California courts are required to order the amount of child support determined by the child support guideline unless the case fits 1 of the few legal exceptions to that rule. One of the exceptions is that the parties agree to an amount different (higher or lower) from the child support guideline, as long as it meets certain tests.
In general, parents can agree on a “non-guideline” support amount if they:
- Know their child support rights fully;
- Know the guideline child support amount;
- Are not pressured or forced to agree to this child support amount;
- Are not receiving public assistance;
- Have not applied for public assistance;
- Agree to an amount of support that will meet the needs of the children;
- Think that the child support amount is in the best interest of the children; and
- Have a judge approve the amount of child support payments.
Parents can also agree to a child support order based on the guideline. By agreeing and signing a written agreement (a stipulation) for the guideline amount, parents do not have to go in front of a judge to decide child support. Your agreement will need to be submitted to the court clerk for the judge to sign so that it can be enforced as an order of the court.
IMPORTANT! If 1 of the parents gets public assistance (like TANF), the local child support agency must agree to AND sign the agreement between the parents. The local child support agency must also sign the agreement if the agency is involved in a case to enforce (collect) the support order.
Writing up a child support agreement
Parents can agree to a child support amount, but only the judge can decide if it is appropriate and if he or she will accept it and sign it as an order.
The family law facilitator in your county can help both parents work out a child support agreement and write up the agreement.
To write up a child support agreement:
1. Figure out what guideline child support amount is
Before the judge can sign an agreement between the parents that sets a child support amount that is lower or higher than the guideline, you must first know what the California guideline child support amount would be.
To figure out what it would be, you can:
- Ask the family law facilitator in your county. He or she can run the calculation and tell you what the guideline would be.
- You can calculate the amount yourself by using the California Guideline Child Support Calculator. Calculating child support can be complicated, especially if you have never done it before. If you do it yourself, you may want to have a lawyer or the family law facilitator check the calculation.
2. Agree on an amount and other issues
Part of being fully informed about your child support rights is knowing what the guideline amount of child support would be. So, if you agree to pay more or receive less than the guideline, you are doing it voluntarily and with all the information.
You also have to agree on who will keep or pay for health insurance for th children and how to split other expenses related to your child or children, like:
- Child-care expenses;
- Health-care costs not covered by insurance (co-pays, etc.);
- Special education or other needs of the children (tutoring, after school activities, etc);
- Travel expenses related to visitation (if any); and
- Any other expense related to your children.
Child-related expenses are usually shared 50-50 or proportionate to each parent’s income where there is a large difference between the parents’ incomes, but you can agree to any division that you feel is appropriate in your situation.
And you need to decide how the child support payments will be made: directly between the parents, directly to the provider, or by wage garnishment (wage assignment).
3. Write up your agreement
Use the Stipulation to Establish or Modify Child Support and Order (Form FL-350). The form walks you through all the issues you need to address in your agreement so make sure you read it carefully.
Make sure you use the right case number (if you already have a case open). If you do not have a case open, you will have to open one so you can file this agreement as part of it.
Notice that, in this agreement, you are agreeing to keep each other promptly informed of any changes in income, employment, or address.
Ask the family law facilitator in your county if you need help writing up your agreement. Or if you wrote it up on your own, have the family law facilitator review it to make sure you filled it out correctly.
4. Sign your Stipulation (agreement)
Each parent must sign the Stipulation (Form FL-350). When you sign, you are agreeing that you understand it and that you are signing it voluntarily and are not being pressured or forced to agree. Make sure you attach the child support calculation that shows what the guideline child support amount is, even if you agree to a different amount.
If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, either because they were the ones to open the case or because 1 of the parents asked them to get involved, they have to sign this Stipulation. If 1 of you is on public assistance (like TANF), the LCSA has to agree to the amount of child support.
5. Turn in your Stipulation to the court for the judge to sign
Find out from the court clerk if you need to make copies ahead of time and turn them in with the original or just turn in the original and make copies after. The procedures for how to do this will be a little different from court to court, so make sure you find out from the clerk of your local court what to do and when you should return to pick up your papers.
- Each parent will also have to fill out and turn in a Child Support Case Registry Form (Form FL-191). This form is confidential and will not be kept in the court’s files. It is kept in a confidential file with the State of California. It registers the case in a national registry to help with child support enforcement. If any of the information you provide on this form changes, you have to complete a new form and deliver it to the court clerk within 10 days of the change. It the LCSA is involved in your case, they will electronically forward the information on the form and you will not need to complete Form FL-191.
- If you are agreeing to have the child support paid by wage garnishment, also turn in an Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195). Use the Instructions to Complete the Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support (Form FL-196) for help filling out Form FL-195. When you fill out this form, keep in mind that “Obligor” refers to the parent that is paying the child support. “Obligee” is the parent who is receiving the child support.
6. File your Stipulation after the judge signs it
After the judge has signed the Stipulation, file the original with the court clerk (after making copies if you did not already make them). The clerk will keep the original and stamp your copies “Filed” and return them to you. One copy will be for each parent and the third copy is for the LCSA if applicable.
Also file the Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195) if you turned in one. When you fill out this form, make sure you only put in the last 4 digits of the social security number of the parent who will be paying child support, to protect their privacy.
7. Send the Order/Notice to Withhold Income for Child Support to the employer of the parent ordered to pay support (the obligor)
If you agreed to have the obligor’s (parent paying support) wages garnished, send the filed Income Withholding for Support (Form FL-195) to his or her employer.
from California Courts