For many parents in California, child support is necessary for raising a family. That’s why it is ordered so often after parents separate. While support is usually paid to the custodial guardian by the noncustodial parent, there are circumstances in which this is not the case.

A custodial parent is the one the child physically lives with most of the time. Legal custody is separate from physical custody and involves who has the right to make major decisions about the child’s life. This might be shared even if physical custody is not. There is a widespread perception that the mother is usually the custodial parent, but this is not always the case. Fathers may be custodial parents as well, and mothers might pay child support.

Support payments are based on the premise that both biological parents have an obligation to financially support their kids. The purpose is to cover the child’s basic expenses. However, the definition of “basic expenses” may vary depending on the particular circumstances of the family. At minimum, it generally includes clothing, shelter and food. A parent may use child support payments toward rent and utilities since these are part of giving the child a home. The payments might also be used toward extracurricular activities, school, toys and furniture for the child. Leftover money should be saved for the next month.

Some parents might prefer to make an informal child support agreement, but the potential problem with an arrangement like this is that there may be no recourse if the noncustodial parent refuses to pay. Parents who need to apply for a child support modification should not procrastinate. The modification may be granted, but it is not retroactive. That’s why it could be wise to retain a lawyer who can expedite the modification process.