Child Support laws vary greatly from state to state, but in Washington State, 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.
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.
In my next post, I will address child support calculations when the parents have a 50/50 parenting plan, i.e. when there is no primary residential parent.