Calculating Child Support in Washington with a Seattle Family Attorney

In Washington State, child support is calculated by a formula set out by the legislature. Somewhat like your federal tax forms, there is both a worksheet for making the calculation, and a set of instructions for how to complete the worksheet. A Seattle family attorney in our office can help you with the calculations (secret – we have a computer program that makes it MUCH easier).

Washington’s Child Support Table

Also like with your federal income taxes, after you have made the basic calculations, there is a table for the amount of basic child support. This is based on the net family income as well as the number of children. There used to also be a factor for the age of the children, but this was eliminated in the 2019 update to the schedule.

The Basics: How Does Child Support Work?

Child Support laws vary greatly from state to state, but as we mentioned above, Washington child support is calculated by completing a form called a child support worksheet (a bit like an income tax form). You list the income for both parents, take out certain allowable deductions, and come up with a net income for each parent.

Those net incomes are then added together to come up with a family net income. The next step is looking at a chart (again, somewhat like an income tax chart) to determine the state’s estimate for the amount that a family with that income spends on their children, per child.

As an example, you might have Parent A with a net income of $3000 per month, and Parent B with a net income of $6000 per month, for a net family income of $9000 per month. If they had two children under the age of 12, the chart would say that the expected cost of raising those children is $767 per month per child, or a total of $1534 per month.

This is not just direct costs like food and clothing, but also indirect expenses like needing a larger home with more bedrooms, heating a larger home, transporting the children, etc.

That cost is then divided between the parents according to their percentages of the net family income.

In the example above, Parent A has 1/3 (approx. 33%) of the net family income, and Parent B has 2/3 (approx. 67%). Therefore Parent A would be responsible for about $511 of the $1534, and Parent B would be responsible for about $1023.

Who Receives the Child Support Payments?

The next question is where these obligations get paid. Washington law is primarily concerned with making sure the children are adequately supported in the household they are in the majority of the time. Therefore the primary residential parent (the one who the children live with the majority of the time) is assumed to be paying their share of the cost of the support of the children in his or her own home.

The other parent pays their share of the support to the primary residential parent to supplement the budget in that home. Therefore in the example above, if Parent A is the primary residential parent, then Parent B would be paying $1023 per month to Parent A, to make sure that Parent A has $1534 available to meet the various expenses for the child.

It is unfortunate that Washington law does not make much provision for ensuring the non-primary residential parent also has adequate funds available for the expenses of the children in his or her own home.

How Do Net Incomes Factor in to Child Support?

In coming up with the net family income, your Seattle family attorney will use the full time income of both parents. If one parent does not have full time income, but is capable of earning a full time income, then normally the state will impute a full time income to that person. Of course there can be arguments as to what income that parent is capable of earning.

Once we have an income figure for each parent, your Seattle family attorney will then subtract some but not all deductions that are taken out of their pay. For instance, to avoid people being able to artificially lower their income through income deferral, voluntary retirement contributions are capped at $5000 per year. You can still contribute more, you just won’t get credit in the child support calculation.

Child Support Calculated For Both Parents

Contrary to many people’s assumptions, BOTH parents have a child support obligation. The basic child support obligation is divided between the parents according to the percentages of their relative incomes. For instance, if parent A makes $3000 per month and the parent B makes $6000 per month, parent A’s obligation would be 1/3 of the total child support and parent B’s obligation would be 2/3 of the total child support.

HOWEVER, and this is important to understand, the schedule focuses on making that money available for the children only in the children’s primary home. This means that the parent with the children a majority of the time is presumed to be spending their share of the support obligation in their own home, while the other parent pays their share of the support to the parent the children are living with the majority of the time. You may want to discuss this point further with your Seattle family lawyer.

Additional Expenses a Seattle Family Attorney Can Help With

Next, if there are extra expenses that are not included in the basic support, such as day care or health insurance (these are not included in the basic support because they vary so much from family to family), these expenses are also divided between the parents by the same percentages of income as the basic child support.

Deviations From The Basic Calculation

To allow for some situations where there may be one child living primarily with parent A, while another child lives primarily with parent B, there is an additional split custody calculation for your Seattle family attorney to run that offsets the respective obligations between the parents.

In some other situations the court can choose to deviate from the basic child support calculations. Reasons for deviation can include:

  • Unusual wealth
  • Tax planning
  • Children from other relationships
  • Significant amount of time spent with the other parent (especially if there is a 50/50 parenting plan)

Call Our Firm Today To Speak with a Seattle Family Attorney

Make sure to discuss your potential child support with your Seattle family lawyer early in your case so you can start planning your realistic financial future. To schedule an appointment, we can be reached through the form on our website, or you can call us at 206-784-3049.