Child Support Process in Washington State

How Washington State determines child support payments

​As a child support lawyer in Vancouver, WA, I’ve seen my share of child support and custody battles. Below describes how Washington State law determines the appropriate amount of child support to be paid each month by the non-custodial parent. A parent’s child support obligation in Washington State is based primarily on the parties’ income, while also considering many other factors, such as work-related daycare expenses, medical insurance payments, uncovered medical expenses, long distance travel expenses, if applicable, and other considerations. The following information will give you a general idea of the issues involved in the process, but is not meant to cover every conceivable issue.

How can one parent require the other to pay child support?

​Parents may request either the County Superior Court or the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to determine child support for the child or children.

How is the amount of child support determined?

As stated above, when a parent petitions either the Superior Court or DSHS to determine support, the determination will start by looking at the combined income of the parents, the age of the child or children, and the Washington Child Support Schedule, which is essentially a grid that gives you a figure that the law presumes is appropriate support, based upon the income of the parents, age of the children and number of children involved. Now from there, there are many other considerations that can affect the obligation owing.

The amount a parent is ordered to pay will be the percentage of their income to the joint income of the both parents. For example, if the joint income of both parents is $6,000 with the mother’s contribution being $4,000 to that amount and the father’s contribution is $2,000 to that amount then their percentages of support would be 67% and 33% respectively. If the basic support obligation for the child in this case is $862.00 per month, then the mother would be expected to contribute $577.54 and the father would be expected to contribute $284.46 each month to the care of the child. However, this number can be adjusted up or down for a number of reasons.

How is income determined for child support?

All income and resources of both parties (except for income of others) shall be disclosed and considered when determining the basic child support obligation. Income deductions for purposes of determining income for child support, include mandatory pension payments and union dues, maintenance actually paid, state insurance and state and federal income tax, may be deducted from the gross income, as well as voluntary 401(k) contributions up to $5,000 per year.

If either parent is unemployed the Court will impute an income for that individual typically. This imputed amount will either be based on minimum wage, that persons previous work history and earning potential or it will be determined by the state guidelines based on that person’s age and what the state feels a person of that gender and age should be making presently. The Court may also impute income at a higher rate if it feels that a parent is voluntarily under-employed to reduce the amount of child support they would otherwise have to pay.

Both parents are expected to provide Financial Declarations, copies of paystubs and tax returns for two years or more.

Factoring in other expenses in regards to income

​The Court typically order both parties to help pay for daycare and other expenses for the child. The amount a parent will typically pay is the same percentage they would be expected to pay of basic support obligation. So if the mother is expected to pay 67% of the basic support obligation and the father expected to contribute 33% then the parties are also expected to pay their percentage of the day care expenses.

Deviations in Washington State child support cases

​Deviations can occur from the presumed child support payment. However, a deviation is not required. Typical examples of when a deviation can occur include: the non-custodial parent has a significant amount of residential time with the child; income of other adults in the household; child support or spousal maintenance actually received from other relationships; gifts or prizes received; possession of extraordinary wealth; extraordinary income of the child; extraordinary debt involuntarily incurred; significant disparity in income of the parents; or special needs of the children; child support owed for other children.

Post-Secondary child support

A child support order will end usually when the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. The Court may award post-secondary support at its discretion. Further, unless extraordinary circumstances are demonstrated, post-secondary support does not go beyond a child’s 23rd birthday.

A parent must petition for post-secondary support prior to the ending of the support order. When considering whether to order post-secondary support, the critical factor is whether the child is in fact dependent and is relying upon the parents for the reasonable necessities of life. The child’s age and needs, the expectations of the parties for their child when they were together, the child’s ability to succeed and do well, the parent’s level of education and income and standard of living.

The child must register in an accredited college or vocational school and must be actively pursuing a course of study commensurate with the child’s goals and must be in good academic standing. Post-secondary support is automatically suspended if the child is not in compliance with those terms.

Modification of child support

​Every two years either parent can ask for a review of child support as a matter of right. In addition, if there has been a substantial change of circumstances either parent may ask for a modification at any time. Moreover, a party can ask for a modification of child support after one year if: 1. The order in practice works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child; 2. The child is no longer in the age category that was used to determine support when it was previously entered; 3. If the child is still in high school and will turn 18 before completing highschool; 4. To add an automatic adjustment pursuant to RCW 26.09.100.