While a Step in the Right Direction, the Washington Child Support Formula Can Still Be Gamed.
The Washington State Courts and Legislature have been striving for many years to create a fair and objective system to set consistent and reasonable child support for all divorcing couples.
Prior to the adoption of the Washington State Child Support Schedule, there was no consistency in the amount of Court ordered child support. Each individual Judge was free to set child support at whatever amount they deemed appropriate. The support level would vary dramatically on exact same fact patterns depending on who you got for a Judge. Everyone agreed that this was just not right.
The RCW 26.19.100, the Washington State Child Support Schedule, was adopted by our Legislature in 1988.
The principle is straight forward. Each party discloses their “net after taxes income”, and the formula sets the total child support based on the combined net incomes of both parents. Then the non-custodial parent pays a percentage of the total support in amount in equal to their percentage of the total combined net incomes.
This Concept Seems Simple, But Then Reality Enters the Picture.
The Schedule is designed to set Child Support for the theoretical “normal child”.
- What if a child has unusually expensive special medical needs?
- What if the child has a long history of participating in expensive sports or arts?
- What if the child has an established history of going to a private school?
- What if a former spouse has a new child after divorce?
- What if a former spouse marries a person with several of their own children, thereby creating a much larger new family?
- What if a spouse marries a person that is exceptionally wealthy, thereby bring significant new funds into the mix?
The Child Support Schedule does not accommodate these unique circumstances.
We are back to whatever the Judge thinks is appropriate – which varies extremely Judge to Judge.
These are real life issues that the Court attempts to handle fairly, but destroy the concept of a one fits all Child Support Schedule. No set Legislative Formula can equitably deal with so many real life variables.
Then, the Court Has to Try to Police the People That are “Gaming” the System.
People that are manipulating the data used for the Child Support Schedule to favor themselves in the level of child support.
Unfortunately, there are several ways to “game” the system. The Support Gamer can:
- Temporarily lower their earned income
- Decrease their claimed income tax deductions
- Increase contributions to their retirement account
- Create additional retirement accounts (IRAs and 401Ks)
- Move income to expense reimbursement accounts
- Receive employer paid benefits rather than income
- Actually file false incomes
These intentional wrongful acts to distort net income data can defeat the intended fairness of the Child Support Formula system.
The Washington State Child Support Schedule has been a great step forward, but it is far from perfect or flawless.
Setting child support is not a simple application of the Schedule’s formula. Each party must exercise diligence to make certain that the data used is accurate data.