Getting a Court Order

Calculating the Amount of Child Support | StipulationDefault Order

Summons and Complaint

The first step in establishing a child support order is to file a legal action, called a Summons and Complaint, against the noncustodial parent.

The Summons and Complaint asks the court to require that the noncustodial parent provide child support and health insurance coverage, including vision and dental care if it is available at a reasonable cost through the noncustodial parent’s employer. The Summons and Complaint can also request the following:

  • Paternity
  • Child Care
  • Medical Support

A copy of the Summons and Complaint is sent to both the custodial party and the noncustodial parent. The Summons and Complaint may include the amount proposed for child support.

When the noncustodial parent receives the Summons and Complaint he or she has 30 days to respond by filing an answer. If the noncustodial parent fails to file an answer or reach a stipulation with the department, the case can proceed by default.

The Acknowledgement of Receipt form is included in the Summons and Complaint packet that is sent to the noncustodial parent. If the noncustodial parent does not sign and return the Acknowledgment of Receipt, the department will attempt to personally serve them with a copy of the Summons and Complaint.

If the noncustodial parent lives within the County of San Diego, he or she can come to the office to discuss the matter. If the noncustodial parent lives outside of the county he or she can contact the office by phone or mail.

Brochure: Summons and Complaint

Calculating the Amount of Child Support

The Department of Child Support Services and the court follow the child support guidelines defined by state law in Family Code Section 4055. This state law provides a standard formula for determining the amount of child support.

The amount of child support the noncustodial parent pays is based on the amount of time the child spends with each parent and each parent's adjusted net income. Income is money from almost any source including, but not limited to:

  • Self-employment
  • Wages (including tips, bonuses, commissions)
  • Interest income on savings accounts and other investments
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Disability payments
  • Worker's Compensation

The judge may consider the amount of money a parent is capable of earning, instead of the parent’s actual income.

Once each parent’s adjusted net income is calculated, the child support guideline is used to determine the amount the noncustodial parent pays as child support. Child support covers only ordinary living expenses for the child.

It is important to note that child support is not retroactive, prior to the date of filing or service. The department will only be able to collect on arrears (past-due child support) that were previously ordered. The court cannot hold the noncustodial parent responsible for support prior to the existence of a court order.

For a court to order the following expenses to be shared by both parents, a specific request must be made in the motion that is filed with the court:

  • Childcare
  • Medical bills not covered by insurance
  • A child’s special education needs

If these are items that a parent wishes the court to order, the parent must tell the Department of Child Support Services, since they are not automatically included in every case. Contact our office.

There are several ways that we can obtain a child support order:

  • Stipulation (Voluntary Agreement)
  • Court Hearing
  • Default Order


Once both parties received notices of Summons and Complaint, they can talk with a child support staff member to discuss the packet. If the parents on a non-assistance case agree to the terms, they have the option to resolve the child support issues without going to court; both parents sign an agreement called a stipulation.

Court Hearing

If the noncustodial parent files an answer to the Summons and Complaint, and does not agree to a stipulation, he or she has the right to a court hearing. The court will determine the amount of child support. Information about the court hearing is provided in the Summons and Complaint packet.

Going to Court

The Department of Child Support Services does not represent the noncustodial parent, the custodial party, or the child. We represent the public interest in all cases. Either party has the right to be represented by a lawyer. For more information, contact a private attorney, a legal clinic, the Family Law Facilitator or the local Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service. Going to Court.

Default Order

If a stipulation has not been reached and the noncustodial parent fails to file an answer to the Summons and Complaint within the allotted 30 days, the case is considered to be “in default.” If he/she fails to file an answer the court can enter a Default Judgment without the noncustodial parent’s participation.