No. You do not have to have a lawyer when you go to court. In California, several hundred thousand people each year go to court without a lawyer. This is called being in "pro per" -- the legal term for a person representing him or herself without a lawyer. However, some cases are complicated. This is when a lawyer can be most helpful.
You may find that you need a lawyer if:
- anyone involved has an estate with substantial assets;
- anyone involved lives outside of California;
- there are some other legal proceedings going on at the same time;
- anyone involved has special needs (physically/emotionally disabled);
- anyone involved is a member of the armed services, or
- anyone involved is Native American (in which case, federal laws may apply).
Lawyers are trained to research the intent of laws and judicial decisions and apply the law to the specific circumstances you face. In addition to skills in legal research, a lawyer will usually have:
- familiarity with courtroom rules and procedures;
- an understanding of when a witness is needed, and how he or she should be prepared for a trial;
- an understanding of when an expert, consultant, or investigator is needed – where to find such a person, and how much is reasonable to pay; and
- experience with different strategies for effective presentation of a case in court.
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer there are several options that may help.
- Every superior court in California has legal help available in family law and in small claims cases. Several superior courts can also help you with other legal issues. Find out what services are available at your court.
- There are legal aid offices in many cities throughout California. These are non-profit organizations that provide free legal services to people below a certain income level. Find legal aid offices in your area and find out what areas of law they cover.
- If you don’t have much money but the other party in your case does, the court might order the other party to pay for some or all of your lawyer’s fees. (You would have to ask the court for this. It is not automatic.)
- Many bar associations have Modest Means Panels made up of lawyers who will take certain kinds of cases for a reduced fee. (You would have to find your local bar association and ask if it could help you with this.)
- You may be able to find a lawyer who will coach you on representing yourself (called "coaching"), or who will only handle (and charge you for) the more complicated parts of your case. This is called "limited scope representation" or "unbundled legal services.” (Your local bar association may have a list of lawyers who do limited scope representation.)
Generally, lawyers specialize in a particular area of the law. They may specialize in trial law (civil or criminal), bankruptcy law, elder law, family law, etc. When working with a lawyer, it is important to know his or her specialty.
NOTE: A lawyer cannot represent you in Small Claims court but they may help you prepare for your case.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, make sure you understand:
- what you will be paying for,
- how much it will cost, and
- when you will be expected to pay your bill.
You may want to talk to several attorneys before you hire one.
- Go to the State Bar of California’s Lawyer Referral Service.
You can also find attorneys listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory, or through the internet.
- Get more help finding free and low-cost legal aid.
Both parents of a child are responsible to support their children.
- If the parents are married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time the child is born or conceived, both parents are presumed to be the legal parents of the child. Both parents therefore have responsibility for supporting the child.
- If the parents are not married or in a registered domestic partnership, then
parentage must be established in order for the child to legally have two parents.
The legal duty of support continues until the child:
- turns 18 years of age, and has graduated from high school OR turns 19 years old while still in high school, whichever comes first. OR
- marries. OR
- dies; OR
- joins the military.
If the child cannot earn a living due to disability, both parents must support their child. This is true no matter their son or daughter's age. In this case, child support may be ordered even if the child is over 18.
Every parent must support his or her children. It doesn’t matter if you are a father or a mother -- any parent may ask for
Because child support depends primarily upon both parties’ income and the percentage of time the child lives with each of them, either parent might be asked to pay child support to the other.
NO. Grandparents do not have a duty to support their grandchild, even if the parent of that child is under 18 years of age.
Before a child support case can be started, the person asking for payment needs to know where the other parent(s) can be found so that court papers can be properly
There are many places to gather information about a parent’s whereabouts including:
- Credit reporting agency records.
- Employers – current and previous.
- Law enforcement agencies, and parole and probation offices.
- Military records.
- Social services records.
- State licensing boards.
- Telephone books.
- United States Postal Service.
