Does Summer Camp Affect Child Custody or Parenting Time?

The summer shuffle is real. For divorced parents and their children, it is a complicated mix-up to the regular routine, filled with summer camps, programs, and more.

Navigating through the bumpy road of child custody is challenging enough, but summer can be an especially difficult time of year when parents need to agree on these summertime extracurricular activities they want to sign their kids up for. 

Tough questions to tackle may include: 

  • Who makes the decision? 
  • Who pays for it? 
  • Who takes the kids to summer camp? 
  • Who takes care of the kids when they are not enrolled in camp? 
  • How do we work out the routine and timing within the custody agreement that is already in place?

How Physical Custody Agreements Can Affect Summer Camp

Physical custody, or a parenting schedule, pertains to where the children spend their in-person time – in other words, where the children live. California courts will determine which parent should be granted physical custody of the child and thereby become responsible for the child’s day-to-day care needs.

Questions that are answered when coming up with a physical custody agreement include:  

When are the kids with Mom? When are the kids with Dad? Who gets the kids for which holiday? What day of the week will the kids be picked up, and what time should the exchange occur?

Visitation Rights

Most custody cases give one parent primary physical custody, or the custodial parent, and grant the other parent visitation rights. Typically, this non-custodial parent is given exclusive parenting time with the child:

  • Every other weekend
  • Alternating major holidays
  • Four consecutive weeks over summer vacation

This is where the coordination of child custody and parenting time with summer camp comes into play.

Sole Custody

There are cases when one parent is given sole custody, which means the California court system has given the parent exclusive physical and legal custody of the couple’s children. 

This scenario is usually only granted to one parent if the other parent is found incapable of taking care of the children because of drug or alcohol abuse or a past of criminal activity. The other parent without custody may still be allowed to have some visitation, but it is much more limited, with certain restrictions or monitoring on each visit. 

How Legal Custody Agreements Can Affect Summer Camp

Child Custody Law

Legal custody addresses which parent has the legal right to make major decisions for the children, such as those applying to medical, health, education, and religion. Another big decision could be whether or not to send the kids to public or private school, or to register them for activities, like summer camps – and to decide which one is best. 

If one co-parent has sole legal custody, that parent can legally make the decision about whether the child attends camp, as long as the camp does not overlap with the other parent’s time with the child. If it does, the parent with legal custody may have to agree on makeup time with the other parent. 

If no agreement can be reached on this makeup parenting time, however, the parent without legal custody can file an application with the court to enforce this part of the child custody agreement to hold the other parent accountable.

Joint Legal Custody

Keep in mind that, overall, legal custody is not always an all-or-none situation, where one parent makes all of the decisions across the board for the children. 

Unless one parent is proven to constantly make poor decisions when it comes to the children, it is becoming less likely that one parent will be awarded full legal custody. Some divorced couples share legal custody and will need to agree with decisions on summer camps or come to some sort of middle ground on their own. For example, if the co-parents normally split the cost of summer camps, but one parent is adamant about sending the child to camp even though the other parent is against it, a compromise could be that the insistent parent covers 100 percent of the costs. 

What Should Your Custody Agreement Cover for the Summer?

It is hard for co-parents to plan summer vacations and other activities for their children, like camps, around a custody agreement that restricts parenting time on certain days of the week. That is why it is important for parents to work together to create a workable routine rather than refuse to move dates around to accommodate summer plans for their children’s sake.

Summer Camps and Activities

The parent that has physical custody typically has control over the choice of children’s summer activities and camps, but if any vaccinations or medications are needed for summer camp, that medical decision would usually fall under legal custody. In San Diego, parents can actually ask the court to approve a summer schedule that is different from the rest of the year to address the challenges of summer activities.

Co-parents should review their current child custody agreement to cover the “what if’s” of summer camps and activities. It should include:

  • Which parent will schedule the activities
  • Which parent will pay for the activities, or how will they be split
  • Which parent will provide transportation or watch the kids when they are not in the activity

Summer Vacations

Summer vacations also align with the parent that has physical custody of the child unless the vacation requires a passport. An effective child custody agreement should give each parent vacation time with their kid(s) over the summer, with each parent specifying the dates they plan to vacation and notifying the other parent to avoid conflict.

How to Address a Child’s Compromised Immunity

COVID risks are still in the picture in environments like summer camps, so the parent with legal custody should confirm that the camp program of choice provides clear guidelines and strictly follows the state of California’s rules for hygiene, social distancing, and the advised, restricted numbers of campers. This information should then be shared with the other co-parent.

When there are disagreements over health concerns like this, it is important for co-parents to make the best interests of their children the first priority.

If you are dealing with a child custody case, call 619-299-9780 to schedule a free telephone consultation or contact a San Diego family law specialist here.

Where to Report Non-Payment of Child Support and Steps to Take Next

In 2019, a 73-year-old California woman was awarded $150,000 in back child support. The retired interior designer and Carlsbad resident raised her daughter alone after her ex-husband abandoned his family almost 50 years before. His daughter was a toddler when he left for Canada, and now, she is in her 5os.

The single mom juggled two jobs and had to take food stamps to keep her family afloat. Despite a court order, the estranged father never made a single child support payment, despite a court order. So, when her ex-husband moved south into Oregon, she dusted off the original court order from 1970 and marched down to the San Diego County Child Support Services office.

After being served with an order to appear in family court, he showed up to everyone’s surprise and was hit with the settlement for a half-century of non-payments.

Most situations concerning the non-payment of child support are not this dramatic. In most cases, divorced parents prioritize their children, working together to financially and emotionally support them. 

