How Does a Judge Determine the Amount of Child Support in California?

Judges use a statutory formula to determine child support. The formula uses the disposable income of each parent and the percentage of time each parent has the children to produce the amount of support. The formula is called the “guideline formula,” and the figure it calculates is “guideline support.” Because determining a parent’s disposable income can be quite complex, particularly given ever-changing tax laws, judges use a computer program called Dissomaster to perform the calculation. Judges input the relevant facts of the case, and the Dissomaster produces the guideline support amount. Sometimes, when a parent is unemployed or underemployed, the judge may input a parent’s earning capacity instead of that parent’s actual income.

Judges order guideline support in the vast majority of cases. However, if either parent can prove that deviating from the guideline is in the children’s best interest, the judge has discretion to order a higher or lower amount.

On top of monthly child support, parents are often ordered to split their children’s medical expenses and childcare costs. These expenses may be split equally or in proportion to the parties’ incomes.