Child support in California is determined by a computer formula, with limited judicial discretion. If you are in a regular family law courtroom, most judges and attorneys use software by the name of Dissomaster to determine support. If your hearing is set before a Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) commissioner, they will be using the Guideline Calculator, available at https://childsupport.ca.gov/guideline-calculator/. Both of these implement the same statutory formula. Variables which figure in the calculation include: both parties’ income minus certain deductions, timeshare division expressed in percentages, tax filing status, other available tax deductions and certain others, including add-ons.
Judges are allowed to deviate from the guideline formula for certain reasons. These deviations are rare, and it’s generally not a good bet to count on a downward or upward change from guideline until you consult with an attorney.
Issues which often arise in child support proceedings which can strongly benefit from an attorney’s involvement include the following:
1) One of the parties is self-employed.
Self-employed people can employ a number of techniques to reduce their income available for child support. They may underreport income, overstate deductions, leave capital in the business, prepay for certain future expenses, etc. It’s rarely a surprise when a self-employed payor comes to court claiming that their business has suffered a sharp downturn this year or this financial quarter. In this case, careful scrutiny is frequently required to uncover what the self-employment individual’s true income is. Forensic accountants trained in family law can often be of great help in these cases.
If you retain a family law attorney to help in this type of case, he or she will conduct certain discovery, review the business’s books and records, and develop a theory of what the business actually earns or should earn. It is rare that a self-represented litigant has the expertise to conduct this type of inquiry, and the DCSS often lacks the resources to help. If you simply use the individual’s or the business’s tax returns, you may be making a mistake by buying into a carefully crafted fiction.
2) One of the parties is hiding income.
This often happens in cases involving self-employment. We all know that certain types of businesses take in a lot of cash, which goes unreported on their tax returns. Unfortunately, this is not always easy to prove. If a nail salon owner claims to earn $20,000 a year, but you know that he or she earns many times that much in reality, you are in a bit of a bind. The court will require some degree of evidence. In these cases, a lifestyle analysis often helps. The question you ask is whether or not the person’s lifestyle matches their reported income. You can also review their bank and credit card statements and see what they are not spending their money on. If someone is spending no money on food and utilities, and writing virtually no checks, for example, the easy inference is that they are using cash to pay for necessities.
This situation also occurs routinely in cases where the parties are W-2 employees who customarily receive tips, such as wait staff, beauty employees, etc. Oftentimes, people are amazed to find out that an experienced waiter or bartender at a high-end restaurant earns six figures without working full time. This usually takes effort to uncover.