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How is Child Support Calculated in Washington State?

by | May 30, 2024 | Child Support

Determining child support in Washington state involves navigating a set of calculations and rules outlined in state law. While the process can seem complicated at first glance, the goal is to arrive at a fair support amount based on the child’s needs and each parent’s ability to pay. Here is an overview of how child support is calculated in Washington courts.

The Basic Child Support Calculation

Washington has a standard child support schedule that determines the presumptive amount of support based on the parents’ income and other factors. The schedule consists of an economic table that provides support amounts based on the combined monthly net income of both parents.

To use the schedule, you first determine each parent’s monthly net income. The court can impute income to a parent who is voluntarily underemployed. You then combine the monthly incomes and find the corresponding support amount in the economic table. This provides a basic support obligation for each parent. The non-custodial parent’s obligation is called the standard calculation.

Washington provides an online child support calculator to determine the standard calculation. After entering basic information, the site will generate worksheets showing the presumptive amount and how it was determined.

What Income is Included?

The court aims to determine each parent’s true net income when calculating support. This generally includes income from all sources, such as wages, commissions, bonuses, overtime pay, interest, dividends, and more. The court can exclude income that is temporary, unpredictable, or over which the parent has little control.

Imputing Income

If a parent is voluntarily underemployed, meaning they are purposely earning less than they could in order to reduce support, the court may impute income up to what the parent could potentially earn. However, the court typically does not impute income to a parent who is unemployed or taking care of a young child.

Low-Income Adjustments

For combined monthly net incomes below $1,000, the economic table allows for minimum basic support obligations. This ensures low-income parents retain sufficient funds to meet their own basic needs.

Deviations from Standard Calculation

While the standard calculation provides a presumption, there are several reasons the court may deviate and order an amount above or below the standard obligation:

  • Residential time: If the obligor parent has substantial residential time (around 90 overnights per year), support may decrease.
  • Additional children: Support may decrease if the obligor has legal obligations to support children from other relationships.
  • High income: For higher income families, support may increase through income extrapolation.
  • No/minimal residential time: If the obligor has little to no residential time, support may increase.

Deviations require written findings explaining the reason for veering from the standard calculation. The court has broad discretion in determining the appropriate amount of deviation.

Split Custody and Other Factors

If each parent has custody of one or more children, the court will typically offset each parent’s obligation to arrive at a net payment. The parent with the greater obligation pays the difference.

The court may also consider daycare and special child rearing expenses when determining support. Healthcare expenses are typically divided proportionally between the parents.

Post-Secondary Support

Standard child support generally ends when the child turns 18. However, the court can order post-secondary support for an adult child attending college or who has special needs. Post-secondary support involves more judicial discretion.

To receive post-secondary support, a motion must be brought before the child turns 18. If approved, support will extend past 18 if the child dependently attends college or a vocational program full-time.

When determining post-secondary support, the court will consider factors like the child’s needs and resources, each parent’s income and resources, and the type of educational program. The resulting support amount may differ considerably from standard child support.

Modifying Support Orders

Parents can petition the court to modify support if there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as a change in income. The modification process involves recalculating support under the standard schedule and applicable deviations.

To modify support, you must file a petition and proposed child support worksheets reflecting the requested change. The other parent can object or provide their own proposed worksheets. The court will determine the appropriate amount based on both proposals and the relevant evidence.

Calculating child support in Washington involves examining incomes, residential schedules, and the special needs of children. While the process is complex, the standardized approach strives to provide consistent and adequate support based on each family’s unique circumstances.

If you have questions about calculating or modifying a child support order, or have problems receiving the child support you are owed, contact our family law attorneys today to discuss your options. You can visit our offices at:

  • Bellevue – 10900 Northeast 4th St, Suite 2300, Bellevue, WA 98004
  • Kirkland – 1207 Market St. Kirkland, WA 98033

Or call now for a free consultation on (206) 792-0981.