- Utility companies – current and previous.
If the Department of Child Support Services is involved in a case, it can help find the other parent.
Termination of parental rights means that a person is no longer considered to be the parent of the child. If the court terminates a parent's rights, then he or she is no longer responsible for the child.
- The court will usually only terminate parental rights if someone else is prepared to adopt the child.
- The court will usually not terminate parental rights if that would leave the child with only one parent.
You are required to provide financial support for your child whether or not you visit the child.
If your parental rights are terminated, you would still owe child support that was ordered before your rights were terminated.
Every child support order must include an order for “medical support.” The court will order one or both parents to provide health insurance for the child as long as it is available at a “reasonable cost.”
You should also know that:
- Health insurance includes vision and dental coverage.
- The cost is presumed to be reasonable if it is group health insurance or if it does not exceed 5% of the parent's gross income.
- If the parent paying support has a low-income adjustment under the child support guideline, medical support will not be considered reasonable. This is true unless the court finds that it would be unjust and inappropriate not to order it.
- When the court is ruling on a motion for reimbursement of uninsured medical costs, it must consider whether that health care was available under the insurance plan. The court will presume it is available if the services are within 50 miles of the child's residence.
- The payments for heath insurance are in addition to the base child support amount.
If you don’t think you can afford to pay your medical support order, you can file two forms to ask the court to change or end the order:
If you do not get public assistance, you may get child support from the day that you first filed your case with the court asking for child support. To get retroactive support from that date, you must
The judge may also award child support starting from the date of the
NOTE: The rule allowing retroactive support only applies to the original filing and original child support order. It does not apply to later modifications or requests for changes in the child support order.
The court may, after careful consideration, set an income to be used in computing child support that is higher than the parent’s actual income. This is called "imputing" income. This might happen:
- IF the parent’s “
earning capacity” is higher than the actual income and it would be in the best interest of the children. (See California Family Code, Section 4058(b))
- Or, if a parent isn’t working and could be, the court may set an income amount to that parent.
A parent’s earning capacity is determined based upon both the parent’s ability and opportunity to work.
- If the parent is able to work but is not, the judge may estimate what he or she could earn using their work history or other information. If the judge does not have other information to use in estimating a parent's earnings, he or she might use the minimum wage amount.
- If a parent has no ability or opportunity to work (e.g., if the parent is in jail or disabled), the court cannot assign an income to that parent.
If a parent is not employed, the court may issue a "seek work order." Such an order requires the parent to apply for a minimum number of jobs in a given period, and keep a log of all job applications and inquiries.
If it appears to the court that a parent who could work is not working and not making serious efforts to find work, the court may make a “seek-work” order.
- A seek-work order requires a person to actively look for a job. It also requires him or her to keep a record of their job-search activities and report those activities to the court (and to the other parent) at some point in the future (usually at a future hearing). Reports of job-search activities are also to be made to the Department of Child Support Services.
- Failure to comply with a seek-work order could permit the court to set income to the party and to make an “
earning capacity” order.
Even if a parent is not working, the court may order him or her to pay an amount of support consistent with what it believes that parent could earn. This is known as the parent’s “earning capacity.”
- In certain situations, even though a parent has no income the court will order him or her to pay child support based on his or her earning capacity.
- A court may also require a parent to attend job training, job placement, or other work programs.
The court will set an order based on a parent’s “earning capacity” only if three factors are satisfied:
- The parent must have an ability to work. In determining whether the parent has an ability to work the court will look at his or her age, education, health, work experience, and other job qualifications.
- The court will look at the parent’s willingness to work. Has he or she made a good-faith effort to get a job?
- The court will look at whether the parent has an opportunity to work. Is there an employer that will hire him or her?
If the court looks at those three factors and determines that the parent should be earning money, it will base his or her child support order on what the court believes is that parent’s earning capacity.
In addition to making a child support order based on the parent's earning capacity, the court might make a "seek work" order.