But there are still noncustodial parents that reject court orders and refuse to pay child support. There are resources in place to remedy this problem by enforcing child support orders and collecting past-due payments.

The First Step for Enforcing Child Support

The first step in enforcing a child support order is ensuring that there is a court-ordered child support order in effect. Child support based on an oral agreement is not enough and will not stand up in court. An agreed amount for child support should be approved by a judge after the court decides the amount that is most beneficial for the child. Then, a child support order is drawn up based on mutual agreement.

If a divorcing couple cannot come to a mutual arrangement concerning support, an action for child support will need to be filed in the county superior court. This can be done in one of three ways: 

  1. Either parent can fill out the proper paperwork and file it with the court
  2. Private attorneys can file a petition for child support on a parent’s behalf
  3. The California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) can file for child support on a parent’s behalf

The Next Steps in Child Support Enforcement

After establishing that there is a child support order in place, enforcing that order and collecting outstanding payments can be done in several ways. One of these ways is a Motion for Contempt. Delinquent parents can be held in contempt of court, meaning a judge has found the act of nonpayment as willfully disobeying a court order. 

A custodial parent seeking unpaid child support or the local DCSS can file a motion for contempt with the court, and these contempt orders can either be deemed as: 

  • Criminal – Delinquent parents can be ordered to pay fines or serve jail time.
  • Civil – Delinquent parents can also be detained in jail, but they can be released after paying a specified amount of past-due support. 

A judge can also combine the penalties for criminal and civil contempt orders.

California does have a statute of limitations on motions for contempt in relation to unpaid support. There is a three-year window to file a contempt action. The clock begins ticking from the due date of the outstanding payment that the delinquent parent did not pay.

Other Options for Collecting Child Support

After a contempt action is filed with the court, the delinquent parent will be served orders to attend a hearing in family court. If a judge finds the delinquent parent’s refusal to pay as willfully disobeying the court, there are a list of penalties that can be ordered as a recourse for the failure to pay. These may include: 

  • Delinquent parents could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to no more than five days in jail. Usually, judges do not take this course of action because the fines may take away a parent’s money that could go to unpaid child support.
  • Delinquent parents could be sentenced to as much as 120 hours of community service for the first and second contempt orders and as much as 240 hours for a third offense. 
  • Delinquent parents can be ordered to pay the custodial parent’s attorney’s fees and the associated costs of child support enforcement.
  • Delinquent parents’ property can be sold to pay child support in rears. 
  • Delinquent parents may have a lien placed on their property.
  • Delinquent parents’ wages can be withheld, or bank accounts can be garnished to pay outstanding child support.
  • Delinquent parents can have their pension plan, veteran’s disability benefits, Social Security disability benefits, unemployment compensation disability benefits, workers compensation, lottery winnings, and all other income sources that are not exempt from garnishment can be rerouted to pay child support.

More Penalties for Nonpayment of Child Support

California law has other penalties in place to collect unpaid child support. Delinquent parents also end up on a list kept by DCSS. The names on the list are regularly reported to credit reporting agencies. Unpaid support may impact more than the family, it could result in negative credit ratings.

If a noncustodial parent is more than 30 days delinquent on their payments, the Department of Motor Vehicles can refuse to issue or renew their driver’s license. In some cases, a temporary license that is valid for 150 days can be granted to delinquent parents.

If the outstanding child support is not paid in that 150-day period, the DMV can refuse an extension on the temporary license or decide not to reissue a permanent license. California can revoke a delinquent parent’s license entirely if their child support payments fall behind by 120 days or more.

Facing the Problem with Honesty

If delinquent parents can prove to the court that they are not financially able to make the required child support payments, the court typically does not hold them in contempt. But this claim of an inability to pay must be accompanied by adequate evidence detailing their income and assets.

As evidenced in the above story, a child reaching the age of 18 has no bearing on the child support owed by the noncustodial parent. Unpaid child support is owed until it is totally paid or a settlement can be reached.

Does Paying Extra in Child Support Mean You Can Pay Less Later

Having to make child support payments every month can be a hassle. So why not just pay the entire amount now and be done with it? It may sound like a good idea to pay off a child support obligation, but individuals might want to consider how the legal system in California views child support and lump sum payments before making their decision.

Unlike other types of fixed monthly expenses, child support payments represent an ongoing obligation that can be modified at any time before a child becomes an adult. Thus parents have a duty to provide continuous financial support over a fixed period of time. 

Child Support Orders and Making Payments

Child support becomes a legally enforceable obligation after a support order has been issued. California courts follow a state-wide guideline when determining the amount of child support a parent must pay. The California Child Support Guideline Calculator uses various income and expense data of the parents and children to arrive at a standardized amount that should be paid. The guideline is presumed to be correct, and judges rarely order child support payments for amounts outside the guideline. 

Parents can decide and agree on an amount of child support, but the agreement must be approved by a judge before it will become enforceable. Parents can improve their chances of having their child support agreement become an order by using the California guideline to arrive at the support payment amount. 

All child support payments are processed through the California State Disbursement Unit, which is also responsible for collecting the payments from those obligated to pay. To help avoid the problem of nonpayment, a judge will usually order child support payments to be deducted from the responsible parent’s wages each month. The state involvement and ongoing monthly obligation might inspire some parents to investigate alternate solutions for making child support payments.

What Happens if You Make a Lump Sum Child Support Payment?

There are no California laws saying a person cannot make a lump sum payment of child support instead of making a payment every month. Parents may agree that a certain sum paid now will cover payments scheduled to be made in the future. But just because parents may agree, this doesn’t mean a court will honor what the parents have decided between themselves. A judge has the final say and will always factor in the best interests of the child or children involved. So it’s usually best to get court approval before making changes to a court-ordered payment plan. 

