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Child Support Issues Affecting High Earners

How Child Support Is Determined Generally

A parent owes a legal duty to provide their child with adequate financial support to secure living expenses, such as clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. The duty to pay child support arises from the legal parent-child relationship.

Typically, a parent fulfills their duty to provide financial support to their child by sheltering the child and paying for housing, groceries, medical, and school expenses. Most children who live with their parents have their needs fulfilled. However, when a parent does not live with their child or shares custody—due to a legally recognized custody arrangement between divorced or otherwise separated parents—that parent must pay child support to satisfy this legal duty.

Ordinarily, the parent who doesn’t live with the child sends child support payments to the parent who lives with the child. A parent’s child support obligation depends on relative income, the number of children, and the specific needs of the child. Under California law, courts determine a parent’s child support obligation based on particular guidelines provided under the California Family Code § 4052.

Courts are not bound to strictly follow the statutory guidelines for determining child support. Under certain circumstances, a court has discretion as to whether a deviation from guideline child support is appropriate in any given case.

Child Support Obligations for High Earners

When one parent qualifies as an extraordinarily high earner, a court can deviate from California’s child support guidelines. The Family Code does not define what an “extraordinarily high earner” is, and thus, courts have discretion to determine who qualifies.

A court may evaluate a parent’s earnings compared to the standard of living for a particular area. Although $100,000 may not mean a lot in Los Angeles, for example, that amount may be considered excessive in other cities in California.

Once someone is classified as a high earner, they are obligated to share their fortune with their children. California courts have rationalized that the duty to pay child support involves more than providing “the mere necessities of life” in cases when the parent can afford to pay more. In cases where the child has grown accustomed to the standard of living the high earner provided before a divorce, the court has ordered the affluent parent to pay enough support allowing the child to continue enjoying that living standard.

Imputing Income in Child Support Proceedings

A parent’s child support obligation requires an examination of their financial condition. A parent must demonstrate the nature of their financial status by submitting an Income & Expense Declaration (FL-150) with supporting documents.

However, a court has discretion to consider other evidence to essentially assign to the parent an income level for purposes of determining child support, despite what was declared on an Income & Expense Declaration. This process is known as “imputing” income.

Courts have considered the following factors when imputing income for child support determinations:

  • The parent’s earning capacity, factoring their age, occupation, skill set, education, experience, qualifications, and health;
  • The parent’s willingness to work as shown through meaningful attempts to find employment;
  • Opportunities to work under the relevant conditions of the job market.

For example, a parent who was licensed to practice law but works at a café as a barista may be subject to an imputed income more commensurate with an attorney’s earnings.

Seek Legal Advice from Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara

Many of the issues in a divorce case revolve around finances. If you are concerned about the financial issues of your divorce, you should get in touch with a dedicated attorney from Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara. We proudly represent families and their legal interests when it comes to legal disputes, such as divorce and child support.

Contact Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara at (949) 229-8546 to arrange for an initial consultation about your case today.