Court-ordered child support usually ends when the child:
- turns 18 years of age and is not a full-time high school student or;
- turns 19 years of age (child support ends at 19 or high school graduation);
- gets married or joins the military;
- the court ends the support order; or
- dies before the age of 18;
whichever occurs first.
Parents may agree to support a child longer than the minimum required. The court may also order that both parents continue to support a disabled adult child if that child cannot support him or herself.
To end child support:
Take the following documents to the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your county:
- proof of the child’s age and education,
- the most current child support order, and
- your last two months’ pay stubs.
Ask your local Family Law Facilitator if you need to file a motion. (Some courts require a motion and some will allow you to end child support without filing a motion.)
- Find the Facilitator in your county.
Note 1: If there is any past support owed, or if there are any other children under the age of 18 from the relationship, you may need to file a Notice of Motion to get a court hearing to change your child support order.
Note 2: If there is a wage assignment, the Family Law Facilitator can give you the information you need to stop it.
Note 3: If one of the parents is paying spousal support to the other when child support ends, either parent may ask the court to change the spousal support - IF they do this within 6 months of the end of child support.
Figuring out how much a parent will be asked to pay in child support begins with a calculation based on specific
agreement between the parents for a different amount
- An order to provide medical insurance in addition to guideline support
The Family Law Facilitator’s Office can run estimates of child support for you.
There is a uniform guideline formula for figuring out how much child support should be paid.
If parents can't agree on child support, the judge must decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. Very rarely, the judge can order something other than the guideline amount.
The guideline calculation depends on many things, including:
- How much money the parents earn or can earn.
- How much other income each parent receives.
- How many children these parents have together.
- How much time each parent spends with their children.
- The tax filing status of each parent.
- Support of children from other relationships.
- Health insurance expenses.
- Mandatory union dues.
- Mandatory retirement contributions.
- The cost of sharing daycare and health-care costs.
Child support might also include the cost of special needs, such as:
- Traveling for visitation from one parent to another.
- Educational expenses.
- Other special needs.
The court bases child support on “net disposable income." This means the parent’s income after taxes. The court may also consider bonuses, overtime, and other extra income if this income occurs regularly.
The court cannot consider income from:
- General Assistance/General Relief.
Timeshare means the amount of time each parent has the child. The court will count the numbers of hours each day a parent spends with the child.
- Child support payments will decrease as timeshare increases.
- CalWORKs, some tax credits, and head-of-household tax filing status are only available if the parent’s timeshare is more than 50%.
If support for more than one child is being requested in this case, the
When the court order states what the breakdown of the support payments are for each child, it is called a “
See California Family Code, Section 4055(b)(8)) to see how the support amount is divided when there is more than one child.
California courts generally will follow the California child support guidelines to come up with the amount of child support a parent owes. However, parents can agree "stipulate" to a different support amount, but only a judge can say whether that amount will be accepted. In order for a judge to approve a child support amount that is different from the guideline calculation, ALL of the following must be true:
1. There is already a court case open between the parents, AND
2. Both parents:
- Know their child support rights fully.
- Know what the guideline child support amount would be.
- Are not feeling pressured or forced to agree to this child support amount.
- Are not receiving public assistance.
- Have not applied for public assistance.
- Think that the child support amount is in the best interest of the child.
To ask for a “non-guideline” amount of child support, you must first know what the California guideline support amount would be. To learn this, you can use a computer program, such as DissoMaster, to calculate the guideline amount. Or, you can ask for help from the Family Law Facilitator in your county.?
Reach an agreement on how much one parent will pay the other to ensure their child is provided for.
Tell the judge what child support amount you have agreed to. Complete a:
- Stipulation to Establish or Modify a Child Support Order (Form FL-350).
Both parents must sign the agreement (“stipulation”) and both signatures must be notarized.
