Child Support In Washington State

Both parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children under Washington law. By parents, this can include biological or adoptive parents who were married and are in the process of obtaining a legal separation or divorce, parents who were not married, but parentage (paternity) for the child has been established either by signing an affidavit of paternity or by court order, or a non-biological or adoptive parent who has been adjudicated as a “de facto” parent.

The Order of Child Support.

The courts require entry of an order regarding payment of child support for any divorce, legal separation, parentage, or third party parentage action. The order determines which parent will pay support to the other, in what amount, for what duration, and what other obligations to which each parent is required to contribute. Parents cannot agree to not pay child support; the legal duty still exists.

Child Support Schedule & Worksheets.

The courts utilize a mathematical calculation to determine how much child support is payable. This calculation is driven by the Washington State Child Support Schedule. The Schedule utilizes each parent’s net income, the number of children, and their ages and sets a specific support amount known as the transfer payment. The transfer payment may also include amounts paid for child support or other extraordinary expenses.

Determining Net Income.

Determining a parent’s “net income” can be the most challenging part of establishing child support. If a parent is self-employed, a contract worker, unemployed, or otherwise not earning at a level to which they are capable and qualified determining the parties’ income can pose a significant problem. The determination of each party’s net income is the driving factor for not only determining basic support, but also determining the amount each parent should be required to contribute to other expenses, such as daycare, extracurricular activities, medical expenses, and transportation (if applicable).

Adjusting the Support Obligation.

Child support may be adjusted or modified after certain periods of time or as a result of certain events such as the child entering a new age bracket, changes in income of the parties, or changes in the needs of the children.

Termination of Child Support & College.

Child support is generally payable until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. Support beyond this may be ordered by the court, but generally takes the form of “post-secondary educational support” also known as a requirement to pay for college or vocational school. Post-secondary education support is discretionary, not mandatory. Child support beyond the age of 18 or high school graduation may also be ordered if the child remains dependent, such as a child with special needs.

The Duty of Support.

In conclusion, parents have a duty to support their children which cannot be avoided by agreement of the parties. The determination of the amount of support to be paid, while calculated by the Child Support Worksheet, is not always straightforward and simple. Determining each party’s net income is what effectively drives not only the basic support amount but also each parent’s responsibility for the payment of a host of other expenses. It is essential to have skilled and thorough representation to navigate what can be a complicated process. Whether you are currently going through a divorce, legal separation, parentage action or adjustment or modification of support, our Family Law Team has the expertise and experience to get the job done.

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