How is Child Support Calculated When We Have Equal Parenting?

Equal Parenting

Some parents, often through agreement, have 50/50 parenting plans, in other words, each parent has the children 50% of the time. They may assume that since they equally share the parenting, neither would owe any child support to the other.

That, however, is generally not the case.

Washington child support law works on the assumption that child support is paid to the parent who has the children the majority of the time.

There is not much guidance as to how to handle situations where neither parent has the children a majority of the time (equal parenting). The law does provide, however, for deviations from the standard calculation under appropriate circumstances, and one basis for a deviation is where “the child spends a significant amount of time with the parent who is obligated to make a support transfer payment”.

Typically the courts are reluctant to grant such a deviation where there is still a majority of time with one parent (i.e. even with a 40/60 parenting plan).

There is also an exception to this deviation rule where granting the deviation would leave one household with insufficient funds to meet the basic needs of the children. Thus if one household is low income, the deviation will probably not be granted (and since there is no definition of “insufficient funds” or “basic needs”, this rule could be applied even in moderate income situations).

If the court does find that a deviation is appropriate due to equal parenting, there are two common ways of addressing what support arrangement would be appropriate. One is to grant a deviation based on actual expenses in each household.

For instance, if one parent buys most of the clothes, pays the medical bills, etc., then support might be adjusted to account for that as well as differences in income.

A second way is to assume expenses are equal and thus adjust based simply on income differences. For example, if Parent A makes $3000 per month, and Parent B makes $6000 per month, the total support obligation between the two parents might be $1534 per month (two children under 12). However, since Parent B makes twice as much as Parent A, Parent B would still be responsible for 2/3 (67%) of the cost, or $1023.

If we assume expenses are equal in each home, that would mean each parent needs to have $767 available in their home. This would mean Parent B should pay $256 per month to Parent A. This would leave Parent B with $767 of the $1023 obligation to spend in his or her own home. Parent A would have their own $511 share plus the $256 in support, thus leaving them also with $767 per month to spend.