Remarriage and Child Support in California

Learn how remarriage affects child support in California.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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In almost every situation where parents divorce or otherwise split, one parent must pay child support to the other parent. Most parents know that judges consider their income when determining child support. Many parents aren't aware, however, whether a remarriage, or a new spouse's income, affects the child support calculation.

This article explains how remarriage affects child support under California law. If you have additional questions about remarriage and child support in California after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.

California Child Support in a Nutshell

All parents in California have the financial duty to support their children, whether they're married to one another or not. The California Child Support Guidelines lay out a complex formula to calculate child support that includes several factors. Judges determining child support may consider any of the following:

  • each parent's net disposable income
  • the number of children needing support
  • the custody arrangement
  • each parent's tax liability
  • the child's health insurance costs
  • the parent's retirement contributions, mandatory and otherwise
  • whether either parent supports children from other relationships, and
  • any other factors the court deems relevant.

To find a parent's net disposable income, you should subtract from the gross income state and federal taxes, mandatory union dues, and health insurance premiums. If you have questions regarding which expenses you can deduct from your gross income for child support calculations, consult a local family law attorney.

You can estimate your child support award by using California's online Guideline Calculator. The court can adjust your child support up or down from the calculated amount based on the specific circumstances in your case. Examples of circumstances that can affect the calculated child support amount include a child's educational expenses, special needs expenses, or travel expenses for a distant parent.

Learn more about California child support by reading Child Support in California.

Will Either Parent's Remarriage Impact a Child Support Order?

A parent's remarriage won't directly affect child support in California. In almost every case, only the child's biological parents have a legal duty to support the child, not the child's stepparents. California judges aren't allowed to look at the new spouse's income, unless there are extraordinary circumstances causing extreme and severe hardship to the child.

For example, if a child's biological parents don't earn enough income to support the child's basic needs, but the mother's new husband has significant income, the court may consider the funds available to the mother through her husband when deciding child support. Judges may also consider a stepparent's income when a parent voluntarily quits work, reduces income, or intentionally remains unemployed, and relies on a new spouse's income. The court may require the parent's new spouse to turn over W-2s and 1099 tax forms.

Since California is a community property state, each spouse has joint ownership of the married couple's assets. If a parent doesn't pay child support, the court can enforce the order against the couple's community property, except for the new spouse's current job earnings.

New Children's Impact on a Child Support Order

When parents divorce, they can always remarry and have more children; this is their right. Parents can't, however, use the expenses they voluntarily take on by starting a new family as a reason to lower their child support obligation. In California, courts will consider other alimony or child support obligations when setting an initial child support amount, but parents can't use the fact that they've voluntarily had additional children as a reason to lower child support.

Modifying Child Support

To modify a child support award in California, a parent must be able to prove that there's been a significant change in one or both parents' financial circumstances. To be sufficient for a child support modification, the change must be permanent and substantial. A one-time bonus at work or a small inheritance isn't a valid reason to change child support. A judge would, however, consider a change in child support when a parent involuntarily loses a job, a parent receives a large raise, or there's been a change in the custody arrangement.

If you believe you have a substantial change in your financial circumstances and want a child support modification, you'll need to file a motion to modify child support in your county court clerk's office. You and your child's other parent will need to attend a hearing before a judge where you'll argue whether or not child support should change. Bring any documents that help prove your change in circumstances, like proof of your current income and the child's expenses.

If the court agrees that a child support modification is warranted, the judge can sign a new child support order that takes effect immediately.

If you have additional questions about remarriage and child support, contact an California family law attorney for help.

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