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How is Child Support Calculated in California?

DISCLAIMER: The following is not meant to be legal advice. It offers alternatives, tips, and resources for those with no means to hire an attorney.
For a more thorough explanation of how child support is calculated, please review the applicable sections in the California Family Code.

If you have children and are in the process of getting a divorce, the topic of child support is something you have probably wondered about. Whether you are the parent who will be asked to pay child support or the parent who will receive that support, it is important to understand how child support calculated.

Grasping exactly how child support is calculated can seem daunting. But, once you peel back the layers and understand the factors that are used to calculate child support, it might not seem so complicated after all. This article will assist you in that process, and hopefully provide you with a greater understanding of how the court actually calculates child support.

Keep in mind that no one manually calculates temporary child support. It is a complex formula, thus, all attorneys and courts use a computer spreadsheet program to do this. However, if you are curious to see the steps involved with manually calculating child support, they are discussed below.

Step One: Understanding the Uniform Child Support Guideline Policy Considerations

The first step in learning how the court calculates child support is to understand the Statewide Uniform Child Support Guidelines contained in the California Family Code. These guidelines impose mandatory requirements that are factored into the child support formula, in order to calculate the correct amount of support. The guidelines also impose twelve statutory policy considerations under Fam. C. §4053. These policy considerations are:

Calculating Child Support

Step 2: Understanding the Child Support Guideline Formula

The formula used to calculate the guideline child support amount is represented by the following equation:

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

The formula can seem daunting and difficult to comprehend, but once you understand the variables contained in the formula, it becomes less complicated.
Under Fam. C. §4055, the algebraic variables mean the following:

“CS” stands for Amount of Child Support

This variable is simple enough to understand. All the other variables equal the guideline child support amount. If the guideline amount is a positive number,
then that amount is owed by the higher income earner to the lower income earner. If the guideline amount is a negative number, then the lower income earner owes support to the higher income earner. The negative is dropped from the number, and the lower income earner owes the higher income earner child support in the amount calculated. For example, if the amount reached is (-200), than the lower income earner owes the higher income earner $200 in monthly child support.

The standard formula above is for use when there is just one child for whom support is being ordered. If there is more than one child, the amount reached using that formula needs to be multiplied by the value specified in Fam. C. §4055. The values contained in §4055 are:

Number of Children Multiply “CS” by:
2 1.6
3 2
4 2.3
5 2.5
6 2.625
7 2.75
8 2.813
9 2.844
10 2.86

As an example, if CS=$200 and there are two children, the final amount owed would be (200 x 1.6); which equals $320.

“H%” stands for the Percentage of Time the Child is with the High Income Earner

The variable “H%” is the approximate percentage of time the higher income earning parent has physical responsibility for the child, compared to the other parent.

“HN” stands for the High Earner’s Disposable Income

The “HN” variable is the monthly net disposable income of the higher income earner parent.

“TN” stands for the Total Net Disposable Income of Both Parties

The variable “TN” is the sum of both parties' total monthly net disposable income.

“K” stands for Amount of Income Available

The “K” variable is the amount of both parties’ income that is available to be allocated to child support as set forth in Fam. C. §4055(b)(3). This is represented by a fraction that is determined using factors imposed by statute, based on the monthly income of the higher income earning parent and the amount of time the higher income earning parent has responsibility for the child. Think of “K” as the end result of a separate formula. To put it simply, find “K” by using the following equation:

K = (Value 1) (Value 2) Translation: “K” equals value 1 multiplied by value 2.

Determining Value 1:

Value 1 is determined by calculating “H%”, which is the approximate percentage of time the higher income earner has physical responsibility for the child. If “H%” is 50% or less, Value 1 is (1 + H%), or one plus “H%”. If “H%” is 51% or greater, Value 1 is (2 - H%), or two minus “H%”.

Determining Value 2:

Value 2 is determined by adding together the total monthly net income of both parties. Once the amount is calculated, examine Fam. C. §4055, and choose the value that corresponds to the amount of income you calculated. For ease of use, the value chart contained in Fam. C. §4055 is as follows:

Total Net Income per month Value 2
$0 - $800 0.20 + TN/16,000
$801 - $6,666 0.25
$6,667 - $10,000 0.10 + 1,000/TN
Over $10,000 0.12 + $800/TN
TN=Total Net Income per month

Example #1 for Determining “K”

For this example, assume the total net monthly income of the parties equals $700, and the higher income earner has the child 40% of the time.

Value 1 will be (1 + 0.40) which equals 1.40. Important Note: A percentage is a fraction, so for this example, 40% is 4/10 or 0.40. 45% would be 0.45, 50% would be 0.50, and so on.

Using the chart above, Value 2 will be [0.20 + (700/16,000)]; which is [0.2 + 0.043]; which equals 0.243.

“K” will be (1.40 x 0.243); which equals 0.34. So K = 0.34.

Example #2 for Determining “K”

For this example, assume the total net monthly income of the parties equals $1,000, and the higher income earner has the child 70% of the time.
Value 1 will be (2 - 0.70) which equals 1.30.
Again, using the chart above, Value 2 will be (0.25).

“K” will be (1.30 x 0.25); which equals 0.325. So K = 0.325

Step 3: Understanding the Complete Formula in Action

Now that you have an understanding of what the variables in the child support formula are, comprehending how they work together should be a little easier.
The following examples should help clear up any residual confusion over how this formula works.

Example #1 for Understanding the Guideline Formula

For this example:“TN” = $1,000; “H%” = 40%, and “HN” = $700.
Number of Children = 1

Step 1: The first thing that we need to do is calculate “K”.
Value 1 will be (1 + H%); which is (1 + 0.40); which equals 1.40.
Value 2 is determined by examining the chart. So, Value 2 is 0.25.
Next we take (Value 1) x (Value 2); which is (1.40) x (0.25); which equals 0.35.

So “K” = 0.35.

Step 2: Plug the values into the formula CS=K[HN-(H%)(TN)].
In this example, the formula will be: CS=0.35[700-(0.40)(1,000)].

Step 3: Solve the formula.
CS=0.35[700-(0.40)(1,000)] → CS=0.35[700-400] → CS=0.35[300] > CS=105.

Child Support will be $105 per month. Because the number is positive, the higher income earner owes that amount to the lower income earner.

Example #2 for Understanding the Guideline Formula

For this example: “TN” = $800; “H% = 80%, and “HN” = $500. Number of Children = 2.

Step 1: Calculate “K”.
Value 1 will be (2 - H%); which is (2 - 0.80); which equals 1.20.
Value 2 will be determined by examining the chart. So, Value 2 is [0.20+(TN/16,000)]; which is [0.20+(800/16,000) → [0.20 + 0.05]; which equals 0.25
Next we take (Value 1) x (Value 2); which is (1.20) x (0.25); which equals 0.3.

So “K” = 0.3

Step 2: Plug the values into the formula. CS=K[HN-(H%)(TN)].
In this example, the formula will be: CS=0.3[500-(0.80)(800)].

Step 3: Solve the formula.
CS=0.3[500-(0.80)(800)] → CS=0.3[500-640] → CS=0.3[-140] → CS = (-42).

Step 4: Multiply based on the number of children.
Fam. C. §4055 states that for two children, CS needs to be multiplied by (1.6). So the amount ordered will be (-42)(1.6), which equals (-67.2).

Child support will be $67 per month. Because the number is negative, the lower income earner owes $67 per month to the higher income earner.

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