When Does Child Support End in California?

After a divorce or legal separation, child support pays for the basic needs of a child (e.g., food, housing, clothes, as well as school and health care expenses). In general, the child’s primary parent receives this monthly payment.

How Does Child Support Work in California?

Income and Expense Declaration

Under California law, Parents must fill out an income and expense declaration and provide proof of their gross income.

How Child Support Is Calculated

To determine the child support obligation, the court will calculate each parent’s responsibility.

The judge will consider each parent’s net disposable income. It includes the parent’s income before taxes, union dues, required contributions to retirement, health premiums, expenses associated with raising children from another domestic partnership, and child or spousal support already paid.

In addition, the court will examine all other sources of income such as:

  • Commissions
  • Tips
  • Bonuses
  • Employment wages, including overtime
  • Income from self-employment
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Workers’ compensation benefits and disability benefits
  • Pensions and Social Security
  • Dividends and stocks
  • Earned interest on investments
  • Rental income from property
  • Prize winnings from state lotteries

Additionally, the court will consider how much time the noncustodial parent spends with the child when calculating the support order. California courts determine time-share by calculating how many hours each parent spends physically with their child. If a parent spends less time with his or her child, then the court is more likely to order them to pay a higher child support financial obligation.

How Are Child Support Expenses Calculated?

In determining child support, the following types of expenses are considered:

  • Food, clothing, and shelter (monetary support)
  • Health insurance
  • Unpaid child support
  • Interest on unpaid child support

Child support includes food, clothes, housing, basic education, and other essentials. Judges can order other expenses or parents can agree on them, such as:

  • Preschool or daycare
  • Medical bills that are unpaid
  • Visitation travel costs
  • Sports, lessons, field trips, and other extracurricular activities

What If the Other Parent Has No Income and Doesn’t Work?

Parents may deliberately become unemployed (quit a job) or underemployed (reduce their hours) to avoid paying child support. The courts don’t accept these behaviors. A court can “impute” an income to that parent if it finds that this has happened. This means that instead of using the amount they actually earn to calculate child support, the court will consider the other parent’s earning ability. 

It is necessary for the court to determine that the parent has the ability and opportunity to work so it can assign income the parent is not actually earning. The court must first show the parent can work for jobs he or she is qualified for before imputing income.

What Is the Method of Determining Timeshare?

Each parent has primary responsibility for the minor children for a certain amount of time during timeshare. As far as child custody is concerned, the court will determine which parent has primary responsibility by looking at factors such as who will pick up the children if they get sick, who will provide transportation to and from school, and who will attend school events.

Timesharing is not always an easy calculation due to parents sharing these responsibilities, and the court has discretion to determine the percentage based on how involved each parent is.

Based on Incomes and Timeshares, How Does a Court Calculate Child Support?

The court calculates child support using a mathematical formula that is somewhat complex. Courts will often use software to calculate child support. 

Is the Court Required to Order the Amount Calculated Under the Guideline?

No, not necessarily. Courts have the discretion to impose child support at a different level from what a guideline calculation arrives at in some cases.

If a parent’s net disposable monthly income is less than a set amount, the court can make a low-income adjustment by lowering the amount of child support, unless it would be unfair or inappropriate to do so.

Furthermore, if it is in the children’s best interest, the court can order that is above or below the guideline. Courts may order amounts other than those outlined in the guidelines in the following situations:

  • A parent earns an extremely high income, and based on the guideline amount, the income exceeds the children’s needs. 
  • Considering the amount of time spent with children, one parent is not contributing to the children’s needs at an appropriate level.
  • Both parents spend almost equal time with their children, and one parent spends a greater or lesser percentage of their income on housing.
  • Children with special medical or other needs require a greater amount of support. .

Whenever a court orders something above or below the guideline, it must explain why it did not follow it.

What About Additional Support for My Children’s Expenses Not Covered by the Guideline Amount?

In calculating child support, certain child-related expenses can be included. The court also needs to include the cost of training and employment for parents in addition to uninsured health care and child care.

Additional costs can also be added for the children’s education and special needs, as well as for travel related to visitation.

Most of these additional expenses the court will split equally between the parents. The court may, however, order each parent to pay a certain amount based on their income if there is a significant difference between them.

Do You Have to Agree on a Child Support Amount?

The courts can review and approve child support agreements that parents propose on their own. These agreements must include the following:

  • Parents know their rights.
  • Neither party had to sign the agreement.
  • The agreement serves the children’s best interests. 
  • The agreement will meet the needs of the children.
  • The parents are not receiving public assistance, nor have they applied for it.

The court will approve and issue a child support order if it finds the agreement is in the child’s best interest.

How to Terminate Child Support in California: Do Child Support Payments Have to End When a Child Is Old Enough?

Support usually ends when a child turns 18. Children in college or with special needs may require additional support beyond that age.