If you have a court date scheduled, you can bring the stipulation with you to court for the judge to sign. Or you can go to the courthouse where your case is open and ask a family law clerk how to get it signed.
After the judge has signed the stipulation, you make 3 copies of it and then file the original with the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and stamp your copies and return them to you.
You must then serve a copy of the file-stamped copy of the order on the other parent.
In most cases, you have to pay a fee to file papers with the court.
If a person can’t afford the court’s filing fees, there are forms he or she may file asking permission to not pay all or some of the court fees and costs. This is called getting the fees “waived,” and fee waiver packets are available at the courthouse for free, or can be downloaded from this site.
Eligibility for the fee waiver is based upon the person’s household income or if he or she is receiving public assistance. If a person files a fee waiver but is found not to be qualified, he or she must pay the appropriate filing fees.
To see if you qualify for a fee waiver, read Information Sheet on Waiver of Court Fees and Costs (Form FW-001-INFO).
If you qualify for a fee waiver, select the forms you need.
If you were never served with any papers, the court may have ordered a “
This is a complicated legal problem. Contact a lawyer or the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your county for help as soon as possible.
It is VERY important for you to read and consider responding to any court papers you receive saying that a court case has started. If you don’t respond to the Summons and Complaint papers that were served on you, the person filing the case can ask the judge to make court orders without waiting for any information from you. This is called a “
If a default judgment has been entered against you (because you failed to file an Answer or appear in your case), there is a possibility that you still may be able to have the judge hear your side. A default judgment may be canceled, or “set aside” if:
- you had a very good reason for not responding to your papers and
- you try to take care of it as soon as you realize what has happened.
However, getting a default judgment set aside is a very complicated legal issue. You may need to contact an attorney for legal advice.
You can visit the Family Law Facilitator’s Office for more information.
If you can’t make the court hearing on the date that it is set, you may be able to ask the court to reschedule the hearing. This is called a “
A request for continuance should be made at the earliest possible time, but no later than 5 calendar days before the hearing date. When asking for a continuance:
- You must ask the other parent (or the other person or agency who has custody of the child) for the continuance. If he, she or it refuses, you have to file what is called an “
ex parte motion” to request the court to give you a continuance.
- If continuances are requested later than the one and one-half day cutoff, then the request must be made in person on the scheduled court date.
- Normally, no more than three continuances will be granted.
Even though people sometimes want to tell the judge something, or ask the court to do something before their next court hearing, the court is generally not allowed to get new information or be asked to do something unless the other parent knows what is being said or asked and has a right to respond. Anything you want to tell the judge, or ask the court to do, must be given to the court on the right form and shared with the other parent.
File a Written Declaration
If you have a
Declaration (Form MC-030) with the court.
- First, write your information in the form of a “
declaration,” made and signed under penalty of perjury.
- Then, file your declaration with the court and have it
served on the other parent.
- Finally, a
proof of service must be filed with the court.
The judge will then review the declaration when reviewing your file in preparation for the hearing.
If there is no hearing pending, the judge will not review your file.
If you want the court to do something, you will need to file a:
You cannot "serve" court forms in your own case. The person who
This includes a:
- Relative (as long as they are not connected to or affected by the outcome of this court case)
- County sheriff (in some counties, although not in Contra Costa. Call the sheriff in the county where the other parent resides to check.)
NOTE: If you hire a process server, give him or her a photo of the other parent (if you have one) and a list of times and places when it will be easy to find that person. Look for a process server who is close to where the other party lives or works. Fees are often based on how far the server has to travel.
You may bring a witness to court to testify if the person is properly qualified and the information he or she will provide is relevant to the issues. You may also give the court written testimony of a witness that is prepared as a
- Declaration (Form MC-030)
If you decide to bring a witness, give some thought to what you expect him or her to say, and how that is important to the orders you want the court to make. Remember that the court time is usually very limited, so be sure the information the witness will provide is helpful and relevant.
