Stipulated Child Support
The amount of child support established by the Uniform State Guideline calculation is presumed to be the correct amount of child support. However, it is possible to reduce child support below Guideline formula amount in certain circumstances. Family Code Section 4057 states that the court can award child support below the Guideline formula amount if the parties stipulate to the lower amount.
Certain safeguards exist in the Family Code to ensure that stipulated child support agreements are entered into freely and provide a basic level of support. Specifically, Family Code Section 4065(a) states that the court may only approve a stipulated agreement for child support below the amount if the parties declare:
- They are fully informed of their rights concerning child support
- The order is being agreed to without coercion or duress
- The agreement is in the best interests of the children
- The needs of the children will be adequately met by the stipulated amount, &
- No public assistance application is pending & the right to support has not been assigned to the county.
Furthermore, a stipulated agreement of child support is not valid unless the local child support agency has signed the agreement if the agency is providing child support enforcement services. As a further limitation, child support agencies are prohibited from signing the agreement if the children are receiving CalWORKS benefits, an application for public assistance is pending or if the parent receiving support has not consented to the order.
Parties to the stipulated child support agreement are free to renege in the future if the stipulated amount is below the amount calculated by the Guideline. Family Code 4065(d) provides the ultimate safeguard to the parent agreeing to child support below the Guideline formula by allowing the parent to seek modification of the child support order without showing a change in circumstances. Accordingly, stipulated child support agreements are vulnerable to modification in the future, especially if a previously unrepresented parent speaks with a local family law attorney or law firm.
Why Can Parents Agree On A Lower Amount?
Family Code Section 4053 contains the principles underlying the Guideline formula. One of the policies is that “guideline seeks to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and seeks to minimize the need for litigation.” (4053(j)) . Accordingly, if the parents and their divorce attorneys have come to an agreement on the amount of child support that complies with certain safeguards (4065(a)) and satisfies the needs of the children, the court should honor the efficient settlement that avoids further litigation.