When it comes to divorce, it’s common to hear negative language. People talked about “losing” property or being “forced” to pay support. It’s easy to have that reaction, especially when your divorce was handled in court. The court makes its decisions without your input, and, by law, you must obey.
There are aspects of divorce that are never comfortable. If you were ordered to give up a prized possession, that hurts for life. If you feel you are paying too much spousal support to an undeserving party, you may never fully accept it.
However, when it comes to child support, we encourage you to shift your perspective. You do not have to view this payment as unfair. Here are some reasons why child support can be a positive, encouraging part of your life.
You Can Contribute to Your Child’s Welfare.
In California, child custody is broken down into percentages. It is rare to achieve equal, 50/50 custody, as is it difficult to make that work. More often, parents find themselves with a split closer to 60/40, 75/25, etc.
Child support is a way to be actively involved in your child’s life. Remember why you are spending that money. It goes toward benefitting your children. Child support is not a payment to your former spouse. It is a payment that goes directly to the kids.
This fact is true in spirit and by law. A parent who uses child support for their own gain can get into legal trouble. Child support must be used on groceries, school supplies, the kids’ clothes, and so on. A custodial parent could argue that the money can be used to help maintain the home, but they can’t stretch the definition of “for the kids” much further.
Your Payments May Be More Reasonable Than You Realize.
California uses a specific formula when calculating child support. It is a complicated, algebraic equation. Once you break it down step-by-step, you may find that it makes sense, and it’s not unfair.
California’s child support formula is CS = K (HN - (H%) (TN)). Written this way, it doesn’t make much sense, so let’s break down each aspect of this formula.
- CS (Child Support)
This is the amount of money that is needed for child support. The formula is written backward, meaning this is the final number that the formula calculates.
This is the total amount of money to be spent on child support. It is determined by combining the gross incomes of each parent and deciding how much should be allocated for the children. It is a common misunderstanding that only one parent pays child support. Courts actually assume that both parents contribute. The custodial parent already uses part of their income on the kids. If you are paying child support, you are paying only for your portion based on the formula.
- HN (High Net)
This is the amount of disposable income the highest earner has. If that is you, the court takes your exemptions into account when determining this number. It considers things like union dues, health insurance, any support you already pay, taxes, etc. What you have leftover is your disposable income.
This is the amount of time the highest earner spends with the children. Recall that California uses a percentage-based model, such as 75/25. The person who pays child support may not be the higher earner. If you earn less money and spend less time with the kids, your payments should be low.
- TN (Total Net)
This is the total disposable income of both parents added together.
It may have been a while since you used your algebra skills, so allow us to offer some conclusions:
- The final amount is based on the incomes of both parents.
- Both parents contribute to child support, but only one makes direct payments.
- The parent who earns more money pays support only in proportion to how much time they have with the kids.
If you are unhappy with your child support payments, take a moment to imagine your income when you were married. You didn’t make support payments directly, but a portion of your income certainly went toward the children. Try to calculate what percent of your income went toward feeding, clothing, educating, and providing healthcare to the kids. You may find that what you pay now isn’t much different from what you paid before.
What If You Can’t Keep Up?
Even with a positive shift in perspective, the realities of life could make child support payments burdensome. Remember that your payment was ordered based on your income at the time of divorce. If it was always too high to manage, you need to ask the court to review the original order. With the help of an attorney, you may be able to convince the court that there was a mistake. If it agrees, it can modify the order accordingly.
Perhaps the original order was fair, but life changes have made your payments unmanageable. Maybe you were laid off or your income dropped through no fault of your own. Permanent changes are reasonable grounds to modify your child support payments. Alternately, your former spouse might be making far more money today than they did when you got divorced. This throws off the balance of the original equation, and they should contribute more support in proportion to their income. Other changes such a remarriage or even a second divorce can be cause for modification.
Modifying Child Support
You have a few options for requesting changes to your original child support order.
- Return to court. If you and your ex cannot agree on necessary alterations, you may need to take the matter to court. This will be a costly, time-consuming endeavor, and it can be emotionally draining. If at all possible, try to create a new agreement amongst yourselves.
- Negotiate amongst yourselves. Family law allows parents to create their own agreements, put them in writing, and submit them to the courts, making them official. Unfortunately, not all divorced couples can work together. For them, there is a third option that still avoids court.
- Attend mediation. Mediation is a way of helping people resolve disagreements outside of court. In it, you hire a neutral third party to help you communicate and listen. A good mediator can cool the temperature of the room when tempers flare, and they can help more resistant parties listen to the other person’s needs. Mediation is not a fight; it is a collaboration. Done well, it can include you in all decisions, giving you agency over all support arrangements.
If you need help modifying child support, please contact us today. Our goal is to help people find healthy, positive divorce solutions, avoiding ugly courtroom battles. Our number is (949) 558-2624, and you can reach out online.