Prepare, file and serve a witness list
If you intend to call live witnesses at your hearing you must prepare a witness list before the hearing. This list must include the names of all witnesses you intend to call, as well as a brief description of their expected testimony.
Once you have finished this list:
- Make two copies of the list - one for the court and one for the other party in this case. Then take (or mail) the original and two copies to the court to be
filed by a court clerk.
- You must
serve a copy of this list on the other party.
- Make sure your witnesses know how to find the court and what time to be there. It might be a good idea to give them a copy of the checklist on this website for how to dress and how to behave in court.
NOTE: If you do NOT file and serve a witness list before the hearing, the court may postpone your hearing to a later time. The court could also make temporary orders to be obeyed until the new hearing takes place.
Lawyers, parties, witnesses, jurors, or other people with a disability are allowed to make confidential requests for accommodations from the court.
If you have a disability and would like to request an accommodation, you may fill out a:
- Request for Accommodations by Persons With Disabilities and Response
See the instructions for this form.
- You can also make a request for an accommodation by writing a short letter to the court OR
- You can go to the court, ask a clerk for the form, fill it out, and return it to the clerk that same day.
Requests can be made at any time, although you should give the court at least 5 court days’ notice if possible.
Child support payments get to the parent in different ways. It depends on if that parent has received CalWORKs. It also depends on if the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is involved.
Parent has never been on CalWORKs:
If the parent receiving child support has never received CalWORKs, all of the support will be paid to the parent. This is true even if DCSS is collecting the support.
Parent currently on CalWORKs:
The first $50 of any support each month will be given to the parent. This is called a "pass through" or "disregard," and will not reduce the CalWORKs grant of the parent receiving child support.
- The state then keeps any child support collected -- up to the total amount of CalWORKs ever received by the parent, but no more.
- Any support received after that is given to the parent receiving child support, but will reduce the CalWORKs grant.
Parent was on CalWORKs in the past: The support is paid in a certain order.
- First, the money goes to pay current support and is paid to the parent receiving child support.
- Second, if any past-due support is owed, some of the support is paid to the parent receiving child support, and the rest is applied to any interest owed on the past-due amount.
- Finally, any support collected is applied to any past-due amount owed to the state for CalWORKs received by the parent receiving child support.
- The only exception is if support is collected from your federal tax refund. In that case, it is first applied to the past-due amount owed to the state and then to past-due amount owed the family.
If DCSS is involved in the case:
DCSS has 2 days to send the child support it collected to the parent who is receiving child support.
If you think DCSS is not handling your child support case properly, you may file a complaint. DCSS has a complaint resolution system for complaints about customer service, timeliness of service, payment and billing issues, and decisions to close a child support case. Complaint forms are available on the California Department of Child Support Services website.
If you and the other parent live in different states, you may use the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to enforce your child support order. You may want to open a case with the Department of Child Support Services to help you enforce your order.
Find an office of the Department of Child Support Services in your county.
Find the DCSS in
If you lose your job, make less money than you used to, or become physically disabled and unable to earn an income, you should notify the court immediately by filing a
IMPORTANT! Many parents who are ordered to pay child support believe that if they get behind in making child support payments for a good reason, the court will allow them to pay less beginning on the day they lost their job, got injured, or had something else happen that made it difficult to pay the full amount on time. THIS IS NOT TRUE. In fact, the amount of child support you owe can only be changed by the court. It is very important that you ask for a change in your child support order as soon as you need it.
Either parent might want to change the amount of child support. Changes in child support may happen if there are any big changes to:
- Either parents' income.
- The amount of time that either parent spends with the child.
NOTE: If you are the parent paying child support, you will still owe the full amount of support in your current court order until you get the order changed. This is true even though your situation may have changed. Also, if you owe that amount but are unable to pay it, you will owe interest on any unpaid balance. The interest rate is 10% per year. This will be in addition to the child support amount that you owe.
