One of the longest lasting financial consequences of a divorce, child support, is not set by personal preference or by whim of the Court. By Washington state statute, child support is calculated based on a statewide schedule adopted by the Legislature. It is a complex system. Many fathers need help understanding what counts as income and what exceptions are allowed for deviation.
Calculating Child Support
Child support laws in the state of Washington are designed to make sure that the financial needs of the children are met. Each parent has a legal duty to provide support. In most cases, the children are primarily residing with one parent. The other parent then pays child support to the parent with whom the children live the majority of the time. In many cases this means a father is paying child support to the mother of his children.
The amount of support is set by law and determined using the Child Support Schedule. The Basic Support Obligation is calculated based on the combined monthly net income of each parent and the number and ages of the children.
Unfortunately, no automatic formula can consider all of the relevant facts. The schedule only works fairly when honest and accurate information is provided. It is up to the parties involved (and their lawyers) to make certain that accurate income information is used, and that compelling facts affecting child support payments are explained to the court. Income and expense information must be thoroughly discussed with your attorney.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services provides an online Support Calculator (this link opens a new window). This resource can help you approximate your child support, but the projection is only as accurate as the information put into the formula. In certain special situations the court can deviate from the state formula calculations. You will need to discuss any proposed deviation with your attorney and build your case appropriately.
The court requires proof of income in order to determine child support. If the court does not receive adequate documentation, or if it believes a parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed, it can impute income. The court then assigns an income level regardless of the parent’s current actual income. It is important to supply all necessary income information to court. If the court imputes income, that parent will usually pay more in child support.
If you are a father who is self-employed or your income is commission based, it is important that your income is correctly reported to the court. If your income is not properly documented and explained to the court you could end paying more in child support than is required. An experienced Washington family law attorney can help you prepare the child support schedule and make sure your income is properly documented and reported.
Can Child Support be Changed?
Once an order of child support is issued by the court it can only be changed through a “modification”. This involves filing a petition to modify with the court and appearing at a hearing. A request for modification can be made after the support order has been in place for one year or if there has been “a substantial change in circumstances” such as changes in income or loss of employment. Find more about Washington Divorce Modification.
Keep in mind that the government takes child support enforcement very seriously. There are massive consequences to evading child support, enforceable by law. These include state and federal income tax offset, liens on real or personal property owned by the debtor, freezing of bank accounts, orders to withhold and deliver property to satisfy the debt, passport denial, or seizure and sale of property with the proceeds from the sale applied to the support debt.
To read more on child support enforcement, the U.S. Department of Child Support Enforcement has provided this helpful PDF “Handbook on Child Support Enforcement” (this link sends you to download/view the PDF).