What Are the Child Support Laws In Washington?
Local Divorce Lawyers Discuss Child Custody, Child Support, and Other Domestic Relations.
Washington family law attorneys help you with child custody, child support, property division, maintenance and other domestic relations.In every Washington divorce, legal separation, annulment or paternity case involving children, the Washington family law court steps in to determine whether one parent owes the other child support to assist in the financial expenses associated with child-rearing.
Between themselves, separated parents must divide all the expenses of their children in proportion to their respective incomes and personal time dedicated to the child. A parent’s duty to pay child support ordinarily lasts until the child turns 18, until the month following high school graduation, whichever event arrives last, or until the child is otherwise emancipated, which annuls their right to monetary support.
Most states recognize two categories of expenses to which the proportion of payment applies: basic, which covers typically essential expenses, and extraordinary, which accounts for additional expenses that support a child’s well-being beyond those explicitly understood as essentials.
Additionally, before couples with children may even be granted a divorce, in most cases involving children under the age of 19, Washington will require both parents to take a “parenting class” designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce. This class is also offered online, such as the Children In Between course offered by the Center for Divorce Education.
Basic Expenses include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:
- Housing, such as payment to support rent.
- Basic food, which may cover grocery expenses.
- Basic clothing, non-luxury clothing items for day-to-day wear.
- Regular transportation, including gas expenses, in certain cases.
- School lunches, either the money to purchase prepared lunch or an amount factored into grocery expenses.
- Ordinary medical and dental expenses. Medical expenses that fall into this category may also include co-payments and deductible amounts that exceed a combined $250 per child, per year.
- Allowances, if parents agree to give their child/ren spending money
- Other customary expenses which the parents expressly include. Washington’s “Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations” sets this amount; parents are responsible for determining how many of their child’s expenses should be included in this category. *This should be delineated beforehand in the “Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan”.
Extraordinary Expenses include, but aren’t necessarily limited to:
- School supplies, such as textbooks.
- School trips and activities, generally limited to essential trips–such as short-distance museum visits–and may not necessarily include abroad-trips for occasions like Spring Break.
- Additional school clothing
- Lessons, such as private music lessons or subject tutoring.
- Special clothing and equipment, for clubs or sports.
- Organization fees and costs, such as membership dues.
Calculating Child Support Payments
In Washington, child support is calculated by applying a mathematical formula known as the “child support guidelines”, which supports three main objectives:
- To establish as state policy an adequate standard of support for children, subject to the ability of parents to pay;
- To make awards more equitable by ensuring more consistent treatment of persons in similar circumstances; and
- To improve the efficiency of the court process by promoting settlements and giving courts and the parties guidance in setting the levels of awards.
These guidelines follow the notion of “income shares”, which says that children are entitled to a portion of each parent’s income in amounts that reflect the child has been entitled to the same level of financial support that they would have received in an “intact” household.
In Washington, a parent with physical custody is called the “possessory conservator,” and the child resides with that parent. Physical custody means possession, and applies to the parent who doesn’t live with the child/ren year-round. In most cases, child support amounts are based on each of the parents’ income and the amount of time they spend with the child. The parent with physical, but non-conservatory custody is generally defined as the parent who spends less than 50% of the time with the child/ren on a yearly basis (or less than 182 days), and this parent will usually have to pay child support to the other “possessory conservator” parent to cover expenses he or she encounters while the child is under their supervision. This is the person who spends a greater percentage of time with the child/ren, and thus is assumed to be the household paying on behalf of the child in most circumstances.
For purposes of the Washington child support guideline, “income” is defined as actual gross income of the parent, if employed to full capacity on an hourly basis that makes them a “full-time employee”, or potential income, if unemployed, a part-time employee, or underemployed. However, the definition of income has many exceptions and aberrations, and it’s important to understand what, as a non-custodial parent, you may be responsible for.
Firstly, the definition of “child support” helps define what may be considered income.
