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California Child Support & Custody

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Child Support

Natural and adoptive parents in California must provide child support their children until age 18. Stepparents are not normally required to provide support for their stepchildren. However, if a stepfather agrees to be listed as the father on a child’s birth certificate he may, under certain circumstances, have to pay support for that child. (You should contact a private attorney for help with spousal support, temporary alimony and permanent alimony.)

Child support normally consists of a monthly cash payment to the parent who has the children living with him or her most of the time. However, the non-custodial parent may also be required to pay a proportional share of the child support & care expenses so the custodial parent can work or get training, and a proportional share of medical costs for the children that are not paid by insurance.

A parent cannot stop or get rid of a support order by filing for bankruptcy, or by refusing to pay support. Refusing to pay may lead to jail. In addition, California courts will not enforce any agreement between parents that takes away adequate support for their children.

Child Custody

Parents that separate will need to have a plan for deciding how they will share and divide their parenting responsibilities. This plan can be called a parenting plan, a time-share plan, or an agreement (“stipulation”) regarding child custody and visitation. Any plan must be in writing and signed by both parents and a judge. In California, either parent can have custody, or the parents can share custody. The judge makes the final decision but usually will approve the arrangement both parents agree upon. If the parents can’t agree, the judge will make a decision at a court hearing. The judge will usually not make a decision about custody/visitation until after the parents have met with a mediator. Parents can also hire a private mediator. If mediation doesn’t work, the judge will make a decision at a hearing.

In some courts, the mediator will make a recommendation to the judge about custody/visitation orders. Ask the mediator how the process works in your local court. The judge may appoint an evaluator to recommend a parenting plan. A parent can also ask for an evaluation, but the request may not be granted. Parents may have to pay for an evaluation. The judge also may appoint lawyers for children in custody cases. The law says that judges must give custody according to what is best for the child. In most cases, judges give custody to one or both parents.

After a judge makes a custody/visitation order, one or both parents may want to change the order. If the parents can’t agree on a change, one of the parents must file a motion with the court asking for a change. If you want to change your order, you and the other parent will probably have to meet with a mediator to talk about why you want the order to change.

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