Advance Payments Won’t Prevent Modification of Child Support Payment Orders

Either parent or the legal guardian of a child can request a ‘modification’ of the court-ordered child support payments at any time there has been a qualifying change in circumstances. The fact that a child support payor may have made a previous lump sum payment will not affect a judge’s ability to change the terms of a child support order to increase a support obligation.

Some factors that could cause child support payments to be increased include:

  • Increased income of the paying parent
  • Increased custody by the non-paying parent
  • Decreased income of the non-paying parent
  • Additional expenses for the children
  • Disability of the non-paying parent

Failure to Pay Child Support Can Have Serious Consequences

If child support payments are increased, the paying parent will have little choice but to comply with the new court order – no matter how much previous child support has been paid. Providing financial support for children is a parental duty the state of California takes quite seriously. 

The penalties for failing to pay child support can result in legal consequences that affect many areas of a person’s life. Failure to make child support payments when they are due can lead to the following legal actions:

  • Misdemeanor criminal charges – a fine up to $2,000 and up to 12 months in jail
  • Suspension or revocation of driver’s license
  • Reports to collection agencies – affecting credit ratings
  • Inability to obtain or renew a passport
  • Interest accruing at a rate of 10% annually on the unpaid balance 

Is There any Way to End Child Support Payments Early?

Child support is typically ordered until a child turns 18 if the child has graduated from high school. If an 18-year-old child is still in school full-time and living with a parent, the support obligation runs until the child graduates from high school or turns 19 – whichever occurs first. Child support may be extended for disabled adult children who are unable to provide for themselves.

However, there are some events that will terminate a support obligation before age 18 if the child: 

  • Marries or registers a domestic partnership
  • Joins the military
  • Becomes emancipated
  • Dies

Why Lump Sum Child Support Payments are Generally not Recommended?

Child support payments are not just some other debt that can be paid off early to avoid the inconvenience of making monthly payments. Child support promotes the welfare of children and California is going to do its best to make sure parents provide as much or more for their children as they do for themselves. So no one should expect a court to consider financial fairness as it relates to one or the other parent who may have made a past lump sum payment. The court’s goal is to make sure the children are getting what they need until they become adults. 

A parent’s responsibility is ongoing, and child support orders can always be modified when circumstances change. There is no guarantee the previous payments will be considered for future obligations. A California family law court will always prioritize the best interests of the children when making child support modification decisions.

If a parent paying child support is interested in making a lump sum support payment, consulting an experienced family law attorney and getting court approval of the new payment arrangement are ways to ensure payments are recognized and applied toward the obligation owed.

How a Raise or Demotion Could Affect Child Support Payments

When a marriage or domestic partnership ends in California and there are minor children involved, a court will be very interested in making sure that the children will continue to receive the financial support necessary to provide for their basic needs and, in some cases, the lifestyle they were accustomed to living before the divorce.

Who will pay what to whom, how much, and for how long can be decided between the parents, but the court will always have the final say guided by what is deemed to be in the best interests of the children. 

Once a final order has been entered, either the person paying support (PPS) or the person receiving support (PRS) can petition the court to modify the amount of the payments when the circumstances existing at the time the order was finalized have changed significantly.

Child Support Obligation in California

Both parents have an ongoing obligation to provide financial support for any minor children. However, that is not to say parents must each provide equal financial amounts. The relative circumstances of each parent after a divorce are taken into consideration when child support payments are ordered.

The objective is to have the children able to continue with the same standard of living after the divorce, and imposing some amount of hardship on the parents will be enforced by the courts if necessary.

Factors Considered in Determining Child Support Payments

To determine the amount of child support payments, California applies a formula to income and expense information provided by the parents. Any relevant factor can be considered, but courts will always consider:

  • The earnings and income potential of each parent
  • Any other income received by either parent
  • Tax filing status of the parents
  • The amount of time the children will have with each parent
  • Expenses of the parents
  • Other financial support the children receive
  • Financial needs of the children

California courts generally must order the child support payment amounts as determined by applying the standard formula to the information provided by the parents and can only order different payment amounts under limited circumstances. 

How Changes in Circumstances Affect Support Payment Obligations

Either parent can ask a court to modify an order to pay child support when there have been substantial changes affecting their relative financial positions. The primary reasons for seeking modification of a child support order are:

  • Changes in a parent’s income
  • Changes in the amount of time a parent spends with the children

Some of the circumstances that warrant requesting modification of a child support payment order according to California Child Support Services include:

  • Losing a job
  • Getting a new job
  • Increases or decreases in income at a current job
  • Changes in custody or visitation
  • Changes in family size
  • One parent becoming disabled, going to prison, or being deployed for military service

Parents who can agree on modifying a child support order can file the agreed modification for a judge’s signature and avoid going through the court process.

What Happens if Child Support Payments Are Not Made?

Until a modification order has been signed, the original child support payments remain due and payable each month. In most cases, when a court orders support payments, it also orders that the payer’s wages be garnished by their employer via a ‘wage assignment’ to ensure payment.

But parents can agree to have child support payments come from a source other than an employer. If a parent falls behind making child support payments, the parent receiving child support can ask the court to issue a wage assignment for future payments as well as additional payments toward the unpaid balance. Child support payments that are not paid when due become an unsatisfied judgment subject to an additional 10% interest per year on the unpaid balance. 