Once you request the court modify the amount of child support, the court will make its decision based upon the current circumstances. The court will mainly consider both parents’ income and the amount of time they spend with the child.
This means that the child support amount could go either up or down.
If you are not sure whether the change in circumstances will result in an increase or a decrease, you can ask the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your county to help calculate the estimates for you.
If you have a case with the Department of Child Support Services, you may ask it for a “review and adjustment” of your support. DCSS must help you even if it has been helping the other parent. However, you should be aware that going through DCSS may take much longer than going through the court system, and you will be responsible for the full child support amount up until the date the order is modified. To start the process, send a letter to your DCSS child support case worker (call DCSS and ask if you are not sure who your caseworker is).
Get more information about changing (modifying) a Child Support Order.
Visit the California State Department of Child Support Services website.
Visit the Department of Child Support Services in Contra Costa County.
If the other parent did not pay support for a period of time, you may ask the court to make a “determination of the
- Request for Order (Form FL-300)
On the Request for Order, check box 8 (“Other Relief”) and write in “Determine arrears and set monthly payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount).” You will also need to have filled out and attached to the Notice:
- Application to Determine Arrearages (Form FL-490),
- Declaration of Payment History (Form FL-420) and
- Payment History Attachment (Form FL-421) to show the overdue support amounts.
If you are having trouble collecting the support owed to you from the other parent, you may
If you have a court order for child support, you have a right to collect that support by way of a
If the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is involved in your case, it will automatically issue a wage assignment and begin collecting from the other parent’s employer.
If DCSS is NOT involved in your case, you will be responsible for getting the wage assignment yourself.
To get a wage assignment yourself:
1. First get a copy of this court form and fill it in:
If the parent has missed one or more payments, then you may be able to include an additional amount each month to pay off the back support owed by completing the:
2. Attach a copy of your Child Support Order to Form FL-195.
3. Take the forms, with the copy of the Child Support Order, to the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your county so they can submit your request to the judge.
NOTE: There may be regional differences in who gives your forms to the judge. Please check with your local court, as necessary.
- Find the Family Law Facilitator’s Office in your area.
- Find the Family Law Facilitator in Contra Costa County.
4. Pick up your signed Wage Assignment Order, with attachments, from the Family Law Facilitator’s Office. (In Contra Costa County, this would be about one week after you dropped them off. If you live in another county, please ask when and where you should pick it up.)
- After the Wage Assignment Order (Form FL-195) has been signed by the judge, make 3 (three) photocopies of it and two copies of the attachments (Declaration of Payment History, etc.)
5. Go back to the clerk’s office and
6. Next, get a copy of the form called:
- Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450)
7. Have a copy of the signed Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-195) -- AND the Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450) --
REMEMBER: You cannot serve the papers yourself. Another adult (who is 18 years old or older) who is not involved in the case should be asked to serve the papers for you.
8. Have a signed copy of the Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-195) served on the parent whose pay will be taken for the child support. You can also have these forms served by mail.
9. Ask the person who served the forms for you to fill out “Proof of Service” forms, sign them and give them to you for filing.
- Since your “server” mailed the forms to the employer and the other parent, use one Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) for each set of papers served that way.
10. Take the signed original Proof of Service forms, plus one photocopy of each, to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and stamp the photocopy “Filed” and return it to you. Keep it in a safe place.
11. Complete a new Child Support Case Registry Form (Form FL-191) and deliver it to the clerk's office. If you have any questions about filing and serving wage assignments, you can ask your Family Law Facilitator for help.
In general, you cannot fight a wage assignment in court because wage assignments are allowed by law. However, there are some circumstances in which you can object to the wage assignment issued to your employer. For instance, if you and the other parent have an agreement that says there will be no wage assignment, it might be possible to ask the court to review your case.
If you object to the wage assignment and would like a court hearing to present your side of the story, you need to file with the court a Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450) within ten (10) days of receiving your copy of the wage assignment.
