How The Courts Determine Child Support

Child support is a transfer of funds to compensate one parent for the extra financial expense associated with primary residential custody of the parties dependent children. Child support is generally an issue that doesn't take precedence in most initial custody determination matters, but can nonetheless be an important consideration financially for the parties.

The proportional income of the parties, and earnings above or below the norm, can cause the amount of child support to vary quite a bit below and above the usual amounts, but in practice the numbers are generally within the norm for most individuals with standard incomes. When children are over the age of 12; the Washington State child support schedule increases the amount of support for the children by an additional amount for each child over the age of 12. The minimum amount of child support is $50 for each child.

At the most basic level; child support is a calculation that consists of adding the parties net incomes and then looking up the level of support from the Washington State Child Support Schedules. The child support would then be a transfer from the non-residential parent to the residential parent for their proportional share of the child support obligation.

However, there are many factors that can come into play to change the standard calculations. Such as the involuntary unemployment, or underemployment, of one or more party; the consideration of income sources for each party and their characterization; the amount of time the children spend with the non-residential parent, split-custody of the parties children; the amount of transportation, child care, healthcare, educational or other costs paid on behalf of the child; allocation of tax exemptions, post-secondary educational issues; past-due support; credit for other children supported by either party; and many others.

Determination of Income:

The courts will generally consider the incomes of the parties to be any income earned by the parties for the purposes of child support, including disability or retirement income. The court will need to know how much each party's new significant other, spouse, or adults over the age of 18 living with them make, but those amounts are not used in the parties income calculations. The courts do have the discretion to take the income of those in any party's household into consideration though when determining other issues such as underemployment.

Shared and Split Custody Arrangements:

Child support is still a consideration even when the parties have equally shared custody arrangements from either a split in custody of two, or more, children or when the parties have equal time with the children. In most cases child support is still calculated as normal, but the transfer amount is decreased to compensate for time spent with the non-residential parent. For instance, if the parties share 50/50 custody arrangement then the child support may be $0 or if the parties have a 60/40 split then the non-residential parent may get a reduction in child support.

Children from other relationships:

The courts have the discretion whether to take into consideration the parties obligations to other children from other relationships they owe a duty of support. When the courts allow such a deviation it is referred to as a "whole" family deviation.

Generally, the court considers the family as the total number of children rather than just the party's children for the purposes of child support. Since the average amount of child support is reduced as the number of children increases on the scale this results in an effective reduction of child support for each additional child.

This procedure is discretionary with the courts and the determination whether support is actually paid for the additional children is important. The courts are unlikely to give such a deviation if the other children are not actually supported by the requesting party even if a duty exists.

Child support adjustment and modifications:

In most cases child support may only be adjusted or modified two years after the entry of the last order or upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. There may be some exceptions to this rule which an experienced family law attorney can discuss with you.

Most often child support adjustments and modifications are a simple matter of doing the math and using the Washington State Child Support Schedule to determine what level the child support should be. A call to your child support case worker would be an excellent place to start to answer any questions you may have.

Difficulties can arise though when there are issues with children from other relationships, proof of income, changes in custody, or a myriad of other issues that complicate the process. First you should consult with an experienced family law attorney to determine if your situation is something than can be done by yourself or if you will need professional help.

The careful analysis of the costs and benefits should be considered when making such a determination. Most often child support issues can be completed by the parties themselves without the assistance of an attorney. This is because the benefits that can be reasonably expected from an attorney's time may not justify the legal expenses.

A modification or adjustment of the order of child support can be made with a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. This may be an involuntary loss of work, the needs of the child changing or many other things, but generally not through voluntary actions or foreseen events at the time the previous order of support was entered.

Absent a substantial change in circumstances support can only be adjusted or modified 2 years after the last order of support was entered unless it was permitted under the periodic adjustment section of your order of child support, or it has been at least a year and a child has turned 12 and the amount of support therefore changes on the child support schedule.

A modification can also be filed if one year has passed since the order of child support was entered and the order works a severe economic hardship for a parent or child, child support is requested beyond graduation from High School after the child turns 18, or to add an automatic adjustment of support provision.

This article is not intended as legal advice.

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Child support is not as easy as it appears. Simple factors can have a major impact upon many different aspects of the support that is ordered. If you would like to discuss your case with us, please call 253-220-7386 or send us an email to schedule your free consultation. Our office is conveniently located in the Tacoma Armory Building.