Failing to pay child support can have other serious legal consequences. When one of California’s local child support agencies (LCSA) is involved, and child support payments are past due, the LCSA has the authority to try and collect payments by doing any of the following:

  • Placing liens on real property and bank accounts
  • Taking tax refunds
  • Taking unemployment, disability, or worker’s compensation benefits
  • Suspending driver’s and other professional licenses 
  • Using any other legal means available to try and collect the unpaid amounts

Under Family Code section 4722, a person with an order for child support can file a motion for contempt for any delinquent amounts more than 30 days late. If the amounts specified in the motion remain unpaid for more than 30 days after the motion is filed, the unpaid amounts are subject to a penalty of 6% of the unpaid balance each month up to a maximum of 72% of the amount owed. A finding of contempt can also result in a fine and community service or jail time.

There can also be criminal penalties imposed for child neglect when child support payments are not made. The California Penal Code imposes a fine and possible jail time on the parent who willfully fails to provide for their child’s ‘necessary clothing, food, shelter, and medical attendance.’ Such willful failure can be punished by:

  • A fine of up to $2,000 and/or
  • Jail time up to one year

How to Modify a Child Support Order When a Parent’s Income Changes

When a change in child support payments is sought because the income of the person paying support has either gone up or down, verification of income status is required before the court will consider the modification. The parent requesting modification can contact the local child support agency to request the necessary paperwork.

In San Diego, a child support modification review begins with the San Diego Department of Child Support Services. Petitions for modification must request a change of at least $50 or 20% of the original support payment amount. A court hearing will be set to decide the matter unless the parents can agree on the new payment amount. 

Can You Get in Trouble For Failing to Pay Spousal Support in California?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, could be ordered by a judge in a California divorce court to be paid by one spouse to the other. 

It can be a messy process, with a bevy of factors from the marriage weighing in on how much is paid. But if a spouse chooses to stop payments on their own, it could get even uglier financially.

Alimony payments are typically made through regular installments for a certain amount of time decided by the court. If payments stop before the court-mandated time, the paying spouse could face civil or criminal charges for contempt. 

Here is what to know on a more detailed definition of spousal support in California and the consequences for non-payment. 

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a fixed amount of money that one spouse pays the other for the receiver of those funds to be able to financially get their life back on track. 

Out of the more than 750,000 divorces each year in the United States, up to 15 percent result in spousal support. In the 1980s, most cases resulted in women receiving alimony, but following Orr v. Orr, the Supreme Court ruled that alimony should be gender-neutral. 

Because of that, high-profile divorce cases have since then ordered celebrity women to pay millions of dollars to their exes, such as Kelly Clarkson, who was recently ordered to pay more than $100,000 in spousal support each month until January 2024.

When spousal support like this is ordered by the court, it is binding, which means if the payment is not made in California, severe consequences will result. 

How is the Amount of Spousal Support in California Determined?

When determining the amount of alimony (or if any) that should be paid after a divorce, the California court will consider the couple’s financial history, debts, and assets. For example, a spouse may be justified in seeking spousal support if he or she has not worked outside of being a caregiver at home or has worked part-time jobs to be able to raise children at the same time.

Court-ordered alimony can be paid for a set amount of time or indefinitely. Usually, for any marriage that was under 10 years, alimony is set to be paid for about half the length of the marriage. If the marriage was over 10 years, the judge will determine the duration of the financial obligations.

Sometimes, divorced couples are able to mutually agree on the amount of alimony to be paid, but if there is a dispute, the court will factor in how to calculate alimony by considering:

  • Any tax matters or issues
  • Property assets and debts
  • Length of the marriage
  • Whether or not the spouse’s career was affected because of childcare duties, a layoff, or unemployment
  • The health and ages of each spouse
  • Whether or not domestic violence was involved in the marriage
  • If a spouse helped the other spouse acquire an educational degree or job license
  • The standard of living and needs of each spouse

What are the Consequences of Not Paying Alimony in California?

The judge on the case may first call the negligent spouse into the courtroom to explain why payments have stopped. Regardless of what the judge decides, California law mandates an APR penalty of 10 percent to be added to any overdue payments.

In addition to possible jail time, consequences for failing to pay alimony may involve the court forcing payment by:

An Ordered Wage Garnishment

A garnishment order made by a judge will tell the employer of the nonpaying spouse to withhold part of their pay, which will go toward the alimony debt. The funds will be pulled from each paycheck and go directly to the ex-spouse.

An Ordered Levy on Bank Accounts

For failure to pay alimony, the court can order a levy on bank accounts, which allows the state of California to legally remove money from the ex-spouse’s bank account and actually freeze the account until the nonpayment situation is further evaluated. The bank will then send the money to the state, and the state will disburse the debt to the other spouse.

An Ordered Seizure of Tax Refunds

Tax refund checks may be ordered to go toward missing alimony payments. The California court system can notify the state’s Treasury Department if someone is behind on alimony payments, which will then give the IRS a red flag that will send any expected tax refund to the other spouse. This also applies to stimulus payments or any other tax-related refunds. 

An Ordered Lien on Property

Any property or asset with value that the nonpaying ex-spouse owns may either be seized or a lien may be put on it to cover the cost of the alimony.

How to Stop or Change the Terms of Alimony

A spouse paying alimony in California cannot stop paying the other spouse on their terms. They must go through the court system to legally discontinue or change the terms of the spousal support.

Unless the original divorce agreement specifies that no modifications are to be made at any time, there are a few ways alimony can be stopped or changed:

  • Both spouses agree to change the amount or length of time of the alimony, resulting in a written agreement that outlines detailed terms. This is often possible if there have not been any failed child support payments.
  • If the spouses cannot agree, the court becomes involved, which means a motion needs to be filed to prove any changes in the original circumstances. 
  • To completely terminate the alimony payments, proof of a major change in circumstances will also need to be shown to the court. Alimony will be ended by default if there is a death of either spouse.

