Child Support FAQs

Child Support—Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I find out if the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in my case?

A: LCSA is involved in your case:

  • If you or the other parent receives welfare (like TANF) for your children, then the LCSA is involved in your case.
  • If you have asked the LCSA to help enforce your child support order, then the LCSA is involved.
  • If you still cannot tell, look at any paperwork you have received to see if you find any letters from the LCSA.

You can also contact your local child support agency (LCSA) and find out if they have a case for you. Or you can contact the family law facilitator for help.

Q: Why is the local child support agency involved in my case?

A: The local child support agency always gets involved in cases where 1 of the parents is getting public assistance for the child or the child is in foster care. So if you or the other parent of your child is getting some kind of welfare for your child, the LCSA will get involved.

You can also get the help of the LCSA to get child support even if you are not on public assistance. If neither you nor the other parent is on public assistance but the LCSA is involved, it is probable that the other parent went to the LCSA to get help with child support.

Q: Is the local child support agency lawyer my lawyer?

A: No. The LCSA does not represent the parents or the children. The LCSA lawyers are not your lawyers. You are not a legal client, and the information you give the LCSA is not confidential.

Also, LCSA lawyers can give certain information about your case to other agencies, the other parent, or the other parent’s employer or lawyer.

Parents have the right to get advice from a private lawyer or legal aid agency at any time. You can also get legal information and help from the family law facilitator at your court.

Q: It is taking a long time for the local child support agency to act on my request to get or change child support. What can I do?

A: The local child support agency has a lot of cases. They try to process their cases in a way that is fair to everyone. You can speed up your case by filing your own motion to change support. If you need assistance preparing your motion, you can get assistance from the family law facilitator. The local child support agency will still be involved in your case.

You must have a case open in which to file a motion for child support. If you do not have such a case, you will have to start one.

To get a child support order or to change the amount of a child support order:

  • File papers with the court clerk;
  • Serve a copy of your papers on the local child support agency; and
  • Serve the other parent.

Q: Can we get help to work out a support agreement without going to court?

A: Yes. If you and the other parent are in agreement about the support, the family law facilitator can help you prepare your agreement to submit to the court.

If you need help to reach an agreement, mediation can help you solve disagreements about money issues, like spousal/partner and child support and property. In some counties the family law facilitator can provide some child support mediation services.

You can also hire a private mediator to help you agree about money AND parenting issues. But it is not required. Private mediators are usually lawyers or mental health professionals. They usually charge between $50 and $250 an hour. Usually both parties share this cost.

To learn more about how mediation can help you, read Alternative Dispute Resolution: Options for Resolving Your Dispute or contact the family law facilitator in your county.

Q: We already have an order for child support, but I think the other parent’s income has changed since then. Should I just file a motion to go to court?

A: You should give a lot of thought to all the facts in your case before you decide to file a motion to change a child support order. The results can be different than what you expected.

For example, if you are the one paying support, the amount you pay may actually increase if the other parent's income went down. If you are the one getting support for the child, the support may go down if the other parent's income went down.

Q: How do I find out whether the other parent’s income has gone up or down?

A: If you have a judgment in your case (your divorce has been completed, or there is a judgment of paternity), you can have someone serve a Request for Production of an Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment (Form FL-396) on the other parent, along with an Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).

The other parent who receives your Request must fill out the Income and Expense Declaration and return it to you within 30 days after it was served. At the same time, the other parent must also send a copy of his or her most recent state and federal tax returns. Please note that these forms (FL-396 and FL-150) must be served by someone who is not a party to your case and who is over the age of 18 years; you CANNOT serve the papers yourself.

Q: I had someone else send the other parent a "Request for Production of an Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment" and an "Income and Expense Declaration." I never received anything back at all. What can I do now?

A: If you have not received a response after 35 days, or if the Income and Expense Declaration does not have complete wage information, you can send the other parent's employer a Request for Income and Benefit Information from Employer (Form FL-397). You can set the date by which the employer must send you the information, but you must allow at least 15 days. You must also send a copy of this form to the other parent.

The employer and the other parent must be served by certified mail, with postage fully prepaid and return receipt requested. Or you can have Form FL-397 personally served on the employer and the other parent by someone who is not a party to your case and who is over the age of 18 years. Learn more about Service of Process.

