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How is Child Support Determined in Washington?

Curiale Hostnik PLLC April 20, 2021

In its Report to Congress published in 2021, the federal Office of Child Support reported that in the fiscal year of 2018, $32.3 billion was paid in child support nationwide. Of that, $28.6 billion was paid via a state or federal agency. The remainder was paid voluntarily by non-custodial parents.

Parents are legally responsible for providing financial support for their children, no matter their relationship with the other parent. Most parents understand the need for child support, but unfortunately, many still fight it.

If you have children and are considering a divorce or are in the process of filing, you might want to know more about how child support is calculated and awarded in Washington State. Understanding the methodology and the process can help you anticipate how your child will be supported until they are old enough to support themselves.

At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, we help clients in Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington understand what is in the best interest of their children — and how those interests will be supported financially when parents lead separate lives. Our experienced family law attorneys can answer all of your questions and provide the legal counsel and guidance you need from start to finish.

The Basics of Child Support in Washington

In Washington, both parents may be ordered to pay child support, although they both may not actually pay money to the other parent. The court will consider income levels from both parents, the child’s needs, and the amount of time spent with each parent when determining how the child support arrangement should be structured.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

There are 6 basic steps that are taken by the court when determining child support. These six steps are as follows:

  1. The court determines the gross and net income of both parents. Income includes obvious income sources such as salaries, wages, bonuses, military pay, and commissions. It also includes other sources of income such as interest and dividends, trust proceeds, unemployment, workers’ compensation, disability, and Social Security.

  2. Income will be imputed if a parent voluntarily lowers their income. If a parent voluntarily becomes unemployed or underemployed to avoid paying more in child support, the court can base the child support award on the amount of income the parent should be earning.

  3. The court determines each parent’s net income. Items such as income taxes, Social Security and retirement contributions, and business and other expenses will be deducted from each parent’s gross income to determine their net income.

  4. The combined net income determines a set basic child support sum. The basic support sum is set by the Washington state legislature. Minimum support is $50 per child per month. A couple with a combined net income of $2,400 per month, for example, currently must provide $543 in monthly child support for one child.

  5. The percentage of income contribution of each parent is determined. If the mother earns 60% of the combined monthly net income and the father earns 40%, the mother will be responsible for 60% of the $543 in monthly child support and the father the remaining 40%.

  6. Which parent pays child support depends on custody. The custodial parent’s obligation is considered met by virtue of having custody, and therefore more expenses, of the child.

Can Child Support Be Changed and How?

At times, the standard child support calculation may be challenged if it is considered unfair to the child or to a parent. If so, either parent can ask the court to recalculate the award before the child support order is entered. Circumstances that may provoke the court to change the award include:

  • The income of a new spouse, domestic partner, or even of the child

  • Unusual income (such as a bonus) used in the income calculation

  • Children from other relationships and their financial support

  • A child’s disabilities or special medical needs

  • Taxes and debt

  • The disparity between each parent’s cost of living

Generally speaking, a child support order remains in effect until a child turns 18 or is emancipated, although special circumstances may apply to children with disabilities or other factors. Nonetheless, either parent may ask the court to modify the child support order if there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as the birth of another child, involuntary job or income loss, or a medical emergency.

Work with an Experienced Child Support Attorney in Washington

Despite the calculator used to determine child support in Washington, there are variables unique to each situation that often complicate child support orders. Although parents can attempt to represent themselves in matters related to divorce and child custody and support, the court makes all final decisions based on the best interest of the child or children involved. That’s why it is always wise for a parent to consult with an experienced child support attorney who can advocate for their rights as a parent and represent them accordingly under Washington law.

At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, our skilled family law attorneys represent parents in Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, University Place, and throughout Pierce County, Washington, as they face this monumental change in their lives.

Child support can be a very stressful and emotional part of divorce. Seek reliable legal guidance from our experienced family law attorneys to help you through the process. Call Curiale Hostnik PLLC today to schedule a consultation.