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Child Support and Custody Aren’t Always Linked: Ask Kelly Clarkson

There’s a common assumption about child support that the person with primary custody is the only parent eligible to receive financial assistance. While this is the case in some states, California is an exception. Just ask Kelly Clarkson, famous singer of American Idol fame.

Clarkson has recently filed for divorce from her husband of seven years, Brandon Blackstock. The couple has two children, of whom Clarkson received primary custody. Since the pair both live in California, Clarkson and Blackstock are held to the state’s guidelines regarding their responsibilities post-divorce. That’s why Blackstock feels comfortable requesting alimony payments of $300,000 and an additional $135,000 in child support from his ex-wife.

Clarkson’s career as a singer has led to an income in the millions, while Blackstock does not have a similar salary. Even though she has primary custody of her children, Clarkson could very well end up paying the requested total amount he requested. Why? Because she doesn’t have sole responsibility for her kids.

Unlike other states, California doesn’t typically award sole custody to one parent. Instead, both parties split it. The parent who cares for the children a greater percentage of the time is considered to have primary custody; while Clarkson has her children more frequently, Blackstock will still spend some time caring for them.

Because Blackstock will be spending time with their kids, he’s eligible for child support. California family law focuses on giving any children in a relationship as stable an upbringing as possible. That means as long as parents share responsibility for their kids, if one parent earns significantly more than the other, there’s always an opportunity for support to be awarded. To understand why this is the case, it helps to know how California courts make decisions regarding children during divorces.

California’s Child Support Laws

The first step to ordering a person to provide for their children is deciding on custody. There are a number of ways in which responsibility for children can be shared, depending on the situation. There are two types of custody that need to be awarded: legal and physical.

  • Legal custody: This is the right to make legal decisions for a child, such as where they receive medical care, what school they attend, and if and what type of religious activities they engage in. Parents can have sole legal custody, where one person can make all of these decisions alone, or they can have joint responsibility, where both parents have input. Clarkson and Blackstock have joint legal control.
  • Physical custody: This is where the kids live. Parents can have joint custody, where the children split their time close to equally between households. The second option is that one parent can have primary physical custody, and children visit their other parent some percentage of the time. Finally, in some cases, one person may receive sole custody, and the other party does not receive any visitation rights. Clarkson has primary custody, but Blackstock still has visitation.

The two types of responsibility can be agreed upon by the parents outside of court, or a judge can make the decision in family court. Either way, the physical custody agreement is then used to determine whether and for how much assistance both parties are eligible.

When one of these requests is filed in court, judges are encouraged to follow the California Child Support Services calculator. This calculator considers both parents’ income, taxes, insurance, investments, and expenses. It also takes into account the total amount of time the kids spend with both parents. If the difference in income is great enough, the parent with less income may be eligible for child support, even if they only have custody a fraction of the time.

The Use of Child Support Guidelines

California has some of the highest guidelines for child support orders in the country, awarding larger payments more frequently than other states. While judges do not have to adhere to these guidelines, they are encouraged to follow them in most cases.

As a result, many parents can use the calculator to find approximately what they may need to pay. Blackstock has likely run the numbers and is confident that he may receive his requested $135,000 monthly.

Of course, not every judge will follow the guidelines in every case. Judges can award amounts both higher and lower than the guidelines suggest, especially in cases with large income differentials.

Reasons Why the Guideline May Not Be Followed

Cases in which judges deviate from the state guidelines are intended to be exceptions to the rule. To make sure that this is the case, the judge must explain their reasoning for not following the guidelines. Common reasons include:

  • One parent is not providing for their kids appropriately considering the amount of time they are together; this may lead to an order that the negligent parent pays more support.
  • The children have medical or other needs that warrant more help from the paying parent
  • One parent has an extremely high income, and the judge has determined that following the guidelines would result in them paying significantly more than necessary to provide for their kids.

Of these reasons, Clarkson is most likely to benefit from the third. While Blackstock has likely worked with his attorneys and used the guideline calculator, Clarkson can still argue that the amount of monthly funds he requested significantly exceeds what he actually needs to provide for his two kids. Whether the court will agree is yet to be seen.

Child Support Is Variable — Be Prepared

Children can make any divorce more complicated, and the Clarkson-Blackstock divorce is no different. As Kelly Clarkson has discovered, child support isn’t necessarily linked to whether your children spend most of their time with you. Either parent can be responsible for paying to provide for their children if their income is significantly higher than their former partner’s.

It pays to be prepared. If you are concerned about the results you’re seeing from California’s Child Support Services calculator, reach out to our experienced child support attorneys today. They can help you walk through the numbers, understand your options, and find a reasonable arrangement for providing for your children no matter where they live.