Q: Do I still have to pay child support if I have 50/50 custody?

A: If you make more money than the other parent, you may still have to pay some child support or share costs such as employment-related child care or uninsured medical costs.

Q: Will the court consider that I have other children to support?

A: The court can give you credit for other child support orders that you are actually paying and for other children in your home that you support. The court usually does not give credit for stepchildren or grandchildren.

Q: Will I pay less child support if I have the children more often?

A: The amount of time that the children are with you is a factor in calculating child support. And, as a general rule, the more time you have your children, the less child support you will have to pay because you are spending more money to support that child when that child is in your home. The court considers the actual amount of time you spend with the child, not just what is ordered.

But the child support formula is complicated and it does not always work out this way. Other factors, like the other parent’s income and whether or not he or she receives public assistance, can end up making your child support the same (or even more) even if you have the children more often.

Q: What if my employer threatens to fire me because of a wage assignment?

A: It is illegal for any employer to discriminate, retaliate, or fire an employee because of the existence of a wage assignment. If you believe your employer is discriminating against you or let you go only because of the wage assignment, talk to a lawyer or your family law facilitator. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q: The parent who is supposed to pay support is in jail. Do they still have to pay support?

A: Child support is based on the parent’s ability to pay. The law states that if a parent is in jail and has no money to pay support, he or she is eligible for a $0 child support order. However, if there was already a child support order in place, the incarcerated parent should take action to change the child support while he or she is in jail. If not, back child support will continue to grow and that person will have to pay the back support when released, plus interest.

A person who goes to jail should contact the local child support agency to modify the support order if they are involved in the case. If the LCSA is not involved, the person ordered to pay support should contact the family law facilitator for help stopping the support while incarcerated.

Q: How do I end child support?

A: In general, you have to file a request in court to end the child support. This request is called a motion. If you have a case with the local child support agency, you may be able to get your child support ended without having to go to court. Find out if you can just bring the LCSA proof that your child is no longer a minor and has graduated from high school, and that child support should be stopped. If the agency does not agree, you will need to file a motion with the court. If you were the parent ordered to pay support and you now have the child, you will still need to file a motion to either end support or get support from the other parent. If you do not change the court order, the other parent may be able to enforce the order you did not change.

If you owe any back child support, you will have to continue making payments until you pay it off. If there are any other children under the age of 18 from the relationship, you may need to file a motion to change your child support order.

If you need help, the family law facilitator can help you find out if you need to go to court, and if you do, help you with your paperwork. Find out how to file papers to change your support order.

Q: I was never served with any papers. Now the local child support agency says that I owe a lot of back child support. What can I do?

A: If you were never served with any papers, you may be able to have the default and judgment canceled (or “set aside”). But you must act as soon as you find out that there was a default or judgment for support. If you do not act as soon as you find out about the default or judgment for support, the court may refuse to cancel the judgment.

This is a very complicated problem. Contact a family law facilitator or lawyer for help as soon as possible. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q: I was served with papers by the local child support agency a long time ago, but I ignored them because I was in prison. Now that I am out, I owe a lot of money. What can I do?

A: You may not be able to cancel (or "set aside") a judgment if you were served correctly. There may be some exceptions, but it is a complicated problem. Contact a family law facilitator or a lawyer for help as soon as possible. Remember: you must act as soon as you find out about the default or judgment! Click for help finding a lawyer.

Getting a court to cancel a judgment is difficult, particularly if the judgment is over 6 months old. If you cannot get the judgment canceled, there are other things you may be able to do. You can file a motion to change the support based on how much money you make. You can also ask the court to set a monthly payment so you can repay what you owe for back support in installments. This is called “arrearage” (back support).

Alert! The child support order will stay in effect even if you have no income or less income unless you ask the court to change the court order. The court will only change a child support amount for future payments, starting from the day you file papers asking for the change. The court will not be able to lower past child support amounts. Any arrearage (back support) will include interest, which is currently 10 percent per year. This can add up to a lot of money.

Q: I owe a lot of back support. The local child support agency had my driver's license suspended. I cannot pay the money they want to get back my license. If I lose my license, I will lose my job. What can I do?

A: You can file a Notice of Motion for Judicial Review of License Denial (Form FL-670). This form asks the court to consider giving you back your license. The court will make the final decision, not the local child support agency.