- Your employer should have received form FL-450 (Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment) with the wage assignment so you can ask him or her for the form.
- If your employer did not receive the form, you can get a copy at the courthouse, or on this website by going to Child Support Forms, or by filling out the form online (click on the form number).
- Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (Form FL-450)
1. Read form FL-450 (Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment) carefully. Note that the situations where you would use this form are very rare. The judge will only hear the issue of whether or not the wage assignment is valid.
- You cannot use this form if you simply do not agree with the amount the court ordered you to pay. If you disagree with your underlying support order, then you need to file the proper paperwork to modify your child support order.
2. Fill in the form (FL-450) if you object to the wage assignment for one of the reasons listed on pages 1 and 2. (Page 3 is an information sheet with instructions to help you understand what is required.)
- Note that at the bottom of page 2, the name and address of the other parent (and custodial agency, if there is one) are required.
- You will also need to give the court clerk a stamped envelope addressed to each of the parties so the clerk can mail a copy of this form to them.
3. File your request with a court clerk.
- You may file your request in person at the clerk’s office or mail it to the clerk. In either event, the clerk must receive it within ten (10) days after the date you received your copy of the wage assignment.
4. After you file the request, the court clerk will notify you by mail of the date, time and location of the hearing.
Your child support payment must be paid by the date stated in your order. If you miss payments, you will still owe this money, and may also find that you have to pay interest on this past-due amount (called "
If there is a change of circumstance that qualifies you to pay less, you can file a
Learn how to ask the court to
There are many reasons why the amount of money you owe each month can be more than your current monthly child support amount. For example:
- One major thing that you may owe is to pay for about half of the childcare expenses of your child while the
custodial parent is working or going to school.
- You may also owe more because you have fallen behind in paying your child support. When you fall behind in your child support you will not only have to pay your current amount of support but an additional amount to begin to cover what you were unable to pay in the past. You will be charged 10% interest per year on any child support that you did not pay when it was due.
- You may also be responsible for the costs of the mother’s pregnancy, the child’s health care expenses, attorney fees, and other costs.
- In addition, your employer may charge you one dollar every time that the employer takes money from your paycheck to provide support.
If your employer is deducting up to 50% or more of your paycheck, then you have a very large amount of past due child support (
- You should first contact the Department of Child Support Services to see if arrangements can be made with it to lower your payments.
- If that does not work, then you may need to file a
motion with the Court to ask a judge to set a payment schedule on the back support that you can afford.
If you do not pay all the child support you owe on time, you may find that you must pay interest on the balance due on top of the amount you owe. If the amount you owe is correct and it was not paid, you cannot do anything about the interest. Interest charges are added by law, and the judge cannot stop them.
If you don’t agree with the total amount of back support that the Department of Child Support Services says you owe -- and you are concerned that DCSS is not handling the collection and distribution of your child support correctly -- you can ask them for something called an “accounting”. DCSS is required by law to give you an accounting of the collections and distributions in your case.
You can also file a
If you don’t agree with the monthly amount of your court order, you can
If you want assistance with any of these issues, you can contact the Family Law Facilitator in your county.
If your driver’s license has been suspended because you have not paid all the child support you owe:
1. First, you should go to the Department of Child Support Services to see if it will release your license. Sometimes it will do this if you pay something towards your child support.
- Find the DCSS in your county.
2. If the Department of Child Support Services will not release your license, you can go to the court and file a:
- Notice of Motion for Judicial Review of License Denial (Form FL-670)
This form asks the court to consider giving you back your license.
If you want the court to address other issues, such as lowering your monthly payments for child support, you will need to file:
- Request for Order (Form FL-300)
See the instructions for this form.
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150) or
- Financial Statement (Simplified) (Form FL-155)
To help you decide if form FL-150 or form FL-155 is right for you, read an information sheet called "Which Financial Form - FL-150 or FL-155?" (DV-570) in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese.
