what's involved in child support payment

How Child Support is Calculated in Washington

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Going through a separation, divorce, or custody dispute is stressful; trying to reach agreements of support and custody can add to that stress.

Parenting plans and support arrangements are a complex area of law and a plethora of issues can arise when trying to reach a resolution. One facet of child custody that garners a lot of questions is: How is child support calculated in Washington State?

Before tackling how support payments are calculated it is important to cover what child support is.

What Is Child Support?

Child support is money paid by one parent to another parent that provides financial support to meet the needs of the child’s living expenses and to cover the cost of care.

In Washington State, support payments are calculated using a specific formula. The income of both parties is factored and a calculation produces an amount that each party (parent) is responsible to contribute. Support payments are made on a monthly basis.

How Is It Calculated?

The Washington State Support Schedule provides the standard basis for calculation.

Through this, the court is able to take the information and the calculated income of both parties and evaluate it with the number of children as well as their ages.

A parent has a legal obligation to financially support their children up to the age of 18 or upon graduating high school, whichever comes later.

The age of the child is a relevant factor in the support calculation. After age 12 support may be modified to accommodate increased expenses during preteen and teenage years. During this time, there are often more requests by the child, but also more expenses arise as the child grows older.

Both gross income and net income are taken into account for the calculation.

Gross income is the total made before tax deductions—but the support amount is ultimately based on your net income.

In cases where a parent is suffering financial hardship and cannot make the support payment, the court may provide recourse to accommodate the circumstance.

The most common reasons recognized by the courts include a loss of a job or significant change in financial circumstances stemming from factors outside the parent’s control.

In these situations, the court will require documentation that proves unemployment. If documentation is not provided the court will default to the assumption that you are working full-time and making an adequate net income to provide for the child/children.

Related Reading: When And How Can I Modify My Support Payments?

The court will expect that the party takes the initiative to find another job to keep up with the obligation.

No matter what status a parent may fall into, the court will order that the basic support still be paid, unless the parent is viewed by the court as making a dreadfully low salary and cannot even afford the basic support.

In that circumstance, the court will order that the parent pay the minimum payment of fifty dollars for each child.

How Long Do Payments Last?

In many situations, the support obligation ends when the child turns 18 or graduates high school—whichever occurs later. In some circumstances, post-secondary support (college) can be awarded. This is financial support that continues after a child turns eighteen or has graduated high school,  and is used as a tool to share the financial burden of post-secondary education.

Generally, the petition for post-secondary support must be filed prior to the child turning 18 or graduating from high school.

Jurisdiction is an important factor in custody cases. Generally speaking, jurisdiction is determined by the child’s state of residence. For example, Washington’s laws apply in out-of-state separation case as long as the child still resides in Washington.

Divorce and separation are never an easy pill to swallow, but with careful consideration and effort, an amicable solution is possible.

Frustration is a common byproduct, but remaining committed to acting in the best interest of the child is imperative.

How to Calculate Your Own Child Support Responsibility

Related Reading: Co-Parenting Strategies For Parents
Related Reading: What is In A Parenting Plan?
Related Reading: Can I Modify My Support Payments?

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