Get the forms to help you get your license back. The family law facilitator can also help you fill out the forms you need and explain the process.

Q: I did not file an Answer to Complaint or Supplemental Complaint Regarding Parental Obligations. Now the local child support agency takes half of my paycheck for child support. The support is too high. Can I get it lowered?

A: If your judgment for child support was based on a "presumed income," you ONLY have 1 year from the date of the first collection of money by the local child support agency to file a Notice and Motion to Cancel (Set Aside) Support Order Based on Presumed Income (Form FL-640). Read the Information Sheet for Notice and Motion to Cancel (Set Aside) Support Order Based on Presumed Income (Form FL-640-INFO) to learn more and see instructions.

WARNING: Do NOT WAIT to file your motion. Your deadline for filing may be less than 1 year in certain situations. Get help from the family law facilitator or talk to a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If appropriate given the circumstances of your case, the court may set aside (cancel) the original support order and recalculate the guideline amount based on your actual income, or possibly your income earning ability, for the period of time for which a support judgment was entered.

You cannot use Form FL-640 to say that you are not the child’s parent. If you want to say you are not the child’s parent, talk to the family law facilitator or a lawyer as soon as can. These cases are very complicated. Click for help finding a lawyer.

If your child support order is NOT based on presumed income, talk to the family law facilitator to see if there is any other way to file a motion to cancel (set aside) the judgment. There are some reasons that the court may accept to set aside a judgment, but setting aside judgments is very difficult.

Q: I thought I had paid off the back child support I owed. But I got a bill for interest. Why do I have to pay interest now?

A: Since July 1, 1992, all local child support agencies must charge interest on all back child support. The money that you pay will be applied to current child support first and back child support next. Interest is usually the last charge to be calculated by the agency. Interest is:

  • 10% per year for child support that was due on or after January 1, 1983; and
  • 7% per year for child support that was due before January 1, 1983.

Q: Is my spouse's income going to be counted for child support?

A: In general, the court only uses the parents' income for calculation of child support. However, the court can inquire about your spouse's income for the purpose of determining what effect the spouse's income will have in determining your after-tax income, and in unusual cases, for other purposes.

Q: My employer takes out more out of my paycheck than the child support amount. Where does my money go?

A: Child support money you pay is:

  1. First applied to current support;
  2. Then applied to principal owed for back support; and
  3. Lastly, applied to the interest due on back support.

Q: Why do I have to pay interest on back child support (arrears)? And, how much interest do I have to pay?

A: If the Local Child Support Agency is involved in your case, it is required to charge interest on all past-due child support. Interest is usually the last charge to be calculated by the Department of Child Support Services. The interest it charges is:

  • 10% per year for child support that was due on or after January 1, 1983.
  • 7% per year for child support that was due before January 1, 1983.

Q: Can I discharge the back child support I owe in bankruptcy?

A: NO. Back child support cannot be canceled in a bankruptcy proceeding.  Once it is owed, it will always be owed, until paid. You cannot use bankruptcy to get out of having to pay your child support obligation.

Q: What if 1 parent is earning less than he or she can?

A: The court may, after careful consideration, set an income to be used in computing child support that is higher than the parent’s actual income. This might happen:

  • If the parent's "earning capacity" is higher than his or her actual income and it would be in the best interest of the children. (See California Family Code section 4058(b).)
  • Or if a parent is not working and could be, the court may set an income amount for that parent.

A parent’s earning capacity is determined based on both the parent's ability and opportunity to work.

  • If the parent is able to work but is not, the judge may estimate what he or she could earn using his or her work history or other information. If the judge does not have other information to use in estimating a parent's potential earnings, he or she might use the minimum wage amount.
  • If a parent has no ability or opportunity to work (like if the parent is in jail or disabled), the court cannot assign an income to that parent.

Q: What is “earning capacity”?

A: The court will set an order based on a parent’s "earning capacity" only if 3 factors are satisfied:

  1. The parent must have an ability to work. In determining whether the parent has an ability to work, the court will look at his or her age, education, health, work experience, and other job qualifications.
  2. The court will look at the parent’s willingness to work. Has he or she made a good-faith effort to get a job?
  3. The court will look at whether the parent has an opportunity to work. Is there an employer that will hire him or her?

