what's involved in child support payment

How Is Child Support Calculated in Washington?

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Going through a separation, divorce, or custody dispute creates stressful situations. Trying to calculate child support and determine custody only adds to that stress.

Parenting plans and support arrangements are complex areas of law. A plethora of issues often arise when working to resolve disputes. One facet of child custody that garners a lot of questions is: how does Washington calculate child support?

Before tackling what factors impact support payments, we first need to understand what the term means.

What Is Child Support?

Child support is a continuing issue in divorce and child custody cases. Every situation is different, but there is a general formula for calculating the amount.

Paid by one parent to the other, child support is designed to help maintain the children in question. Part of a parent’s legal duty to support their kids, these payments cover the basic necessities.

This includes providing:

  • Food,
  • A safe place to live,
  • Clothing,
  • Medical care,
  • And child care, among other basic needs.

A parent’s ability to pay also factors into the child support award. The court considers each party’s income and the needs of the children. This amount is called the basic support obligation, usually a monthly payment from the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent.

Related ReadingWhat Is The Division Of Child Support?

How Is Child Support Calculated?

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

The court uses this to definite its terms, lay out the specifics, and calculate the final amount. The child’s age plays a significant role.

After the age of 12, the court may modify the amount to account for the added expense of raising a teenager. During this time, children often may more requests and the cost of care grows as they age.

Both gross and net incomes impact how the court calculates child support. However, net income, the money taken home after taxes, ultimately determines support payments.

What Constitutes Income?

The number the courts look at to calculate support payments is your net income. This is what you earn after taxes and things of that nature have been removed, your take-home pay.

The court takes all income into account:

    • In addition to wages, tips, and bonuses.
    • Unemployment and disability benefits.
    • Dividends.
    • Interest.
    • Bonuses or commissions.
    • Self-employment.
    • Public assistance.
    • Social Security/pensions.
    • Rental income.
    • Prize winnings.

They also account for:

    • Taxes.
    • Tax deductions.
    • Insurance.
    • Union dues.
    • Mandatory retirement contributions.
    • Funds owed to any other dependents.

Will My New Spouse/Partner’s Income Impact Payments?

While only your income and that of the custodial parent are included in the calculation, the court may take your overall financial situation into account.

This is exceedingly rare, but in some circumstances, the court may consider the income of a new spouse or live-in partner.

What If Payments Don’t Cover All Expenses?

The basic support obligation may not cover all of the child’s expenses. In some instances, the court may order the parents to share some costs.

When it comes to uninsured medical expenses, insurance premiums, daycare, education, and long-distance transportation, parents often split payments.

How Long Do Payments Last?

As said, support obligations usually end when the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

In some circumstances, the court awards post-secondary support. This continues financial support after their 18th birthday or graduation, sharing the financial burden of college or other educational endeavors.

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

In cases where a child can’t mentally or physically care for themselves, the court may also order continuing support. As with post-secondary support, you must also address this ahead of time.

Related Reading: When Does Child Support Go Past 18 Years-Old?

What If I Can’t Afford The Payments?

In certain situations, the court may set payments below the basic support obligation. There are stiff penalties, however, if you don’t pay. You may qualify for a reduction if:

    • You fall below the federal poverty line,
    • The amount is more than 45% of your after-tax income,
    • You support other children,
    • If you split custody or have significant visitation,
    • Or also meet other qualifications.

What if you need to modify your support order?

In cases where a parent suffers financial hardship and can’t make support payments, the court may provide recourse to accommodate the circumstances.

Most common of these is the loss of a job. This represents the most frequent reason for a change in economic situation.

The court requires documentation that proves unemployment or a drastic change in income. Otherwise, they assume you will make payments as usual. You’re also expected to actively search for another source of income to keep up with the obligation.

Even if you can show an extreme, long-term income drop, the court often still requires parents to continue making child support payments. Once in place, they’re reluctant to change these orders.

Related Reading Modifying a Child Support Order

What If Payments Don’t Cover All Expenses?

The basic support obligation may not cover all of the child’s expenses. In some instances, the court may order the parents to share some costs.

When it comes to uninsured medical expenses, insurance premiums, daycare, education, and long-distance transportation, parents often split payments.

When Does Child Support End?

In most cases, support ends when the child turns 18-years-old or graduates high school, whichever comes later. This isn’t always the case, however. The court may order support for college or vocational school, known as post-secondary support.

In these cases, the court may consider:  age, need, and parental expectations of the child; the child’s desires, abilities, and aptitudes; the parents’ level of education and standard of living; and more. Also, if a child is disabled and dependent on parental care, child support may continue.

These are just a few of the many questions and issues surrounding child support. As you see, it can be a complex endeavor and it depends on a multitude of factors. In cases like these, you may be best served by hiring an attorney with experience in this field to guide you through. Whatever money you spend now may save you much more down the road.

Related Reading: What Is A Parenting Plan? What’s In It?

Other Reading: “Average Divorce Costs In Washington” (In-depth look at the costs of divorce; expected and the unexpected expenses that you may be faced with during and after your divorce.)

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