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What Should I Know About Child Support in Washington?

updated:
12/21/2023

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When it comes to Washington State child support matters, spouses need experienced representation to help them navigate the complex issues that often arise. Too many life-changing decisions must be made for parents to forgo help from an experienced advocate. If you are dealing with child support problems, our child support attorneys can help ensure that your interests and the interests of your child are protected throughout proceedings dealing with child support in Washington.

What Are Washington State Child Support Guidelines?

What Are Washington State Child Support Guidelines?

Washington State child support guidelines seek to establish the basic needs and protections for children whose parents are no longer together. In general, the obligor (the person who is obliged to pay child support) is usually the parent who does not have primary custody over the child and who does not handle the lion's share of the child's living expenses. The parent who has primary custody and handles most of the child's needs is known as the obligee.

In most cases, basic child support must cover:

  • Food, clothing, and shelter
  • Medical care and medical insurance coverage
  • Education
  • Child care
  • Travel costs associated with visitation
  • Other court-ordered costs

When one of a child's parents leaves the state, child support duties remain in force, thanks to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). The UIFSA is a comprehensive law that helps prevent obligors from escaping their child support duties.

Whereas issues with lack of authority and varying state-by-state laws often cause problems in other legal matters, in child support cases, the UIFSA provides uniformity in law and procedure. This allows Washington parents who are obligees to enforce child support orders throughout the entire United States.

How to Request Child Support in Washington

A parent has various options for requesting child support in Washington. Perhaps the simplest way is for both parents to come to an agreement and seek approval from a judge. The most common way, however, is for a parent to fill out an application for support and submit it to the Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Child Support (DCS).

How Child Maintenance Is Calculated in Washington

Washington child support laws require the DCS to consider various factors when deciding child support, including the monthly income of both parents, their monthly debts, expenses related to healthcare and daycare, and any other relevant financial obligations.

The totals of these obligations are plugged into a child support formula along with the number of dependents and their ages. In Washington state, child support payments are capped at $3,500 per month, regardless of each parent's income.

Calculating Net Income for Child Support in Washington

Calculating Net Income for Child Support in Washington

Net income is a determining factor in how child maintenance is calculated. To find each parent's net income, the court subtracts the following costs and expenses from the parent's gross monthly income:

  • Social Security taxes or other mandated retirement plan payments.
  • Federal and state income taxes, including self-employment taxes.
  • Dues owed to unions or professional organizations.
  • Court-ordered payments for a child's health and dental coverage.

Voluntary retirement contributions may also be subtracted in certain instances.

Additional Expenses in Child Support Obligations

On top of basic child support ordered by a court using the basic formula for support, additional expenses also factor into the judge's decision. Because these expenses tend to vary heavily from household to household, the legislature decided to leave them out of the formula used for calculating basic needs. Instead, judges decide on the allocation of these expenses on a case-by-case basis.

These expenses may include:

  • Expenses related to extracurricular and after-school events, such as band, sports, and dance.
  • Daycare costs.
  • Costs related to private schooling (typically only ordered when a child had previously attended private school or the parents agree that they should).

In most cases, a judge will have the parents split these additional expenses according to each parent's income. When they make the same salary, the judge will typically order these expenses to be split equally. If, however, the father makes double what the mother makes, the father will be required to pay two-thirds of these expenses.

Other financial factors may play a role in a judge's decision-making process, including:

  • Whether the parents should pay post-high school educational expenses and costs.
  • Which parent is allowed to claim the tax exemption for the child or children.
  • How attorney's fees are being paid.

The main problem with this method of dealing with additional expenses is that parents often have disputes over the reasonableness of an expense.

For example, one parent might feel that an extracurricular activity is unreasonably expensive while the other parent deems it to be essential to the child's growth. Because the Division of Child Support in Washington State does not consider the activity a basic need (which cannot ever be disputed as being unreasonable), there is room for the spouses to battle it out in family court.

When courts decide these disputes, they use a standard of reasonableness to judge the validity of expenses. For example, if a parent sends their child to an exclusive, expensive language camp in a foreign country, the court will likely not require the other parent to contribute to the costs of the program.

