What to know about child support in a divorce

Making a decision about child custody and visitation can be an emotional part of the divorce process. Once a custody agreement has been made, parents may also make a child support agreement. Like all states, California has guidelines for calculating child support. Courts will consider the cost of healthcare and other expenses related to the children as well as how many children there are, whether there is spousal support and the income of both parents.

Once child support is decided, it is not necessarily fixed. A court may agree to alter the amount a parent pays in child support if there has been a significant change in circumstances. A parent might become disabled or lose a job, or there could be a large increase in income. Parents should request a modification from the court. Child support always comes ahead of spousal support, and reducing child support usually means reducing spousal support.

The passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act means that child support has no impact on taxes, but one parent can still claim the child as a dependent. The custodial parent is usually granted this right, but some parents share by alternating years or by each claiming one or more children if they have more than one.

Modifications only apply going forward and are not retroactive, so a parent who needs one should not delay in requesting it. Parents who fall behind on payments are still required to make back payments even after a modification is requested. Visitation is separate from child support, and even if a parent is not paying support, the other parent should still allow the regular schedule to continue. The office of child support enforcement may be able to take steps to compel the parent to pay, such as garnishing the parent’s wages.