The Family Law Facilitator can help you figure out which forms you need to file and can assist you in filling out the forms.
The court, not DCSS, will make the final decision once you file a motion.
YES. If you do not pay your child support (either currently owed or arrears owed) you can be held in contempt of court and this can result in you being put in jail.
You have a right to say as a defense that you did not have the ability to pay child support.
- However, you cannot make this claim just because you did not have any money.
- You will have to show that you did not willfully refuse to seek and accept an available job you could have gotten because of your education, experience, and physical ability.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout the court hearing to determine whether you are in contempt. If it is possible that you will be put in jail and you cannot afford an attorney, you should ask the court to appoint an attorney for you free of charge.
To get help, write to the Family Law Facilitator in the county where your case is filed.
If your child support order was made after July 1, 2011:
Child support may be put on hold if you are in jail or prison for more than 90 days.
- This will not apply if you have financial resources you can use to pay the child support.
- If you do not have financial resources, contact the Department of Child Support Services and ask them to change your order.
Child support obligations will return to the original level as soon as you get out of jail or prison.
You can also ask the court to adjust the amount of child support you owe due to non-payment during the time you were in jail. This includes interest on the child support that is due.
- The amount due is not changed until the court approves your request. The person receiving the support and the child support collection agency may object to your petition.
- The court may deny the petition if you were in jail due to domestic violence against the child or the person receiving support. It may also deny your petition if you were in jail because you didn't follow a child support order.
If your child support order was issued before July 1, 2011:
If you were supposed to pay child support and were sent to jail, you could have requested a change to the order if you couldn't pay due to lack of income. You should have filed papers with the court immediately asking for a change to your child support obligation.
NOTE: If you didn’t get a court order modifying your support amount, you will not be able to go back later and ask for it, even if you can prove you were in jail.
If there was a court order (called a
You may not be able to cancel (or "set aside") a judgment if you were
- Contact the Family Law Facilitator’s Office or a lawyer for help as soon as possible.
Remember: You must act as soon as you find out about the default or judgment!
- If you are currently incarcerated, you can write to the Facilitator’s Office and ask them for assistance. Include as much information about your case as you have, such as your name, the other party’s name, the child’s name, and your court docket (case) number.
If you can't get the judgment set aside, there are other things you may be able to do. Ask the Family Law Facilitator for help.
- You can file a
motion asking the court to change the support based on how much money you make now.
- You can also ask the court to set a monthly payment so you can repay what you owe for past support (called
arrearage) in installments.
NOTE: The child support order will stay in effect even if you have no income -- or less income -- unless you ask the court to change the order.
- The court can only change a child support amount for future payments, starting from the day you file papers asking for the change. The court will not be able to lower past child support amounts.
- Any back support (arrearage) will include interest, which is currently 10% per year. This can add up to a lot of money.
You can visit the Family Law Facilitator for more information.
If you pay off the back Child Support owed, you can still receive a bill for interest. Interest accumulates on all past-due child support at the rate of 10% a year.
Child support money you pay is:
- first applied to current support,
- then applied to interest owed on past due support,
- and finally to the past due support.
If the Department of Child Support Services is involved in your case, it is required to charge interest on all past-due child support. Interest is usually the last charge to be calculated by the Department of Child Support Services. The interest it charges is:
- 10% per year for child support that was due on or after January 1, 1983.
- 7% per year for child support that was due before January 1, 1983.
NO. Back child support cannot be canceled in a bankruptcy proceeding.
Once it is owed, it will always be owed, until paid.
You cannot use bankruptcy to get out of having to pay your child support obligation.
No matter how old your child is, you must pay any child support that you did not pay while you were required to. Therefore, no matter how old your child is, you must still pay the back support (called
Not paying child support results in you having to pay more money because California charges interest when you do not pay. The amount of interest on what you did not pay is currently 10%, so your debt adds up fast.