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A mother and daughter working on a "child support worksheet"

Calculating California Child Support

A Complex Formula Made Understandable

Determining how much child support should be paid by one parent is an incredibly important part of any divorce, and many wonder what their child support payments may look like before that step is ever reached in divorce. California Family Code Section 4055 includes a formula to be used when calculating the amount of child support to be paid that can look incredibly complicated on its surface.

Here is what you need to know concerning the calculation of child support in California, including the formula used as well as a basic example.

California’s Child Support Formula

California’s child support formula is an algebraic formula comprised of symbols that stand for a specific factor. The formula is as follows:

CS = K [HN - (H%)(TN)]

Again, this formula looks complicated, but it can be easier to interpret when you know what each abbreviation means.

  • CS stands for child support.
  • K stands for how much of each parent’s income is designated for child support payments. This is determined as a multiplier based on state guidelines and on the percentage of time each parent has with the child.
  • HN stands for how much disposable income the person who earns more money has per month.
  • H% stands for an estimated percentage of time that the higher-income earner will have the child in their primary care when compared to that of the other parent.
  • TN refers to the total monthly net income of the parents (net income being total monthly income minus deductions such as taxes and health insurance premiums)

Additionally, depending on how many children are involved in the case, the final child support number may be multiplied by an additional factor. For example, if there are four children in the case, then the final number is multiplied by 2.3.

A Basic Example of Child Support Calculation

Say, for example, that Robert and Susan have one child. They decide to get divorced, meaning that child support will be determined over the course of the process. Assume that the following facts are true and refer back to specific parts of the formula listed above:

  • Robert and Susan’s total monthly net income (TN) is $10,000; Robert is the higher earner and brings home approximately $6000 of that monthly net income (HN).
  • Susan will have primary physical responsibility for the child and has their child for approximately 70% of the time (H%). Robert will have the remaining 30% of the time.

The more complicated portion of the formula is determining the K factor. Determining the value of K depends on two pieces of information: the percentage of time each parent has with the child and the total net disposable income of the parents.

The income portion is based on a chart outlined in the California Family Code, but the time portion is more complex. If the higher-earning parent has primary care of the child for greater than 50% of the total time, then that percentage should be subtracted from 2. If, on the other hand, the higher earner has primary care of the child for less than 50% of the total time, then that percentage should be added to 1.

In our example, Robert will have physical responsibility for his child for 30% of the time; therefore, that portion of the K factor equals 1.3. Additionally, based on the total net income chart, the other section of K equals 0.10 + 1000/TN. Using what we know (TN equaling $10,000), we can calculate this as 0.10 + 1000/10,000, equaling 0.2. Finally, multiply 1.3 and 0.2 together to get the final calculation for the K factor; in this case, it equals 0.26.

Once this rather difficult calculation is determined, one can then plug in the rest of the numbers and come to a rather simple calculation. Using our numbers mentioned above, our formula would look like this:

CS = 0.26 [6000 - (0.30)(10,000)]

CS=0.26 [6000 - 3000)

CS=0.26 x 3000 = $780

Using this formula, we were able to determine that Robert would pay Susan $780 per month in child support. If they had more children, then they could simply multiply the final number for CS by the multiplication factor for that number of children; if they had three children, for example, then they would multiply $780 by 2 to get $1560 per month and then allocate that amount based on Section 4055.

Working With an Attorney for Child Support

Note that calculating child support may seem easier using a basic example, but each person has unique circumstances making it impossible to assume a child support amount across the board. Rather than make an attempt at calculating this number on your own, it is much wiser to consult with an attorney who better understands California’s laws regarding child support as well as a greater ability to calculate this number more accurately.