If a spouse cannot afford to pay alimony to the other spouse altogether due to significant changes in the paying spouse’s circumstances, an experienced divorce attorney in California can ask the court to reevaluate the alimony payments and why you need to lower them. 

Another momentous change that justifies a modification in the amount of alimony payments could be if the ex-spouse moves in with someone else. This signifies an adjustment in living expenses, with the new “roommate” now sharing rent/mortgage, groceries, and other bills.

“X” Reasons You May Need to Modify Child Custody

Child custody is a bitter battle for many. Moreover, there are not many situations in which the alteration of a child custody agreement is one that is simple and streamlined. These truths usually stem from the fact that both parents want to play major roles in the lives of their children – and understandably so. Despite the good-natured attempts of some of these parents, this is not always in the best interest of the child. A number of different types of factors can play into this and may be brought forth by either parent or even the child. 

Why a Parent May Need to Modify Child Custody 

Parents seldom make changes to child custody after the initial agreement they had come to in the courts. Usually, a set list of circumstances decides how the child will live their upbringing when the spouses first divorce. This is common practice and oftentimes involves a lot of logistics that include wages, standards of living, geographical location of homes and schools, and much more. 

Child custody agreements take many forms. They may include a long list of rules that each parent or guardian must adhere to, including paying child support, making sure each parent sees the child for a sufficient amount of time, and that both parents live within a certain state or city. While restricting, the terms to these agreements are what allow each parent to be involved in the life of their child. 

However, after a certain amount of time, it is not all too uncommon that some of these circumstances change. As is with life, sometimes the unexpected happens, or there is a desire to change pace. While completely normal, this may lead to a violation or complication of a child custody agreement. There are a plethora of reasons that there may need to be a modification of a child custody agreement – a change that usually comes about when it is in the best interest of the child.

1. Maltreatment of the Child 

An obvious but often overlooked reason that there may be a change to a child custody agreement is a maltreatment of the child. Physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse are all valid reasons to switch up a child custody agreement and remove the child from the situation. This is often done with the help of authorities and, if convicted, will usually lead someone to lose all visitation rights with their children. With four million American children being reported for abuse every year – and many of them suffering under a divorced parent – this situation is far from far-fetched. 

2. A Parent Desires to Move Away 

Adults move all the time. The 21st century has proven that individuals have a great amount of autonomy in their day-to-day lives, including ever-growing ease to simply pack up and move when they desire. Whether climate, job, or school-related, it comes as no surprise that the average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime. For obvious reasons, divorced parents are no exception to this statistic. It is sometimes the case that a parent moving away (that wants to take or leave their child) will lead to an altercation regarding their child custody agreement.

3. One of the Guardians Loses Their Job

With many American families losing their sources of income over the course of the last couple of years, it must be recognized that the loss of a job can have devastating impacts on someone’s livelihood. It is obvious that a child is in need of proper financial support, but that does not take away from the fact that losing custody to the unexpected loss of a job is unfortunate and a reality for many. It is usually the duty of a divorced couple to provide a similar lifestyle to the child, in addition to paying child support fees and providing basic necessities. This may not be possible after the loss of a job. 

4. The Wants or Needs of the Child Change

In some cases, the personal emotional state of a child is enough to call for a custody agreement change. The changing conditions of a child’s life may lead them to find it preferable to live with one parent or another. Maybe they prefer the school system that their father is in or may have more relatives near their mom’s house that are able to take care of them when their parents are at work. In most cases, it is generally applicable that children have a decent degree of sway in the courts. This is especially true the older the child is, as they are seen to have matured and gained a greater sense of autonomy in their decision-making. 

5. A Refusal by One of the Parents to Follow the Agreement 

An obvious violation of court order and common law, the noncompliance of a parent in regard to their child custody agreement can land them in legal trouble. This is a major issue as this is known to have led to kidnappings and the endangerment of the child. At this point, police, the courts, and lawyers are all key players when it comes to renegotiating custody rights. This can inevitably land the offending parent without any rights as it comes to the upbringing of their child or their own personal freedom. 

The Potential Pros and Cons of Modifying a Child Custody Agreement

As previously reviewed, there are innumerable amount of reasons that child custody terms may need to be reviewed. Whether it be as simple as a child deciding to reside around their school system full time to take advantage of extracurriculars or the illegal violation of an agreement by one of the parents, a change to a custody agreement can come in all shapes and sizes. 

It must be affirmed that a child custody modification must come at the benefit of the child/children in question. Most attempts to change a child custody agreement do come with good intentions, yet there are still those who try to abuse the system for their own selfish gains. Should someone be met with such an act, it is important to realize the dangers that it may present to the child if they are incapable of taking care of them. This furthermore must be proven in a court of law by a competent legal team. 

Understanding Why a Child Support Modification May be Appropriate

California’s food and housing insecurity deteriorated during the pandemic. The fault line in the state’s division of wealth became wider and more unstable. More than a third of Californians live under or near the poverty line. And because of antiquated child support laws, one of the most financially fragile demographics in the state are noncustodial parents.

No one knows this pinch better than 53-year-old Sacramento dad Stacy Estes. Every month, Estes watches his income split. The state of California takes $500 from his paychecks every 30 days for child support. But here is the plot twist, that garnished $500 does not get rerouted to his children from his ex-wife. It does not even go to his ex-wife.

