Remarriage and Child Support in California

The average American household has about two children. When your marriage ends, your children's living arrangements may change. But your legal obligation to support them does not.

Child support payments enable a parent living outside the household to care financially for children in the household. You're required to make these payments each month until your child is grown, and that doesn't change if you're remarried. 

In most cases, your child support payment arrangements are made during your divorce process. But some people need to alter the details later on. 

It’s easiest (and best) if you can come to an agreement with your former spouse and file that paperwork accordingly. If you can’t work constructively with your ex-spouse, you can ask for free help from the California courts system. 

California child support basics 

In California, parents are legally required to support their children, and your obligation doesn't end when your divorce is final. 

Some couples come to amicable arrangements during divorce negotiations, and they file paperwork specifying how much one parent will pay the other. Other couples need help determining a support amount.

California's statewide formula (also known as the Child Support Guideline) helps courts decide how much financial assistance is reasonable. Parents submit paperwork, and judges use the calculator to set terms. 

Once these arrangements are finalized, you'll need to file paperwork to change them. In the interim, you must pay the amount the court thought was reasonable for you and your situation. 

A court-ordered child support arrangement typically lasts for years. It ends when a child does any of the following:

  • Gets married or enters a domestic partnership
  • Dies 
  • Is granted legal emancipation
  • Turns 18 and graduates from high school
  • Turns 19 (even if the child hasn’t graduated) 

Some parents agree to pay child support longer, even though they’re not required to do so. Parents with disabled children may continue to pay child support for an aging child, especially if that person can’t set up an independent household. 

How is child support calculated?

If the courts get involved and use California's Child Support Guidelines, they'll assess almost every part of your financial standing and your child's needs and arrangements. 

The guidelines consider the following:

  • Income level: How much do you and your former spouse earn from employment, dividends, and other sources?
  • Employment: Do you both work? Is one party capable of working but refuses to do so?
  • Expenses: How much do you pay for health insurance, union dues, mandatory retirement accounts, and more?
  • Arrangements: How many children do you have together? How much time does each parent spend (per court order) with each child?
  • Hardships: How much child support do you pay for a child from another relationship? What other factors could keep you from top earning potential?

You must provide the courts with documentation to support your claims, and all of this data plays a role in the amount the judge sets. 

What about a new marriage?

Almost 70% of divorced people ages 55 to 64 are remarried. It's relatively common for people to end one relationship and start another at some point. 

These new commitments can alter some parts of your child support agreements. But your new marriage won't make your legal obligations to your children null and void. 

A child's biological or adoptive parents (not step-parents) are required to support their children. A new spouse may want to help a child thrive, but in most cases, judges can't consider this person's income when setting up child support arrangements. 

Exceptions that cause extreme and severe hardship exist, including these:

  • Very low income: If both biological parents don't earn enough to support a child's basic needs, a step-parent's income may be included in the calculations.
  • Changing job status: If one recently remarried partner quits work and relies solely on a new spouse's income, that person's financial information could be included in calculations. 

What non-custodial parents should know about child support

A non-custodial parent doesn't live with the children the majority of the time. Parents like this are still legally required to offer financial support, and they may have court-ordered visitation agreements that keep their ties strong. Parents like this typically pay funds to the custodial parent. 

A non-custodial parent may enter a new relationship, have a child, and experience a significant change in financial status. In 2015, for example, an average family spent almost $13,000 per child, and that amount doesn't include saving for a college education. 

s like these can add up, and they could make you consider altering your existing child support agreements. But a new baby doesn't automatically change how much you owe your former spouse. Plenty of factors enter a child support calculation, and a new baby may not change everything about your math. 

You must pay your child support, even if you don't agree. If you don't make payments, California officials can garnish your wages and tack on penalty fees. Parents in California owe about $11.6 billion in child support and $6.8 billion in fees. Stay out of trouble by sticking to your agreements and making payments on time. 

If you want to change your child support amount, you could come to a new agreement with your former spouse, file paperwork, and take care of the issue immediately. 

You don’t need to prove that your fees should change. You can just agree and move on. But if you can’t agree, you must move through a formal modification process. 

How to modify child support payments in California 

You don't need to pay a fee or fine to request a payment modification. Typically, you can work with a Child Support Agency in California at no cost. Find one here

A family law facilitator within a Child Support Agency can do the following:

  • Prepare your forms
  • Calculate a new child support payment 
  • Work with you to move the paperwork through the courts

You could opt for a change due to the following reasons:

  • New income parameters for one or both parents
  • Employment changes, including the loss of a job
  • Incarceration of one or both parents
  • Alterations in childcare arrangements, including more time spent with the non-custodial parent 
  • Changes in a child's expenses for education, healthcare, or childcare 

Your modification request begins with documentation. You'll need proof of the following:

  • Income and expenses
  • Childcare fees
  • Medical insurance premiums
  • Custody and visitation arrangements

In general, if you're hoping to prove that something changed since your child support payments were set, you should have documents pertaining to that change. If you don't, the court might not agree to alter the payment amount. Gather this documentation beforehand.

The court will review your information and decide accordingly. Families that can prove their support should change by 20% or $50 (whichever is less) are granted alterations. 

Remember that you're not required to pay a fee or fine to change your agreements. If you think the payment amount is too low or too high, ask for help. 

It can be challenging to navigate the world of child support payments. Reach out for assistance when you need it.


Average Number of Own Children Under 18 in Families with Children in the United States from 1960 to 2021. (September 2022). Statista. 
How Child Support is Calculated (and Other Frequently Asked Questions). Judicial Council of California. 
Main Factors Used in Calculating Child Support. Judicial Council of California. 
The Demographics of Remarriage. (November 2014). Pew Research Center. 
Non-custodial Parent. Legal Information Institute. 
The Cost of Raising a Child. (February 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
California Keeps Millions in Child Support While Parents Drown in Debt. (May 2021). CalMatters. 
Changing a Child Support Order. Judicial Council of California. 
Find a Local Office. California Child Support Services. 
Child Support. Judicial Council of California. 
Changing a Child Support Amount. California Child Support Services.
How a Child Support Case Works. California Child Support Services.


Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.