How to Enforce Child Support in California

Under California law, both parents are legally required to offer financial support to children younger than 18 years old. 

A parent's obligation to support a child doesn't end when the marriage does. Instead, courts use a complex formula to determine how much one parent pays the other to support the children they share. 

A California court order comes with a few payment protections. For example, courts typically garnish wages from the spouse who must pay. But if people shift jobs a lot (or don't work at all), getting payments is tricky.

California offers free help to ensure parents get what they need to support their children properly. 

How to establish child support in California

Parents should have formal arrangements for child support payments. Involving the courts ensures that both parties know what the payments should be, and courts can step in and assist with missed payments if an order is in place.

Two paths exist. One is best for parents already moving through a divorce, and the other works for those who haven't started a divorce yet. 

With an existing family court case

Both divorces and child support cases originate in the Family Court system in California. If you've already filed for divorce but haven't started thinking about child-related issues yet, you can work with the courthouse that is processing your divorce. 

Here's how it works:

  1.  Fill out paperwork. Use Request for Order (FL-300) and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150).
  2.  Ask a family law facilitator to help. Find one here. These professionals can ensure you've filled out your documents properly. 
  3.  Prepare documents for the court. Make two copies, and find the court processing your divorce. Bring them to the courthouse. The clerk will stamp your forms and give you a court date.
  4.  Serve your spouse. Bundle one copy of your forms, a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (FL-320), and a blank Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150). Give them to someone 18 or older, and ask that person to deliver the forms to your spouse.
  5.  Get proof. Ask your server to fill out Proof of Personal Service (FL-330) and give it to you. Make two copies, and bring one to the court for filing.
  6.  Attend the hearing. Go to your hearing as scheduled by the clerk. 

Without an existing family court case

If you have not filed for divorce yet, this is the best way to ensure your child support payments start on time. The process is a little complex, but a family law facilitator can help you with anything that seems confusing. They’ll simplify the process for you and ensure you take the proper steps.

Start by filling out these forms:

  • Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100)
  • Summons (Family Law) (FL-110
  • Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105

Make two copies of both forms, and bring them to a courthouse that accepts divorce filings. (This tool can help.) Prepare for a $435 to $450 fee to file your papers and start your divorce. 

You must serve your partner with a copy of your forms, stamped by the court, along with a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (FL-320) and a blank Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150). Ask your server to fill out Proof of Personal Service (FL-330) and give it to you. Make two copies, and bring one to the court for filing.

How do courts determine child support rates?

California courts aim to ensure children have the financial support they need for food, housing, health care, and education. Judges use several factors to determine how large payments should be for each child. 

Those factors include the following:

  • How much money the parents make
  • How many expenses the parents face
  • How much time the child spends with each parent

Typically, the parent with custody (the custodial parent) gets payments from the other parent. The more time the parents spend with the child, the smaller the payment they must make to the other. 


How do courts enforce child support payments?

Cases that end with an order for child support also include wage garnishments. Courts notify a parent's employer, and the wages come directly from the person's wages before paychecks are issued. 

A garnishment order ensures smooth payments to custodial parents. Each month, you'll see your child support payment issued from a state agency that collects fees from your former spouse. 

If your payments stop, you can get help from a local child support agency. (Find one here.) These organizations don't charge fees for their work, but they do need a child support court order to get started. 

What happens when partners don't pay?

Parents are legally obligated to provide child support for their children. If a parent doesn't make payments, child support agencies can step in. 

A local child support agency can do the following:

  • Send a notification about each missed payment to credit reporting agencies
  • Freeze passport renewal requests
  • File a lien against property
  • Suspend state-issued licenses 
  • Garnish income tax refunds, savings accounts, disability payments, and unemployment payments 

If courts determine that a parent can pay child support but isn't doing so, the person could face contempt of court charges and jail time. 

It's best to pay the fees ordered by the California court system. You may disagree with the amounts or the process, but skipping your payments comes with severe consequences that could cripple your ability to live a financially balanced life. 


Frequently Asked Questions. California Child Support Services.
Asking for a Child Support Order. Judicial Branch of California. 
Start Your Divorce Case. Judicial Branch of California. 
File Your Divorce Petition and Summons. Judicial Branch of California. 
Serve Your Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California. 
Collecting a Child Support Order. Judicial Branch of California.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.