California Court Addresses Computation of Income for Child Support Obligation

vector-digital-calculator-1431732-m.jpgWhen a couple who has children separates, divorces, or simply parts ways, the parents will be expected to address the issue of child support. In many cases, a court will order one parent to pay to the other a certain amount of money each month for the care and expenses of the couple’s child or children. Most states consider the issue of child support to be a serious one. In fact, California law requires each county in the state to maintain a local child support agency that is responsible for establishing, modifying, and enforcing child support obligations (among other things). If you are facing a child support issue of any kind, it is important that you seek the guidance of an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area.

Questions regarding entitlement to and the extent of child support can become quite complicated fairly quickly, particularly if parents are unable to agree on the amount. In such cases, a court will determine the amount based on a uniform statutory guideline. Some of the factors include the amount of money the parents earn or have the potential to earn, any other income each parent receives, the number of children the parents have together, the amount of time each parent spends with their children, the tax filing status of each parent, support of children from other relationships, Social Security benefits, and a variety of other factors.

In a recent child support case, the mother had physical custody of the couple’s two children. The father paid child support. At some point, the Napa County Department of Child Support Services stepped in and filed a motion to modify the father’s support obligation. The court found that the father’s income was his monthly social security disability payment and subsequently ordered him to pay to the mother a portion of that amount in child support. Additionally, the mother received $796 a month in derivative Social Security disability benefits on behalf of the children. She attempted to argue that these benefits should be considered “income” when the court calculated his monthly income for purposes of determining his child support obligation.

The trial court rejected the mother’s position and held that the derivative benefits were deemed income of the children, not the father, and could not be used to assess his child support amount. Therefore, the $796 in derivative disability benefits would satisfy, in part, the father’s child support obligations. The mother appealed, arguing that the court erred when it failed to consider the $796 amount as part of the father’s income for calculating support.

The court of appeals affirmed the decision, pointing out that the language of Section 4504 supports the lower court’s ruling: that the derivative disability benefits serve to offset the child support payments, without taking that amount into account when calculating the child support obligation. The court also pointed out that the mother failed to offer any legal authority – case law or otherwise – that would support her proposition that the $796 benefit should be counted toward income. Therefore, the trial court correctly omitted the children’s derivative benefits in calculating the father’s income.

Many divorce cases in California include a dispute over child support, among many other contested issues. These controversial matters can seriously affect each party’s financial condition after the divorce is final. To protect your financial rights and the well-being of your children, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney as early as possible in the proceedings. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters. Mr. Doppelt’s firm serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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