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What Is Child Custody?

When the parents of a minor child get divorced, one of the most important issues that arises involves distributing parental rights and responsibilities concerning the care and custody of their child. Child custody arrangements come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the circumstances of the divorce. To determine issues of child custody, California courts are obligated to consider the child’s best interests.

Child custody arrangements can be categorized in the following ways:

  • Physical custody: The right of a parent to live with their child.
  • Legal custody: The right of a parent to make decisions on behalf of their child concerning things like education and medical treatment.
  • Joint custody: A custody arrangement can involve joint physical custody and joint legal custody. In joint physical custody, neither parent spends more time living with the child than the other parent. Joint legal custody arrangements require the parents to agree on making legal decisions on behalf of their children.
  • Sole custody: Custody arrangements can involve sole physical custody and sole legal custody. Sole physical custody describes an arrangement where one parent spends most of the time living with their child. Sole legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make legal decisions for their child without the other parent’s assent.

What Is Child Support?

A parent owes a legal duty to provide their child with sufficient financial support to cover necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, education, and medical care. The duty of a parent to pay child support comes from the parent-child relationship. Thus, this duty exists independently of the marital status of the parents. Instead, a parent must provide for the financial support of their children during the marriage as they would after divorce.

However, the reason the issue of child support only seems to come up in cases with separated or divorced parents is that parents who live together with their child typically fulfill this duty every day through ordinary parenting and childcare.

Child Support Obligations Depend on Custodial Arrangements

The California Family Code lists specific guidelines for determining the nature and extent of a parent’s child support obligation. Courts are required to apply these statutory guidelines when fashioning a child support order. The amount a parent owes in child support depends on their income and the number of children they have.

Courts calculate child support obligations by following these steps:

  • Determining each parent’s net monthly income, under California Family Code § 4058 and 4059.
  • Adding the net monthly income of each parent together.
  • Multiplying the combined net monthly income of the parents by the percentage of time the parent with the higher earnings has primary physical responsibility for the child.
  • Subtracting the resulting figure from the higher earner’s net monthly disposable income.
  • Multiplying the result by the percentage of income allocated for child support under California Family Code § 4055(b)(3).

Thus, the formula for calculating child support accounts for the fact that both parents owe a duty to provide financial support for their child. The amount of child support a parent owes depends on how much time they spend with primary physical responsibility for the child. As a result, the nature of the custody arrangement in a divorce is a material factor when calculating a parent’s child support.

Notably, the parent with the higher-earning capacity serves as the basis for calculating child support. If the calculations under the statutory guidelines result in a positive number, the higher-earning spouse must pay that amount to the lower-earning spouse. Conversely, if the guideline calculations yield a negative number, the lower-earning spouse pays the higher-earning spouse.

Consult Fenchel Family Law PC for Legal Advice

Are you going through a difficult divorce? If so, you should consult an experienced family law attorney from Fenchel Family Law PC for quality legal representation. Our legal team has years of experience litigating family law cases, including child custody and support issues.

Please call Fenchel Family Law PC at (415) 805-9069 or contact our office online to schedule a consultation about your case today.