Like many other states, California uses the income shares model to calculate child support orders. If two divorced or separated parents cannot reach a child support agreement outside of court, a judge will calculate monthly child support payments using both parents' incomes, the number of children and the children's anticipated expenses.
States that do not use the income shares model use the percentage of income model to calculate child support. In that model, a judge bases a child support calculation on a certain percentage of the noncustodial parent's income, regardless of how much income the custodial parent earns. No matter which way child support is calculated, noncustodial parents that earn high incomes will usually pay more child support than noncustodial parents that earn low incomes.
Extreme examples of large child support orders are often seen in high-profile celebrity divorces where parents who earn millions of dollars per year are ordered to pay upwards of $10,000 per month in child support. Some people scoff at large child support orders because they think that custodial parents use the money to enrich themselves. However, a child support order is a judge's attempt to help a child maintain the standard of living that they would have had with married parents. If a child has a wealthy noncustodial parent, the child would have lived in a wealthy household if their parents had stayed married.
A judge may look at many different pieces of information before calculating a child support order such as parents' incomes and any previous child support orders for other children. If a judge does not have a complete and accurate picture of both parents' financial lives, a child support order may not be calculated correctly. A parent may want to have legal representation during child support hearings to ensure that the judge has all of the relevant information that is needed.