Determining Child and Spousal Support

Determining Child and Spousal Support
September 3, 2019 dmock2015

Photo Source: Creative Commons Zero (CCO)

One of the first questions a party in a family law proceeding usually asks is how much they should expect to pay for monthly support payments, or how much they should expect to receive from monthly support payments.  Understanding how support is determined provides the basis for realistic expectations and informed discussions and decisions.

For child support, a California court generally must follow a predetermined formula set by the legislature to calculate how much each parent is responsible to pay to support their minor child(ren) pursuant to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.  This statewide uniform guideline child support formula is: CS = K[HN – (H%)(TN)].  While attorneys and courts use specialized computer programs to calculate total child support, the numbers that are input into each variable of the formula are the most crucial factors when determining child support.  For instance, the “HN” in the above formula is the high earner’s net monthly disposable income, which is most often calculated by taking the high earner’s annual gross income minus any allowable tax deductions and dividing that number by 12.  In many instances, parties dispute the figures that are input into the formula.

Temporary spousal support is also generally determined by a guideline formula adopted by a court’s local rules.  For instance, a court could use a “Santa Clara” formula, which calculates spousal support by taking 40% of the payor’s net income, less 50% of the payee’s (the party receiving support) net income, or where child support is also awarded, the formula changes to 35% of the payor’s net income, less 40% of the payee’s (the party receiving support) net income.  The purpose of temporary spousal support is to attempt to maintain the parties’ living conditions and standards in as close to their pre-separation status quo as possible.

On the other hand, courts award post-judgment spousal support, when appropriate, to provide financial assistance after the marital property is divided and based upon the factors outlined in Family Code section 4320.  For post-judgment spousal support, the court may not use a guideline formula or computer program.

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