Child Support – above guideline?

In Washington, DC, parents are in court disputing the appropriate amount of child support to be paid for the parties’ two children.  It gets press (here at the Washington Post) because of the money involved (millions) and because the father, Peter Orszag, is a former Clinton and Obama administration official.

In California, parents usually pay child support based on their incomes, the amount of time each spends with the child, and other relevant factors (including, but not limited to, allowable deductions for property taxes, mortgage interest, and union dues).  The information is run through a calculation which produces the guideline amount.  The formula can be found at Family Code Section 4055.  You can run the numbers (your numbers) here.

The guideline number is presumed to be correct.  However, what happens when the payor parent has an extraordinarily high income?  Family Code Section 4057(b)(3) provides that this is a situation when the Court may deviate from the guideline amount.  The burden is on the high-earner to show that the guideline amount is inappropriate because it exceeds the child’s needs.  The Code fails to define a child’s reasonable needs.

The payor parent may wish to show that the child (children) does not need $30,000 per month to meet his needs (assuming that is the guideline amount).  The payee parent, on the other hand, would contend the guideline amount is reasonable to be sure the child is not transitioning between two vastly disparate home environments (an extreme example: a 1 bedroom apartment to an 8000 square foot single family home).

Before agreeing to any child support order or going to court to establish or modify an order, be sure to speak to an experienced family law attorney who can explain guideline child support and the whens and whys of deviating from the guideline.