California Family Code Section 4055 provides a statewide uniform guideline, or formula, for determining child support obligations. Among other things, this formula takes into account each parents actual income, and the level or responsibility for the child (that is, the percentage of time the parent spends with the child). If the parents have similar incomes, the parent who spends more time with the child will usually be the one to receive the support, whereas the parent who spends less time with the child will usually be the one to pay support. Similarly, if the amount of time spent with the child is equal, but one the incomes are vastly different, the higher wage earner will usually be the one obligated to pay support to the lower wage earner.
The formula, of course, is much more complex than the situations stated above and takes into account other factors. These other factors may include: number of children, federal and state tax filing status, new-spouse income, spousal support obligations from other marriages, the cost of raising children from another relationship, mandatory retirement contributions, health care premiums, etc.
The California Department of Child Support Services offers a free guideline calculator for those looking for an estimate of what their support obligation or award may be. The calculator may be found at: http://www.childsup.ca.gov/Resources/CalculateChildSupport.aspx
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS