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What should you know about child support in California?

Child support is one of the most complex issues in any divorce -- and one of the most agonizing financial concerns. If you have primary custody of the kids, you're naturally concerned about making sure that they have everything they need. If you don't have primary custody, you're caught between wanting your children to have what they need and making sure that you have enough money to survive as well.

So, it's natural to have questions. Here are some of the most important things you should know about child support in California.

1. Support is figured according to a complex formula

Some of the factors that go into the calculation include the income of both parents, the deductible expenses of both parents, the amount of time each parent has custody of the children and the number of children involved. The same guidelines are used throughout the state so that there is no advantage or disadvantage wherever you file.

2. Support can be more than necessary strictly necessary

Children are entitled to a lifestyle similar to their parents', which means that parents of significant means may pay more support than is absolutely necessary to meet the needs of a child -- even when that support enhances the life of the other parent.

3. Support rarely exceeds the end of high school

In California, it's unusual for a parent to owe child support after a child has reached his or her 18th birthday and graduated high school. Support terminates at 19 years of age even if a child hasn't graduated. There are some exceptions, however. Parents can agree to support a child through college if they wish as part of the divorce negotiations, and a child who is disabled may require support much longer.

4. Support includes a lot of things most parents don't expect

When child support is calculated, the court examines the child's needs in terms of housing costs, clothing, food, educational expenses, insurance, medical bills, child care, travel costs (due to visitation) and extracurricular items like music lessons, sports fees, therapy and tutors.

It's important to understand that there are a lot of "soft" figures used in the calculations -- which is why it's important to have someone to look out for your interests during child support negotiations. Whether you expect to pay or receive, you want the process to be as fair as possible.

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