Estes kids only receive $225. The remainder of the money is thrown toward a mountain of debt that he owes the government because he fell behind on child support payments more than two decades ago. The missed payments, along with the government-imposed interest, has buried Estes under an estimated $47,000 in child support debt. The debt has hamstrung Estes. 

Estes did not receive any of the stimulus checks Americans received during the pandemic. His children did not benefit from them either. The same goes for any income tax refunds and portions of unemployment checks. Any additional funds are intercepted by the snapping teeth of the overregulated child support monster. The debt has gotten so encompassing that he has taken to the gig economy, delivering food to make ends meet. 

The latest data from the Office of Child Support Enforcement details how California takes a disproportionate share of child support payments—almost four times the national average. This government cash-grab snatches support from the very children that this system is supposed to be supporting.

Predatory interest rates, penalties, and the threat of suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment keeps many noncustodial parents running on a hamster wheel of payment and compounded debt. That is in situations where they can land and maintain employment. 

According to the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office, noncustodial parents earn less than $15,000 a year on average. The average debt owed to their children and the government for these same parents is approximately $39,000.

An estimated 70% of this child support debt was owed to the government, not to custodial parents. Most of the uncollected debt results from parents with low incomes, parents that have moved out of state, or the debt has been outstanding so long that it is too old to collect.

Time for a Change

Until recently, the legislation controlling the rules of child support were crafted in the 1970s and 1980s. The provisions are an old-fashioned perspective on how debt and family assistance is managed. 

Advocates have pushed for the erasure of all uncollectible debt and amending the system to ensure all child support payment is received by the children. California child support administrators have even gotten on board and agree that a change is needed. And in recent years, small steps have been made to grant some relief to parents.

Typically, California collects about $2.5 billion in child support payments annually—a hefty sum but proportionate to the state’s population. In 2020, $2.7 million was collected. Fortunately, the king’s share, about $2 billion, made it to the custodial parents. The state raked in more than $430 million for state coffers and federal repayments.

The implemented changes bring the government’s take down to 40%, and a debt reduction program allows noncustodial parents to wipe away their full debt by paying a compromise lump sum.

The amounts of public assistance for families also increased to double their previous amounts for child support. A family with one child on public assistance now receives $100 a month (previously $50), and a family with two or more children now receives $200 a month.

But the predatory practice of charging 10% interest on public child support debt persists. Even in a state running a surplus of more than $100 billion, the millions lost by relieving the burden of crushing debt is a bridge too far in putting progressive ideas in front of making more profit off the poor.   

Child Support Modification

Stacy Estes can serve as an example that sometimes a child support order needs to be modified. After a divorce and an initial child support order, circumstances can change in one or both parents’ lives, and they will need to reach a new agreement concerning child support payments.

A judge will need to approve this new agreement. If the initial order is below state guidelines, a change to the amount can be changed any time. If both spouses come to an impasse and cannot agree and the initial amount of support is at the state’s guidelines, a court hearing can be requested to find a new amount. 

To qualify for a child support modification, parents must present reasonable changes in their circumstances. To put it simply, something in a parent’s life has changed and affects the current amount of child support. 

The reasons for this change might include:  

  • A change in income
  • A reduction in work hours
  • A new or changed job
  • A loss of their job
  • A medical emergency
  • An incarceration
  • A deployment with active military service
  • A change in the time spent with each parent
  • A change in the child’s needs or additional costs to care for the child
  • Another child from a new relationship

A child support modification can be either temporary or permanent: 

  • Temporary modifications can occur because of a medical emergency. A parent can have medical issues which prohibits them from paying child support. If a child needs prolonged medical care, child support may need to be temporarily increased to help cover medical costs. 
  • Permanent modifications can happen because of any of the circumstances listed above. It can occur because of increased cost of living. A disability with either parent can also cause a long-term modification. 

Both modifications will continue until the change in child support is no longer needed, or until additional modifications are needed due to life’s latest changes or shifting circumstances.

Custody and Visitation Arrangements if an Ex-Spouse is Relocated Due to the Military

What Happens to Custody and Visitation Arrangements if an Ex-Spouse is Relocated Due to the Military? Parents who are divorced work hard to develop workable visitation arrangements prior to their marriage dissolving. The court’s stance has always been what is in the best interest of the child or children of the marriage. Once a divorce is finalized, custody and visitation schedules are put in place to avoid disrupting the child’s life as much as possible.

Like other events, a military deployment can upend the best parenting plans. Joint custody is not uncommon in California, so when one spouse must move across the country, or even out of the country to serve, it often means the parents will have to work out a new plan for both parenting and visitation.

Temporary Modifications Are Possible For Military Families

Federal laws laid out in Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCFA) as well as California statutes are designed to protect the interests of those who serve in the military. This also applies to child custody arrangements which a parent may have with a former spouse.

Since no two arrangements for child custody and visitation are identical, it is important that parents understand the potential issues surrounding relocation when in the military:

  • Parent with sole physical custody relocating — when a military member is reassigned and has sole physical custody, the current non-custodial parent still has the right to visit their child. In many cases, the parents can work out an arrangement between themselves and present a modified plan to the court for the duration of the deployment.
  • Parents with joint physical custody — when the parents are sharing physical custody, it may be a valid option to consider a temporary modification of custody. Thankfully, California Cal.Fam.Code § 3047(b)(1) has specific guidelines for these types of temporary orders.
  • Parent without physical custody being deployed — when the custodial parent is not being relocated, it will be necessary to discuss how visitations between the child and non-custodial parent will be worked out. Again, these changes can be considered temporary.

