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Remarriage to high-earner can affect child support in California

In California and elsewhere, both parents are expected to provide appropriate support for their children. The child support guidelines California family courts use consider both parents’ incomes, along with parenting time and other factors, to help judges determine whether one parent will paying child support and, if so, how much.

Stepparents, of course, are not expected to financially support their spouses’ children from previous relationships. Since 1994, stepparents’ income has been specifically excluded from California’s guideline formula for calculating child support, except in extraordinary circumstances. As a blogger for the Huffington Post recently noted, however, the reality is that a stepparent’s income does have at least some impact.

The reason is that the stepparent’s income is taken into account for tax purposes. Particularly when the stepparent’s income is significant, it can push his or her spouse into a higher tax bracket even though that spouse isn’t earning any additional money. That means a portion of their unchanged income is being taxed at a higher rate, so they have less left over.

If the court recalculates the child support obligation, that change in take-home pay sometimes does make a difference. Since the incomes of both parents are considered in the formula, a new calculation can change the amount — even though neither parent’s wages has gone up.

Unfortunately, if the parent receiving the child support checks is the one with the high-earning new spouse, the paying parent may end up owing more. That can be disconcerting, since the receiving parent is presumably enjoying a higher standard of living through their marriage, yet receives more in child support, as well.

It’s only human nature for the paying parent to be somewhat irritated by such a situation. If it happens to you, though, take a deep breath. The truth is that child support is not money paid to your ex — it’s your contribution to your children’s financial wellbeing. The increase, like all child support, should primarily be used for the benefit of the children, although it’s far more trouble than it’s worth to monitor every expenditure.

That said, if a recalculation has sent your child support skyrocketing, there could be something wrong. Even if not, if you’re having trouble paying for this or any reason you may have grounds for a modification of your child support order. Talk to an experienced family law attorney about your options.

Source: The Huffington Post, “New Spouse Income and Child Support in California,” Mark Baer, Dec. 4, 2013