How does a child support schedule work?

In Washington State, the responsibility of supporting the children is apportioned between the parents. Each parent pays their proportional share, based on each parent’s income, of the estimated cost of raising the children.

Generally, this means that the nonprimary residential parent pays their share of the estimated cost of raising the children to the primary residential parent, and the primary residential parent adds some of their own funds to meet the children’s expenses.

The estimated cost of raising the children is determined using a state developed worksheet. The calculation of the support obligation takes into account the ages of the children, the number of children, and the combined income of the two parents.

Extra expenses that are not covered by the basic child support obligation, such as daycare, are divided between the parents according to the same percentages of combined income. Child support is generally paid in regular monthly installments.

What about medical and educational expenses?

Expenses that are not covered by basic support, such as medical expenses, daycare, and private school, are normally divided between the parents according to their percentages of the combined net income. Private schooling is discretionary and so must be approved by the court. Factors may include the history of private schooling during the marriage and the ability of the parents to afford the private schooling after the divorce.

Some expenses, such as incidental educational expenses or extracurricular activities, are sometimes treated as included in basic support and sometimes as extras. You may want to make sure these are more specifically addressed in your child support order.

College costs may also be awarded by the court, and when ordered are also usually divided according to percentages of income.

How is my income calculated?

Since child support can be adjusted every two years, the question is generally what is your income going to be over the next two years, rather than simply what has it been. However, if you have a steady paycheck, the best answer is looking at what you are making right now. We don’t try to factor in speculative raises. On the other hand, if you have a history of bonuses sufficient to create an expectation of continued bonuses, we may include an estimated bonus based on past history.

If you have changed jobs, we generally look at the current job rather than past jobs, assuming that work is likely what you will be continuing to do.

If you have a fluctuating income (self-employed or commission-based), then we may need to average your recent history to come up with a monthly figure we can use for the calculation.

Finally, if you are unemployed or only work part-time, you will normally have full-time income imputed to you for child support purposes. This is typically done by looking at your most recent rate of pay and multiplying it out to 40 hours per week.

How are child support payments enforced?

Most child support is paid through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Child Support.

By default, the state generally collects child support through wage garnishment. If the paying parent is in arrears, the state can seize bank accounts, intercept tax refunds, and suspend licenses. If a parent is willfully avoiding paying support, the state can even hold them in contempt of court and jail them.

If you are having trouble collecting child support, you may want to contact your local support enforcement office to see what can be done. However, you may also want to consider contacting an attorney to see what steps you can take through private enforcement as well.

How do I modify my child support?

You can modify child support based on a substantial change in circumstances. A statutory right to have child support adjusted every two years also exists.

An adjustment is generally limited to updating the support figures to current incomes, while a modification can potentially change any provision in the child support order, such as apportionment of tax deductions for the child.

Both parties are required to provide copies of financial documents, including paystubs and tax returns. The procedures for a child support modification vary quite significantly from county to county, so consult an attorney in your area.