Child Custody Basics

Author:  Mark W. Bidwell, www.BidwellLaw.com

In child custody for the average parent, the following guidelines may provide you insight into how child custody could be ordered by a court.

Public Policy is Frequent and Continuing Contact. Family Code 3020(b) “The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy.”

Joint Physical Custody Family Code 3004. “Joint physical custody” means that each of the parents shall have significant periods of physical custody. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way so as to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

No Gender Preference Family Code 3040(a) “The court may not prefer a parent as custodial parent because of that parent’s gender.”

Child’s Preference Family Code 3042. (a) “If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody, the court shall consider and give due weight to the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody. The court may preclude the calling of the child as a witness where the best interests of the child so dictate and may provide alternative means of obtaining information regarding the child’s preferences.”

Maturity Is Not Measured By Chronological Age. “The mediator gave her opinion that both children were very mature. The court had an opportunity to personally observe the children and judge their sincerity, bearing and degree of maturity, while questioning them in chambers. With children 10 and 13 years of age we believe it is peculiarly the function of the trial judge to determine what consideration is to be given, if any, to their expressed preference as to custody.” Marriage of Rosson (1986) 178 CA3d 1094, 1103.

Child Custody Terminology

3002. “Joint custody” means joint physical custody and joint legal custody.

3003 . “Joint legal custody” means that both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.

3004. “Joint physical custody” means that each of the parents shall have significant periods of physical custody. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way so as to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

3006. “Sole legal custody” means that one parent shall have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.

3007. “Sole physical custody” means that a child shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation.

Child Support Under California Family Law

In implementing the statewide uniform guideline, the courts shall adhere to the following principles:

(a) A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
(b) Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.
(c) The guideline takes into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children.
(d) Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.
(e) The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.
(f) Children should share in the standard of living of both parents. Child support may therefore appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children.
(g) Child support orders in cases in which both parents have high levels of responsibility for the children should reflect the increased costs of raising the children in two homes and should minimize significant disparities in the children’s living standards in the two homes.
(h) The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
(i) It is presumed that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.
(j) The guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation.
(k) The guideline is intended to be presumptively correct in all cases, and only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the child support mandated by the guideline formula.
(l) Child support orders must ensure that children actually receive fair, timely, and sufficient support reflecting the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.

Here is the statewide uniform guideline for determining child support orders.

CS = K (HN ‑ (H%) (TN)).

The components of the formula are as follows:

CS = child support amount.

K = amount of both parents’ income to be allocated for child support as set forth below.
K (amount of both parents’ income allocated for child support) equals one plus H% (if H% is less than or equal to 50 percent) or two minus H% (if H% is greater than 50 percent) times the following fraction:

_ _ Total Net Disposable
_ _ Income Per Month (K)
_ _ $0‑800 0.20 + TN/16,000
_ _ $801‑6,666 0.25
_ _ $6,667‑10,000 0.10 + 1,000/TN
_ _ Over $10,000 0.12 + 800/TN

For example, if H% equals 20 percent and the total monthly net disposable income of the parents is $1,000, K = (1 + 0.20) X 0.25, or 0.30. If H% equals 80 percent and the total monthly net disposable income of the parents is $1,000, K = (2 ‑ 0.80) X 0.25, or 0.30.

HN = high earner’s net monthly disposable income.

H% = approximate percentage of time that the high earner has or will have primary physical responsibility for the children compared to the other parent. _ In cases in which parents have different time‑sharing arrangements for different children, H% equals the average of the approximate percentages of time the high earner parent spends with each child.

TN = total net monthly disposable income of both parties.

For more than one child, multiply CS by:
_ 2 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.6
_ 3 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2
_ 4 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.3
_ 5 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.5
_ 6 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.625
_ 7 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.75
_ 8 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.813
_ 9 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.844
_ 10 children _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.86