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How a California court works in a child support case

Divorced spouses in California, who have filed for child support, may be interested to know what role the court plays in determining a child support order. Generally, the judge in a family court is the final authority in determining the child support amount and passing a child support order. The Local Child Support Agency may ask the court to issue a new order or modify an existing order, depending on the circumstances. If there is already an existing child support order, the LCSA can enforce it on behalf of the complainant. In other cases, the LCSA initiates the process of generating a child support order.

Child support orders may be temporary or permanent, depending on the nature of the case. But the court decides the support amount after considering the income of both parents and the amount of time the child will have with each parent, separately. The child support amount may also include expenses related to medical care, daycare and so on. However, if the parent paying the child support amount has genuine hardship issues, the court may also reduce the child support amount, after verifying the circumstances.

The court begins its process only after the LCSA files a summons and complaint to get a child support order. The parent who pays the child support is served the papers and a blank form to file a response. However, the LCSA may ask that parent to personally collect the order instead of sending it to their home or workplace. The parent is then given 30 days to file a suitable response. If no response is received within the given time, the court may decide on the child support amount based on the information it has. If the non-custodial parent agrees with the judgment, the LCSA prepares an agreement and the court approves it without even asking the parents to appear before the judge.

But since the summons and complaint are legal documents, the parent being served may choose to seek legal assistance. The parent may wish to consult with an attorney before contemplating any future course of action.

Source:, "Child Support Handbook," July 2012

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