Modifications of custody arrangements or visitation arrangements should always be completed before the military parent leaves their current station. The sooner the parents are in contact with an attorney who understands the military rules pertaining to deployments and reassignments, the easier it will be to get through the process.

When Parents Disagree on Visitation During Deployment

One of the challenges which will be faced is what happens when the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding visitation. Parents will be asked to participate in mediation to give each of them an opportunity to be heard and to make their position clear. Should mediation fail, however, the court will step in and the judge will make a determination about how these visits should be handled, including the financial aspects of getting the child to the deployed parent’s duty station.

When keeping the best interests of the child in mind, parents should consider the following:

  • Current schooling status — disrupting a child during the school year could have an adverse effect on their education and could potentially set them back. This should be a consideration of both parents as well as the court.
  • Length of deployment — if the deployment is short-term, the parents may opt to grant temporary full custody to the non-deploying parent. Per the statutes set down in California, these temporary changes would be revisited once the parent returns home.
  • Distance for visits — when determining how visitation modifications will be handled, the distance between the physical locations will have to be considered. This will also mean evaluating the child’s safety while traveling, the impact on the child’s relationship with other family members, and their current school break situations.

Parents who are accustomed to working together to make sure their child has access to both parents may already be working on how to deal with parenting time and summer vacation modifications so the challenges they face may be less than those who have a more contentious relationship.

Custody and Visitation Hearings and Deployments

Parents have a right to build a case for a parenting time modification in California which typically involves a court hearing. If the modification request comes while a parent is deployed, they may feel they are at a disadvantage. However, California law, as well as federal law, protects the interests of military members who may be involved in a dispute involving parenting time or custody.

Should it become necessary, hearings may be held without both parties physically in the building. In an ideal situation, resolutions for modifications of custody and visitation due to deployment or relocation would be reached prior to the change. When the parents can reach an agreement in a reasonable period of time, a family law attorney can help work out a suitable court date prior to the relocation or deployment.

When Relocation of a Duty Station is Long-Term

There may be more issues to consider if a duty station change is going to be for a long period of time, 12 months or more. When the servicemember has sole physical custody of a child, they will be required to get permission for the child to be relocated out of state. This could cause problems with the non-custodial parent, so the sooner plans are made, often the better.

Permanent changes will require the parents to revisit their existing parenting plans and work out arrangements that are not only suitable for the parents, but more importantly that are workable for their children. Since the original parenting plans were incorporated into the final divorce documents, there are court orders in place which protect the child and both parents, which means no changes can be made without court approval.

Contact a California Child Custody and Visitation Attorney

Change is never easy. If an original custody and visitation plan did not take into account the possibility of a deployment or change of duty station, parents need to work with a highly trained family law attorney to help navigate these challenging situations. Finding a workable solution to ensure the well-being of the child should be the basis for the discussions which will be required. 

How to Make Changes to Existing Child & Spousal Support Orders in California

There may come a time when the party paying child or spousal support, or the party receiving either payment may have an interest in modifying the existing order. While this is not impossible to do, the process can be complicated — particularly when the other party is opposed to having it changed.

The most cost-effective method for making these changes is to have the two parties agree to the change, have the proper documents drawn up by a qualified family law attorney and submit them to the court for approval. When an agreement is impossible to reach, the necessity of working with a modification attorney in California becomes critical.

Reasons for Modifications in Child Support Payments

When an existing court order is in place for child support payments in California, there must be a change in circumstances after the original order was put in place. In most cases, the party paying child support will be expected to continue making payments until such time the child is no longer a full-time student at age 18 or 19. However, the parents may request a modification if certain changes occur in their financial status. Some changes may include:

  • Change in income — when one of the parents has had an increase or a decrease in their income, this may provide the basis for a modification of child support in California.
  • Time changes — in some cases, the change is in the amount of time a parent is spending with a child. If one parent is spending more or less time with the child than was originally agreed to, there may be a reason to modify the current order.
  • Child’s needs — one of the primary reasons a person receiving child support payments may request a change is the child’s needs have changed. This could be health, education, or other changes which occurred after the initial child support order was put into place.
  • Disability or retirement — when one parent becomes disabled or retires, there may be a need to change the amount they are paying for child support.

There are other times when a change may be warranted, you should speak with an experienced child support attorney regarding any change in your overall financial circumstances to determine whether the reason would be acceptable to the courts.

Reasons for Modifications in Spousal Support

Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, modifications are handled in much the same way as a child support order. In some cases, the court may have ordered these payments to start and end on specific dates. Even when this is the case, there may come a time when one party requests a change in spousal support. Some common reasons a change may be requested include:

  • Income changes — when the income for either party involved in the order changes, the court may hear a motion to change the order. This may occur due to a change in jobs, a decrease or increase in self-employment income, or a job loss.
  • Cohabitation — if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a new partner, the paying partner may request a modification for spousal support payments. Remember, if the partner is living with a new partner, there must be definitive documentation supporting this argument, the court will not simply accept your word this is occurring.
  • Tax changes — in some instances, a change in one party’s tax status may impact child support payment requirements. Speak with your spousal support lawyer regarding those changes before deciding how to move forward.

Forms Required for Child Support Changes

As with anything which is handled by the court, there are forms which will have to be filled out to make changes to child support payments. The forms which must be filled out include:

You can determine which financial form must be used by reviewing another form which is available, (Form DV-570). Finally, you can the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) to learn how to fill out Form FL-300.

These forms can be confusing, and mistakes can cause time delays. Whether the parents agree on a change, or you are trying to make a modification request on your own, a family law lawyer should review these documents before they are filed with the courts.