How Washington Guidelines Are Applied

How Washington Guidelines Are Applied

Washington State uses various guidelines to determine child support and answers questions such as "When does child support end in Washington?" The guidelines are based on the law and are often referred to as simply "guidelines." Within their provisions are basic minimum standards of care of children that must be met by parents in the state, but judges have wide discretion to differ from these standards when the facts of a case allow.

In general, the net monthly income of each parent is what's important. Once the court has determined each parent's net income, it will use one of two methods in its decision-making process. The first applies in cases where the obligor makes less than $7,500 and involves considering the number of children in the household. When the obligor makes more than $7,500 a month, the children are not considered as they are in the first method.

Factors Affecting Child Support in Washington

What does child support cover in Washington State? As mentioned, child financial support covers a child's basic needs and may also cover needs not considered basic or essential, such as extracurricular activities. When judges decide on child support cases, they must establish at the very least the minimum child support payment in Washington State needed to cover children's needs.

Factors that judges use to make their decisions include:

  • The child's age.
  • The child's available financial resources.
  • Custody and child access circumstances for each parent.
  • Childcare expenses incurred while maintaining employment.
  • Other children being supported by either parent.
  • Alimony and marital support being received or paid.
  • Travel costs associated with visitation and custody.
  • Special education and healthcare issues.
  • Cash flow from assets and investments, be it positive or negative.

During this entire process of setting a parent's child support obligation, it is strongly recommended that both parties have an experienced child support attorney representing them. Without one, a party could get locked into difficult support obligations.

How to Modify Child Support in the Court

Child support obligations can be modified under certain circumstances to reflect changes. For example, when children leave Washington and attend school in another state, many people wonder, "Do you still have to pay child support if the child is not in school in Washington State?" The answer is yes, but modification of the order may be appropriate.

To modify an existing child support order, a parent must:

  • File a motion
  • Submit evidence of a material change in living situations
  • Attend a hearing
  • Receive a new support order

A parent who is not satisfied with the result may appeal.

Getting Child Support in Washington Step-by-Step

Getting Child Support in Washington Step-by-Step

The following is a step-by-step guide to getting child support in Washington State. In every case, parents are better off contacting an experienced attorney to represent them.

1. Open a Child Support File

The first step to getting child support in Washington is opening a child support file. This is done by completing an application for child support at your local child support agency or office.

2. Find the Other Parent

Once your application has been filed, the child support services will attempt to locate the other parent based on the information you have provided. They may also use other available information.

3. Determine Parentage

Establishing parentage is essential. The state will help out in this process if there are problems. Parents who are in agreement about a child's parentage may voluntarily agree to be listed as parents. Genetic testing is also available.

4. Establish a Support Order

Before receiving official child support payments, the courts must issue an official support order. This order will specify how much the obligor is meant to pay as well as when and how.

5. Set Up a Payment Schedule

The simplest and most commonly used payment schedule involves taking child support payments directly from the obligor's paycheck each month. This method allows for easy tracking of payments and ensures that they are made each month.

6. Enforce the Order for Support

In the event that an obligor does not make their support payments, child support services will take steps to enforce the order. They may intercept tax refunds and garnish wages when necessary.

7. Review the Support Order

After an order has been in effect for three years, the parents have the right to review and revise it if there have been any material changes in the parties' living situations.

Get Support for Your Washington Child Support Case at Hodgson Law Office!

Washington State child support cases deal with life-changing issues for families. If you are dealing with child support matters, you deserve deft support from an experienced child support lawyer in Washington. Hodgson Law Office is a premier family law firm that vigorously defends the interests of its clients and their children. Let our team fight to ensure that your needs are met during this process. Contact us online for a consultation about child support in Washington.

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Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson

Mark D. Hodgson and his legal team at Hodgson Law Office provide exceptional, personalized representation in family law and divorce cases. With a commitment to trust, integrity, and vigorous advocacy, Hodgson Law Office offers reliable and compassionate legal assistance for all your family law issues.

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