Generally, child support is very much a structural system, as indicated by the “basic” and “extraordinary” expenses framework. The actual cost of work, livelihood, and education-related expenses paid by either parent is added to the basic support obligation when determining the amount of the child support order. However, additional money spent by the noncustodial parent for the benefit of the child that are not court-ordered are generally considered a gift and will not necessarily fulfill your dues as a noncustodial parent. Thus, money spent on the child outside of their required dues–even if they substantially affect the amount of money that parent possesses–will not change their regular child support amounts.
How does shared custody play into all of this?
Many states recognizes two forms of shared custody, otherwise known as conservatorship: managing conservatorship, and possessory conservatorship.
The first, managing conservatorship, grants a parent the right to make legal decisions regarding the child, such as which school to attend, as well as the power to make financial and medical decisions for the child.
The second form, possessory conservatorship, gives a parent the right to access and visit the child but not necessarily the authority to make legal decisions for the child.
Both managing and possessory parents maintain legal custody, and each have the right to raise the child and make decisions regarding the child’s day-to-day upbringing, such as where the child goes to school, what religion the child practices, what medical treatments that child receives and what activities the child participates in.
Exceptions and aberrations in calculating child support
What if a parent is supporting other children, as well as those in the prevailing custody case?
If you have children from other relationships living in your home, you may also receive credit in the child support calculation; i.e., depending on your financial status, your monetary obligation to the child in your care may decrease the dues to be paid to another.
You may also receive an adjustment if you provide documentation of money paid without an order for another child that is not residing in your home. Additionally, if you are paying court-ordered expenses for the child’s post-secondary education*, this amount can also be deducted from your income.
Do child support obligations qualify for income tax deductions?
Yes, but the parent must provide proof of payment for any expense to have it deducted from income or added to the child support obligation.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the IRS does not consider child support payments to be a form of income. That means, child support payments cannot be deducted by the payer (noncustodial parent) and are not taxable to the payee (custodial parent).
Are others bills–such as rent and car payment–taken into consideration when computing the amount of support?
Expenses of the parents such as car payments–not related to the support of the children–are not considered. These payments are considered voluntary lifestyle choices of the parent. As such, costs such as housing, food, utilities, clothing and other basic expenses for the children will not be compromised.
Does overtime count as part of my income?
In most cases, no, unless your employer requires it. This will generally be reflected on the income forms you submit.
How can I verify my income? What about self-employed parents?
Generally, you need to complete official forms provide your income and expenses for the court or your local Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Unit. You are required to attach your three most recent paycheck stubs and three most recent tax returns; if you have not filed your tax returns, your W-2 and 1099 forms are also acceptable.
For self-employed parents, you will need to provide your business tax returns for 3 to 5 years as well as a sworn statement of gross business income and business expenses. Occasionally, your local CSE Unit will request additional information to determine your income for child support, such as business bank records or profit and loss statements.
What if one of the parties doesn’t have any income?
Income is usually not assigned to a parent in the following situations:
- The parent is mentally or physically disabled
- One of the parties’ children is under the age of 30 months and a parent cares for the child rather than working
- The parent is pursuing training and/or education that will lead to a higher paying job in the future.
In these circumstances, income may be determined based upon the parent’s earning ability, and the parent will still be required to pay whenever applicable.
It’s important to note that federal law says that child support arrearages (the total amount of unpaid child support) can’t be “discharged,” or eliminated, through bankruptcy, and you will still be obligated to pay, even if that may be your situation.
However, at a minimum, an able-bodied parent is expected to have minimum wage imputed to him/her.
Does this order allow me to have visitation with the child?
Also known as “parenting time”, the local Child Support Enforcement Unit cannot help establish visitation. However, you may request that a court hearing be set to ask the court to grant parenting time. Visit your state’s Judicial Department website for filing requests forms for visitation and decision-making information.
When do child support payments end?
The paying parent’s duty to pay child support ordinarily lasts until the child turns 19, or until the month following high school graduation, whichever arrives later.
If you receive disability money based on your past employment, it is considered income for purposes of child support. If you are a non-custodial parent and receive SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), it will be counted as income in determining how much child support is owed. To apply for SSDI derivative benefits for a child, you can contact the Social Security Administration Office.