If the court looks at those 3 factors and determines that the parent should be earning money, it will base the child support order on what the court believes is that parent's earning capacity.

Q: Can the court order a parent to work?

A: If it appears to the court that a parent who could work is not working and not making serious efforts to find work, the court may make a “seek-work” order.

  • A seek-work order requires a person to actively look for a job. It also requires him or her to keep a record of their job-search activities and report those activities to the court (and to the other parent) at some point in the future (usually at a future hearing). Reports of job-search activities are also to be made to the local child support agency.
  • Failure to comply with a seek-work order could permit the court to set income for that person and to make an "earning capacity" order.

Even if a parent is not working, the court may order him or her to pay an amount of support consistent with what it believes that parent could earn. This is known as the parent's "earning capacity."

  • In certain situations, even though a parent has no income, the court will order him or her to pay child support based on his or her earning capacity.
  • A court may also require a parent to attend job training, job placement, or other work programs.

Q: Can the person who falls behind in support payments go to jail for not paying support?

A: A person who owes support and willfully fails to pay is ignoring a court order to pay support, so he or she can be prosecuted for being in contempt of court and may go to jail. This enforcement tool is generally used as a last resort when all other efforts to collect support have failed. If you are being charged with contempt of court and could face criminal charges, you have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, ask the court to appoint one for you.

Q: What is medical support?

A: Federal and California laws require that every child support order include an order for “medical support.” (See 45 Code of Federal Regulations section 302.56(3) and California Family Code sections 3750 through 3753). This means that the court will order the non-custodial parent to provide health insurance for the child as long as it is available at a "reasonable cost." (See California Family Code section 3751).

You should also know that:

  • Health insurance includes vision and dental coverage. (See California Family Code sections 3750 through 3753)
  • The cost is presumed to reasonable if the cost to add the children is 5 percent or less of that parent's gross income.
  • The payments for heath insurance are in addition to the base child support amount.

If you do not think you can afford to pay your medical support order, you can file 2 forms to ask the court to change or end the order:

  • Request and Notice of Hearing Regarding Health Insurance Assignment (Form FL-478). To see information and instruction for this form, read the Information Sheet and Instructions for request and Notice of Hearing Regarding Health Insurance Assignment (Form FL-478-INFO).
    AND
  • Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)

If you or your child is in need of access to more affordable health insurance, you may wish to contact Covered California. Covered California can help reduce the cost you pay towards high quality affordable health care. For more information visit www.coveredca.com or call Covered California at 1-800-300-1506

Q: If I give up my parental rights, will I still have to pay child support?

A: Termination of parental rights means that a person is no longer considered to be the parent of the child. If the court terminates a parent's rights, then he or she is no longer responsible for the child.

In general:

  • The court will usually only order a termination of parental rights if someone else is prepared to adopt the child.
  • If your child has been removed from 1 of the parents by the court, the court can terminate parental rights in order to free the child up for adoption.
  • The court will not order a termination of your parental rights if that would leave the child with only 1 parent responsible for his or her care and support.

You are required to provide financial support for your child whether or not you visit the child. Also, if your rights have been terminated, you still owe the child support that was ordered before your rights were terminated.

Q: What if the person ordered to pay support has moved to another state?

A: Every state has an agency to enforce child support orders. States must cooperate with each other to collect both current and back child support and locate parents and their assets. Laws may be different from state to state, but all child support agencies help each other. Federal laws require every state to enact the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). UIFSA requires states to work together to establish and enforce child support orders from other states.

If the local child support agency is involved with your case, contact them and let them know that the other parent has moved and give them any information you have about the parent’s new address or work

Q: What if I have a child support order and the other parent lives in a different state?

A: If you and the other parent live in different states, you may use the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to enforce your child support order.

Trying to enforce child support across state lines is very difficult. You may want to open a case with the local child support agency to help you enforce your order. The local child support agency will work with child support agencies in other states locate and enforce child support for you.

Q: How do I complain about the LCSA?

A: If you think the LCSA is not handling your child support case properly, you may file a complaint with the LCSA. The LCSA has a complaint resolution system to resolve complaints about customer service, timeliness of service, payment and billing issues, and decisions to close a child support case. Complaint forms are available on the California Department of Child Support Services website.

Read about the LCSA’s Complaint Resolution Program.

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