Washington has established child support guidelines for how child support is to be calculated by the courts. The courts have the ability to deviate from the guidelines but have an obligation to ensure that the deviated support still meets the needs of the children. The ability to deviate actually leaves a lot of room for cooperative parents to develop creative approaches to child support.
The state approach to child support uses the income of both parents to determine an amount that the family is presumed to be spending on the children. It then divides the responsibility for that amount between the parents. However, except in unusual situations, it assumes those monies need to be made available in the home the child spends the majority of the time. As an example, let’s say parent A is responsible for $500, and parent B is responsible for $700, and the children live primarily with parent B. In that case Parent, A would normally pay $500 to parent B, and parent B would be assumed to be using that money plus another $700 out of their own pocket to meet the needs of the children in their home. Unfortunately, this means that the standard formula does not make any provision for the ordinary child expenses of parent A – the parent having less time with the children.
To deal with the issue of recognizing the child-related expenses of each parent, cooperative couples have taken a number of different approaches. Some parents have simply taken the state’s presumed amount and redistributed it between the parents relative to their respective amounts of time with the children. Other parents have looked at their actual expenses and come up with a different amount than the state calculation and distributed that between them according to both their time with the children and their spending patterns. For instance, if one parent does all the clothes buying for the children, that parent might need a bit more of the child support budget.
I have even seen some parents set up a joint account just for child expenses. They might each contribute to the account in set monthly amounts or set percentages, and then each draws on the account for child expenses they incur. This approach does work best for a couple who are in very close agreement about what the child expenses should be, and may mean a good deal of communication back and forth about what is being spent.
Another approach I have seen is scheduling a regular, perhaps annual, “true-up” where they compare what each has spent on the children and work out a balancing payment to get them back to the agreed percentages of responsibility.
The approaches we can take to child support are only limited by our creativity, and our ability to demonstrate to the court that the arrangements serve the children’s best interests.