Either parent can file a complaint with the court asking for child support. In CalWORKs cases, the DCSS will automatically file the complaint and the court order will be made payable to the county (to reimburse CalWORKs benefits paid to the custodial parent). If the location of the noncustodial parent is known, support orders can usually be obtained within 90 days.
A child support order is established based on both parent's ability to pay support, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and the financial needs of the child. The DCSS and the court will follow the child support guidelines established by state law in Family Code Section 4055. This state law provides a standard formula for determining child support, although the court may change the amount under specific circumstances.
The DCSS will also ask the court to require the noncustodial parent to provide health insurance coverage, including vision and dental care, for the child. The court will order the noncustodial parent to maintain health coverage for the child, if it is available at reasonable cost. In most cases, the cost is considered reasonable if the coverage is employment-related group health insurance or other group health insurance. If coverage is not available at a reasonable cost, the court's order for support will state that health insurance coverage will be obtained by the parent if it becomes available at a reasonable cost.
A notice of how much child support is collected by the DCSS and how support is distributed for each month of the reporting period will be periodically mailed to the custodial party. The custodial party is entitled to see the payment history of the noncustodial parent who is required, by a court order, to make support payments.
In general, payments received by the DCSS are paid in the following order:
- To the current monthly support, unless otherwise specified in the court order
- To the interest owed on past-due support
- To the arrearages (unpaid past-due child support) or CalWORKs reimbursements (repayments to CalWORKs for past payments) OR
- To future obligations (for example: future child support payments that come due)
Modifying Support Orders
The custodial or noncustodial parent can request that the current support order be reviewed for possible modification to change the amount of support ordered to be paid, or to provide health insurance for the children. Please read the next section: Notice of the Right to Request a Review.
Notice of Right to Request Review
The custodial party and/or the noncustodial parent has the right to request that the Department of Child Support Services review the support order to determine if the amount of support should be changed based on statewide criteria. The Department of Child Support Services is not required to review an order if:
- The order was reviewed for modification within the prior 12 months
- The order was established or adjusted within the prior 24 months or
- One of the parents cannot be located and there is no new information regarding their whereabouts.
The Department of Child Support Services will review an order even if it was reviewed or adjusted recently if there has been a significant change in circumstance. In this instance a significant change in circumstance is limited to either a parent becoming involuntarily unemployed, a parent becoming employed or a change in custody. Seasonal or intermittent employment that was considered by the court when establishing the support order does not qualify as a significant change in circumstance. Once the Department of Child Support Services has determined that an order will be reviewed, the review and modification process should be completed within 180 days.
The Department of Child Support Services must attempt to modify an order in any of the following circumstances:
- Application of the state's child support guidelines indicates that the amount of support ordered should be increased by at least $50 or 20 percent, whichever is less.
- Application of the state's child support guidelines indicates that the amount of support should be decreased by at least $50 or 20 percent, whichever is less, and the reason for the decrease is expected to last at least six months.
- There is no medical insurance provision in the order and medical insurance is available at reasonable cost to the noncustodial parent.
If the Department of Child Support Services is not required to modify the order, the Department of Child Support Services must provide to either the custodial parent and/or noncustodial parent, upon request, information on how they can get forms to ask the court to increase or decrease the amount of the support order.