In California, divorced parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially, regardless of what custody arrangement may be in place. However, one question often arises regarding child support: if one parent marries again, does it affect an existing child support order? If so, to what extent?
If the paying parent remarries, the receiving parent may assume that the court will take into account the new spouse’s income and request an increase in child support, only to discover that the law demands a decrease. Similarly, when the receiving parent remarries, the paying parent may ask the court to consider the new spouse’s income. If they’re seeking a decrease in child support, they may find that their obligation actually increases!
Understanding how child support is calculated and how California law generally views this issue is crucial to anticipate the potential impact of a remarriage. This blog reviews California guidelines for child support, circumstances when remarrying affects support payments, and how an experienced San Diego family law attorney can help.
California Guidelines for Child Support: an Overview
When calculating child support, California courts use the guidelines in the Family Code. Factors taken into account when making a determination include:
- Each parent’s gross income
- How much time the child spends with each parent
- Allowable expenses
- Allowable tax deductions
When a parent remarries, the law does not regard the remarriage alone as grounds for modifying child support obligations. According to section 4057.5(a)(1) of the California Family Code, a new spouse’s income is not a legitimate reason to modify a parent’s support obligation. Therefore, courts will not usually deviate from a previously ordered child support award if either parent remarries. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
When Can Remarrying Affect Child Support Payments?
A court may consider a new spouse’s income in certain circumstances. This could happen if:
- Both biological parents earn too little money to adequately provide for the child’s basic needs
- The remarried parent stops working or earns less than before, or remains underemployed or unemployed and is dependent on their new spouse’s income.
For instance, if a child’s biological parents do not earn enough income to support him/her adequately but the mother’s new spouse is significantly wealthy, then the court may consider the mother’s income through her new partner when making a child support decision. Additionally, if the mother is voluntarily unemployed and relies on her new spouse for financial support, the court may consider the new spouse’s income.
It is important to note that whenever a court considers the new spouse’s income in calculating child support, it must permit a hardship deduction based on the minimum living expenses for any stepchildren in the relationship. An experienced family law attorney can explain how this deduction works and what impact their client can expect.
Does Having More Children Lower Child Support Payments?
In the event a noncustodial parent remarries and voluntarily has more children, they cannot seek to lower child support payments based on the new expenses of starting a family. California courts will consider alimony or other child support obligations when determining the initial child support obligation, but having further children with a new spouse is not regarded as a valid reason to reduce it.
How to Seek a Child Support Modification
In California, child support orders remain in effect until the child has reached the age of majority, which is 18 in this case. When a child lives with a parent and is a full-time high school student, support terminates when the child turns 19 or graduates, whichever comes first.
Although a support obligation can’t be disputed once it’s issued, the law does allow for modification of support orders if a parent’s financial situation undergoes significant changes. This could be due to:
- Losing one’s job
- Receiving a substantial pay raise
- Onset of a physical or medical disability that interferes with their ability to work
- Increased cost of living, healthcare, or education
- Arrest and jail time
- Being deployed to active military service
Modification of a child support order can be requested at any time after divorce, ideally as soon as possible after a change in circumstances. In other words, if the paying parent loses their job and doesn’t seek to lower child support until a few months later, the court cannot go back to the date they became unemployed to retroactively lower child support. The result could be an arrearage, which is past due child support, and if it goes unpaid, the receiving parent could seek wage garnishment or property seizure to collect it.
The process for getting a child support modification involves completing a Request for Order and filing it with the court clerk, along with a declaration of income and expenses. This step is best completed with help from a family law attorney who can also answer any questions and confirm that everything is in order. Once the other parent is served with a copy of the document and the proof of service filed, there will be a court date. If the reason for changing the support amount is sufficient, the judge will sign a court order that modifies child support.
What if the New Spouse Adopts the Child?
Increasingly, California stepparents are realizing the benefits of adopting their stepchildren and establishing a close family unit financially, legally, and emotionally. A stepparent adoption preserves the parental rights of one biological parent, but the relationship between the other parent and child is legally severed and that biological parent loses all rights to and responsibility for the child, including the requirement to pay child support. These rights and responsibilities are acquired by the adopting stepparent.
Parental rights and responsibilities are permanently transferred when a stepparent adopts a child in California. Once the adoption is finalized, it cannot be nullified or revoked, except in scarce circumstances, such as serious legal defects, fraud, or mental illness or disability discovered within five years of the adoption. A divorce between a stepparent and a biological parent does not terminate an adoption.
Questions About Remarriage and Child Support?
Although a new spouse is not legally obligated to support their spouse’s children from another marriage financially, the new relationship can result in improved financial circumstances. When this happens, parents paying child support may contest the amount of their obligation. But before the child support amount can be lowered, the paying spouse must take the other parent back to court for a modification.
At the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates, we can help clients make their support obligations more manageable while keeping the best interests of their children in mind. If you have questions about child support in California after remarriage or want to pursue a modification, a San Diego family law attorney can help. To learn more, please call 866-228-7116 or request an appointment online today.