How does income factor in when determining child support?

Divorced or unmarried parents in Washington often get into disagreements over child support orders. Parents on the receiving end of child support might believe that they need more child support than what is ordered, because they cannot afford their cost of living. On the other hand, the paying parent might be under the impression that the monthly payments are too costly. Knowing how the state goes about determining income and payments can help the process.

Under Washington law, courts determine child support amounts based on a number of factors, including the incomes of both parents. The court looks at two years of tax returns and pay stubs to determine income. The range of income covered is very broad: salaries, wages, commissions, deferred compensation, any money made in overtime, benefits through contracts, moonlighting jobs, assets through investments, trusts, severance, pensions, retirement benefits, workers’ compensation, unemployment if the person is not working, bonuses, Social Security benefits, disability benefits and any other sources of income.

Some possible sources that are not counted as income include: a new spouse’s income; the income of other adults in the home; child support from previous relationships; gifts; prizes; assistance for those in need; Supplemental Security Income; benefits for those who are elderly, blind or disabled; assistance for pregnant women; food stamps and overtime from second jobs.

The court even looks at potential income. That is, if the court determines that the parent is unemployed or underemployed by choice as part of an effort to get more or pay less in child support, it may determine the amount of income based upon what the parent could be making, based on education, work history, age, health and other factors.

Child support and how it is determined can be somewhat confusing. Both paying and receiving parents can have difficulties with the system at any time from the beginning of the order to the time the children are grown and the order expires. Skilled Washington lawyers can help either paying or receiving parents to understand how the system works and fight for their best interests.