Forms Required for Spousal Support Changes

While some forms for modification of alimony in California are the same as those used for modifications of child support, there are some which are different. For spousal support changes these forms are used:

  • Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment (Form FL-157) – this form is optional but may help you prove the reasons why a modification is needed
  • Declaration(Form MC-030) or an Attached Declaration (Form MC-031) would be used if more information is necessary to support your request

The same rule applies as the rules for child support modification. Any mistakes can cost you time, and additional money. Taking the time to have these forms reviewed by a family law attorney should be your first step.

Once Request For Modifications Are Filed

Until you have received an authorization from the court approving the changes to spousal support or child support, there should be no change to the amounts you are paying. This is important because you can be held in contempt if you begin paying less.

Another important thing you should be aware of: Even if you believe the change may only be necessary for a short time, you should request a modification immediately. Remember, the court will only approve changes once they have seen the agreements you have reached, or there has been a hearing to approve the changes. Changes will only go into effect when the court issues a new order approving the modification.

If you are considering requesting a modification of child support or alimony, The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, CFLS can help you with the process. Call our office at (619) 299-9780 or send us an email to arrange your free telephone consultation with our experienced attorney.

 

Child Support Considerations for Same-Sex Couples

Child support and custody is always an issue when a couple is in the process of getting a divorce. Seldom do both partners agree on which parent should have custody, and there is seldom agreement about support matters.

In California, child support is calculated using a formula which includes the income of both parents including wages, disability payments, and unemployment benefits. Mandatory fees like retirement contributions and union dues are deducted from these amounts. Other deductions such as child support payments from other children, spousal support payments, and job-related expenses may also be deducted. While this may seem crystal clear in most divorces, there is often a question as to how these impact same-sex couples.

Same Sex Couples and Child Support in California

There are often questions regarding support payments and custody when it comes to same-sex couples. One parent generally is not biologically related to the child or children in question. However, same-sex couples in California have the same rights and the same financial obligations to their children as their non-same-sex peers.

This is largely in part due to a California Supreme Court ruling in which the court determined the children of a same-sex couple have the right to the care and attention of both parents, even when only one parent is biologically tied to the child.

This type of ruling means both parents, regardless of sex, have a financial obligation to the child until they reach the age of 18, or until the child reaches 19 if they are still full-time students.

How Child Support is Calculated in Same Sex Divorces

The courts have an obligation to ensure both parents are treated the same financially for purposes of establishing child support payments. As such, there is an elaborate calculation which determines how much support each parent is able to provide. The elements of this calculation are:

  • Total Income — the income of both parents will be calculated, and a formula will be used to determine their gross income. Mandatory deductions such as taxes, union dues and work-related expenses will be taken into consideration.
  • Health Care/Insurance Expenses — medical care or insurance premiums will also be taken into consideration. If a child has medical issues which are not covered by insurance, this will also be included in the formula.
  • Educational and Daycare Expenses — the costs associated with the child’s education and care while a parent works may also be included in the formula for determining support.
  • Prior Obligations for Support – if either parent is obligated to pay child support for other children this is also taken into consideration when determining how much support should be paid by one parent.
  • Amount of Time with Child — in general, child support payments are made to the custodial parent. In some cases, especially those involving joint custody, there will simply be a division of expenses incurred for each parent in raising the child.
  • Other Factors — the court may review other facts which are relevant including any special needs of the child, the parent’s physical condition and age, etc.

The general formula for child support payments looks like this: CS = K (HN – (H%) (TN))

  • CS means child support
  • K means combined income of both parents
  • HN means net disposable income (high net)
  • H% means time each parent spends with child
  • TN means total net monthly disposable income of parents

You should speak with your divorce attorney or the attorney dealing with support disputes about how much child support you may be entitled to receive or may be required to pay. These numbers may also be impacted by other factors per California Family Code Section 4057(a).

Modifying Support Orders in California

There are certain factors which may result in a change being requested in a California child support order. Keep in mind, the decision to request modification must be based on factors which directly impact the person paying support or the parent receiving support.

Some valid reasons for requesting a modification of a child support order include:

  • Changes in Income — either parent who has an income change of more than 10 percent higher or lower may request a modification for support. This includes a parent who has lost their job, or a promotion.
  • Changes in Expenses — expenses for children may change in regard to their needs for daycare, education, or health care. If there is a steep increase or decrease in these expenses, it may be worthwhile looking at a support modification.
  • Custodial or Visitation Changes — when the amount of time a child spends with one parent significantly changes, there may be a need to change the support order.
  • Additional Children — if one parent becomes a parent as a result of another relationship it may be necessary to request a modification.
  • Factors Changing from Original Order — when there are changes in any of the original factors used to set child support payments, a parent may request a modification.

It is important to remember a child support modification is not automatic. Requesting a modification of a child support order should be handled by a skilled family law attorney after a review of the facts.

Non-Payment of Court-Ordered Support

Under California laws, non-payment of child support is a serious offense. Those who fail to make payments as ordered in a final judgment can face serious fines, and potentially may face jail time. A contempt of court charge may be filed against any parent failing to make timely support payments.

In addition to contempt charges, a non-paying parent may also face other consequences. Some of these include suspension of driving rights, denying a passport renewal, liens against their homes, and wage garnishments. When you are entitled to receive child support payments, we can help you hold a non-paying parent accountable.

Parents who are facing any challenges regarding child support need to know what options are available to them. Contact Steven M. Bishop,  a specialist in family law, as certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization at 619-304-0418 or send an email to arrange your free telephone consultation.

 

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