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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Child Support > FAQs About Deviating from California’s Guidelines for Child Support

FAQs About Deviating from California’s Guidelines for Child Support


California has uniform child support guidelines that it generally defaults to in order to calculate child support obligations. Guideline child support is presumed to be the correct amount in our state. However, parents and judges are not always bound by the guidelines because this presumption is rebuttable. It can be challenged. While, on a case-by-case basis a judge can deviate from California’s child support guidelines in certain situations there still needs to be a proper and legal basis to do so.

Situations where judges might choose to deviate from the established child support calculation guidelines include, but are not limited to:

A Parent Earns a Very High Income

There are situations where the amount of child support that would be awarded using the established (or DissoMaster) calculation would result in an ordered amount that far exceeds the actual needs of the children. The Family Code addresses the scenario where a payor has extraordinarily high income. In these situations, the child support formula could yield a child support order in an amount that far exceeds the needs of the children. Under these circumstances, the judge can deviate from the guidelines to adjust the child support to an amount that reflects the child’s actual needs.

However, California law also recognizes that children should not be deprived of the benefit of having a parent with an extraordinarily high income. In California, children have the right to share in the standard of living of both parents. The judge will use their discretion to determine: will deviating from the established guideline create a more just situation?

A Parent Earns a Very Low Income

Similar to the above, if a parent earns a very low income then the court may grant a downward deviation of child support from the standard guideline. One can expect this result if using the standard child support calculation formula would result in the parent being unable to sustain their own necessary living expenses.

Parents should be wary here – a parent’s idea of what a “necessary” living expense might not be what the court deems “necessary.” The court will seek to promote the best interests of the child – always. The best interests of the child will prevail, even to the point where, for example, a parent has to forego an expensive hobby or miss out on a vacation in order to pay what the court sees as the appropriate amount of child support.

When the Formula is Unjust or Inappropriate

There is rarely, if ever, a time where a hard-and-fast rule will be just or fair in every single situation. Accordingly, California law has developed to allow for discretion from judges in making rulings in child support cases that are actually, objectively fair – or as close as can be.

The California code lists specific situations that may allow a judge to deviate from the established formula in calculating child support because using the actual guideline and general rule would result in unjust or inappropriate amounts of support. Some of these circumstances include:

  • 50/50 custody cases where one parent has a much higher or much lower percentage of income going toward housing costs
  • When special needs children or those with known, extra medical expenses are at issue. It is understood that the cost required to support these children will likely be much greater than the needs of those children the courts had in mind when crafting the child support calculation formula.
  • Cases involving children who have more than two parents

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

The experienced San Francisco child support attorneys at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young can help you navigate through every nuance of your custody and/or support case with confidence. Contact our office today to begin discussions with our team.



Law section (ca.gov)

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