When parents separate, each parent is equally responsible for providing for the financial needs of their children. If the parents cannot agree about child support, the court may get involved and make an order for child support. Child support is usually required until the children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school full time).
Check out our video on how to get a child support order.
To get a child support order:
- Either parent can ask the judge to make a child support order, or
Either parent can go to the Mendocino Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) to get help in opening a child support case, paying and collecting child support payments, or enforcing a child support order that was already made in another family law case.
You can also work out an agreement with the other parent.
How to Get or Change a Child Support Order
If you and your child’s other parent cannot agree to child support, one of you will have to file papers in court to ask for it. Child support can also be ordered as part of a case filed by the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS).
To ask for a court date you must have an existing case with the other parent of your children or start a new case at the same time. The type of case you must have or start can be:
- Child Support Case with the Local Child Support Agency or DCSS
- Divorce or Legal Separation
- Parentage (Paternity)
- Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
- Domestic Violence Restraining Order
If you need to start a child support case
If you are sure you need to start a case, choose a type of case below:
- Go to the Mendocino Department of Child Support Services
- Click for info to start a divorce or legal separation case
- Click for an online program that helps you fill out the forms to open a parentage (paternity) case
- Or, check out our Parentage flowchart to see all the steps you have to follow, links to forms, and info.
- Click for info to start a domestic violence restraining order case
- Click for an online program for a petition for custody and support case
If you don’t have one of these cases and need help, or if you are not sure, contact the Self-Help Center.
If you already have a case
Once you have an open case and want to get your first child support order OR want to change an existing order, you will need to fill out:
You can use a program to fill out the Request for Order and all the related forms online. This program also allows you to e-file your forms:
Once you fill out the FL-300 and any attachments, there are more steps you will have to follow.
If you want to change a child support order, the judge can only change it back to the date you file your Request for Order (FL-300) with the court.
- For example, if you lose your job and can no longer pay the child support amount and need it adjusted, the judge can only order the change back to the date you file and NOT the date you lost your job. So it is very important you file your papers in court as soon as possible. Contacting the Department of Child Support Services is not enough in these cases.
Respond to Child Support Papers
If you need to respond to child support papers filed by the other parent or by the Department of Child Support Services, do so right away. If you don't respond and provide your information, the judge may make a child support order against you without you having any say.
What form you use to respond will depend on what papers exactly you got. Usually, you will get blank response forms with whatever papers you are served. You can use those forms to respond.
If there is a court date for child support coming up, you will most likely need:
But there may be other forms you need. The Self-Help Center can help you.
How Child Support is Calculated
California has a statewide formula (called a "guideline") to determine how much child support should be paid.
If the parents cannot agree on an amount, the judge will decide the child support amount based on the guideline.
The guideline mainly takes into account:
- How much money the parents earn or can earn,
- How much other income each parent receives (like rental income or unemployment or disability),
- How many children the parents have together,
- How much time each parent spends with their children,
- The tax filing status of each parent,
- Support of children from other relationships (not counting step-children),
- Health insurance costs,
- Mandatory union dues, and
- Mandatory (not voluntary) retirement contributions.
The child support order may also order the parents to share the costs for:
- Child care to allow the parent to work or to get training or education for work skills,
- Children’s reasonable health-care expenses,
- Traveling for visitation from one parent to another,
- Children’s educational needs, and
- Other special needs of the children.
The judge may order something different than the guideline amount in very limited cases. The Self-Help Center can help you understand what kinds of cases may be exceptions.
To estimate how much child support the judge may order in your case, go to the California Guideline Child Support Calculator. To understand how to fill in the information in the Child Support Calculator, download the User Guide.
Keep in mind that using the Calculator on your own can be confusing. If you do not put in the numbers in the right places, you may get the wrong results. Get help from the Self-Help Center if you want to make sure your calculations are right.