever occurs first.
Generally, the amount of child support is based on such factors as the combined income of both parents, the number of children, the expenses of the custodial parent, and any special needs of the child. The amount of child support in California is determined based on a statewide uniform guideline, which can only be departed from in limited special circumstances (see section 4052 of the CA Family Code).
A link to the California State Government site, with a helpful child support calculator is available here.
The guidelines are described in section 4055 of the CA Family Code as follows:
- (a) The statewide uniform guideline for determining child support orders is as follows: CS = K (HN - (H%) (TN)).
- (b) (1) The components of the formula are as follows:
- (A) CS = child support amount.
- (B) K = amount of both parents' income to be allocated for child support as set forth in paragraph (3).
- (C) HN = high earner's net monthly disposable income.
- (D) H% = approximate percentage of time that the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent. In cases in which parents have different time-sharing arrangements for different children, H% equals the average of the approximate percentages of time the high earner parent spends with each child.
- (E) TN = total net monthly disposable income of both parties.
- (2) To compute net disposable income, see Section 4059.
- (3) K (amount of both parents' income allocated for child support) equals one plus H%
(if H% is less than or equal to 50 percent)
or two minus H% (if H% is greater than 50 percent) times the following fraction:
| Total Net
Income Per Month
|| 0.20 + TN/16,000
|| 0.10 + 1,000/TN
| Over $10,000
|| 0.12 + 800/TN
For example, if H% equals 20 percent and the total monthly net disposable income
of the parents is $1,000, K = (1 + 0.20) X 0.25, or 0.30. If H% equals 80 percent and
the total monthly net disposable income of the parents is $1,000, K = (2 - 0.80) X 0.25,
- (4) For more than one child, multiply CS by:
| 2 children
| 3 children
| 4 children
| 5 children
| 6 children
| 7 children
| 8 children
| 9 children
| 10 children
- (5) If the amount calculated under the formula results in a positive number,
the higher earner shall pay that amount to the lower earner.
If the amount calculated under the formula results in a negative number,
the lower earner shall pay the absolute value of that amount to the higher earner.
A link to the California State Government site, with a helpful child support calculator calculator is found here.
(Have your tax returns handy!)
As you can see, the calculation is complicated. As such, it’s always best to consult a qualified California attorney when dealing with issues related to divorce or child support.
Child Custody in California
There are two types of custody in California: legal custody and physical custody (also known as residential custody). Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make decisions for a minor child. This can take the form of either joint custody or sole custody. Physical custody (or residential custody) refers to where a child lives. Physical custody also can take the form of either joint custody or sole custody. California, by statute, expresses no preference for any particular arrangement (see section 3040 of the California Family Code).
Section 3040(b) of the California Family Code provides:
In California, custody determinations are made according to “the best interest of the child.” This is an important standard under California law. (see section 3011 of the California Family Code).
Sometimes parents will be able to come to an agreement themselves about how to share custody. If they cannot, a court may adjudicate custody. When considering “the best interest of the child” for purposes of custody, California courts consider several factors. These include:
- • The health, safety, and welfare of the child;
- • Any history of abuse to any child, other parent, or cohabitant;
- • Amount of contact with both parents;
- • Abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Child Visitation in California
The laws of California governing visitation are generally contained in the California Family Code, at sections 3100 to 3105 (a link here). To fully understand the law regarding visitation, it may also be necessary to read these sections with other California family law statutes and case law. It is always best to consult with a qualified family law attorney to know how the law applies to your particular situation.
Courts in California place importance on frequent and continuing contact with both parents and will generally grant reasonable visitation rights to a parent unless it is shown that the visitation would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. Courts generally have broad discretion in determining “reasonable” visitation rights. It is important to remember that a court’s most important priority in any case involving visitation or child custody is to serve the “best interests of the child.” This is a very important standard under California law and it will generally guide a court in making a decision about visitation.
Courts look at several other factors in making a decision about visitation. These include the child’s age and maturity, how close a parent lives to the child’s primary residence and the child’s preference (if the court deems it appropriate).
In general, if a protective order (that is, a restraining order or a protection-from-abuse order) has been issued, courts will consider whether the best interest of the child requires that some or all visitation be supervised by a third person or whether visitation should be suspended or denied entirely. In such a case, courts would consider the nature of the acts that were the cause of the protection order and the amount of time that has elapsed since the protection order was issued. See California Family Code Section 3100 for more information about the law regarding visitation in cases of abuse or where a protection order has been issued.
Under California law, a court may, in limited situations, grant reasonable visitation rights to people other than a parent who have an interest in the welfare of the child. If a parent does not wish for a grandparent to have visitation rights, then a court must generally give special weight to the parent’s wishes and presume that the parent is acting in the best interests of the child. The issue of grandparent visitation is somewhat complicated because of a recent United States Supreme Court decision, Troxel v. Granville, which concerned grandparents’ custody and visitation rights. It is always best to consult a qualified family law attorney in cases involving custody and visitation rights.