Child support may terminate before he or she turns 18. You may be able to ask to stop paying child support if your child joins the military, gets married, or becomes financially independent. Changes in income or other circumstances that would justify changing a child support order may make it possible to modify child support payments at any time.

Child support may also be extended to special-needs children who cannot become financially or medically independent when they become adults. Both parents must sign a written agreement regarding financial responsibility for the child after the child reaches 18. The child support California age limit isn’t always 18, though.

Custodial parents may request additional support for their special-needs children whose medical costs will likely be foreseeable and recurring, along with their educational expenses.

As a result, a child’s child support can continue past his or her 18th birthday if the parent and the child agree on a date and notify the court. Parents can, for example, offer to support their child until the child finishes college or reaches the age of 21.

When Does Child Support End?

California family law stipulates that child support ceases after a child reaches the age of 18, known as the age of majority. Child custody laws cannot apply after that date.

The law does not apply to children who are still full-time high school students at the age of 18. Children must stop receiving child support at the age of 19 or when they graduate high school, whichever comes first. Either parent entering other relationships does not affect the child support amount.

Child support ends when a child turns 18 years old, or if one of the following circumstances occur:

  • An adult child gets married.
  • The child enlists in the military.
  • Emancipation occurs before the child turns 18.
  • The court terminates support or custody. 
  • The child dies before they turn 18.

Is It Possible to Modify a Child Support Order?

Either parent may request modification of a child support order if there has been a change of circumstances, such as an increase in income or a shift in timesharing.

A court can modify a child support agreement without a change of circumstances if parents agreed to pay less than the guideline amount. Parents’ agreements that exceed the guideline may need modification to a lesser amount if their circumstances change.

Also read:How Long Does Alimony Last?

Spousal support, which is also known as alimony, is often requested during divorce or separation proceedings. Depending on the court r...

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About When Child Support Ends in California?

You can find resources available for help with your case, whether you are requesting child support or responding to a child support case. You may get assistance with your paperwork at the family law facilitator’s office in many counties. Speaking to a lawyer is always your best bet when it comes to child support issues.

Child Support Enforcement in California

A court may enforce child support orders and assist custodial parents in collecting past-due sums once they have been established.

Motion for Contempt

The court can hold the delinquent parent in contempt of court if he or she fails to pay child support. You are held in contempt if you have willfully disobeyed a court order. This means you face fines or jail time if you do not comply with paying your child support.

Those seeking to enforce child support in court must file a motion for contempt. A custodial parent can file a motion in the county where the child lives or the local DCSS office.

Support payments are subject to a statute of limitations in California. A delinquent parent has three years to file a contempt action against them. In the case of a parent who hasn’t paid child support for seven years, you can only file contempt regarding the last three years. Make sure you file for contempt at least every three years if the noncustodial parent isn’t paying.

Support Orders: Additional Court Orders

The court will hold a hearing if you file a contempt complaint against a delinquent parent. The court can order a number of penalties if the delinquent parent refuses to pay. Once a judge finds a delinquent parent in contempt, he or she may:

  • Fine parents up to $1,000 and sentence them to five days in jail, but judges generally do not fine parents since the money can pay past due child support
  • For a second or third contempt, send a delinquent parent to community service up to 120 hours
  • Enforce the child support order by having the delinquent parent pay the custodial parent’s attorney fees and other costs
  • Sell the property of a delinquent parent for child support
  • Place a lien on the real property of a delinquent parent
  • Withhold child support from a delinquent parent’s wages
  • Child support arrears may be garnished from a delinquent parent’s bank account
  • Delinquent parents may have to pay past due child support from their pension plans, veteran’s benefits, a spouse’s community property, Social Security disability benefits, unemployment compensation benefits, workers’ compensation, lottery winnings, and most other sources of income.

The courts are responsible for enforcing child support orders and can usually order to remove delinquent parent’s income and give it to the custodial parent for child support. Contact a local family law attorney if you have questions about whether courts can garnish certain benefits for child support.

The court will not hold a parent who doesn’t have the financial ability to pay child support in contempt of court. In court, parents who claim they can’t pay must prove their income and assets (or lack thereof).

If a parent is behind on child support, they’re still liable until the money is paid in full. Just because a child reaches the age of 18 doesn’t mean they are suddenly exempt from payment. Support must still be filed within three years.

You can hire a private attorney to file for contempt on your behalf if you are a custodial parent seeking to enforce support and collect overdue payments. Your local DCSS can also assist with child support enforcement.


State and local authorities will handle most cases. The Child Support Enforcement Act provides a few guidelines, though.

Considering that California’s child support laws are sometimes complicated, it is also a good idea to seek professional advice from California child support lawyers, the Department of Child Support Services, or your local child support agency if you have specific questions.

Article by Mariia Synytska

Mariia Synytska was Content Lead at Lawrina. Mariia managed the content on the website, took interviews with lawyers and law experts, and looked for interesting topics for Lawrina's audience.

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