Child Support Is Not Always Set At The Guideline Amount

A divorce court may deviate or depart from the state mandated guideline for child support payments if there is a finding of special circumstances such that the application of the child support formula would be unjust or inappropriate.

The County of Lake (“County”) filed a motion to change an existing child support order, which required a father to pay $100 per month in child support for his son. The father had been paying $100 per month to the mother, who was the custodial parent, over the course of eight years. The father had a net monthly income of $1,978, and debts totaling $41,444, which required a payment of $1,378 monthly. Further, the father re-married, had another child and became financially responsible for a stepdaughter. The father reported further monthly expenses amounting to $3,709 per month. The County calculated the presumptive amount of the father’s monthly child support obligation was to be $419.06.

The divorce court set the father’s child support obligation at $294, reducing it by $200 from the presumptive amount of $494 after finding “special circumstances” that made the presumptive amount unjust or inappropriate. The divorce court based the special circumstances on the fact that the father was supporting two children that lived with him and had an extraordinary high amount of monthly debt. On appeal, the County argued that support of stepchildren or payment of staggering debt cannot be calculated as a hardship deduction and sought payment of the full presumptive child support amount.

The court found the County’s argument inapplicable because the divorce court reduced the amount based on a different code section. Further, the court explained a divorce court may apply a rebuttable factor to a presumed child support amount if the divorce court finds “in writing or on the record that application of the formula would be unjust or inappropriate in the particular case and that the revised amount is in the best interests the children…” The court determined that the divorce court had appropriately used its discretion in considering the father’s debt burden and financial obligations for his second son a stepdaughter when deciding to reduce the child support obligation. Therefore, the father was not required to pay the presumptive child support, amount of $494 per month, based on special circumstances that would render it unjust or inappropriate.

County of Lake v. Antoni, 18 Cal. App 4th 1102 (1993)