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Child Support Lawyers in Tacoma

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A parent has a legal duty to help support their children. Child support is the mechanism the state uses to enforce that legal obligation. Child support consists of the payments provided by one parent to the other party, usually the other parent, or a guardian who has custody of the children after the parents are separated. In Washington State, the residential parent or guardian is the party who receives support from the non-residential parent. Our child support lawyers in Tacoma can help you with all your legal needs.

How is Child Support Determined?

Child support is determined in Washington State by reference to a child-support schedule which can be found at The combined net income of the parties is used in reference to a graph, which includes the number and age of the children to determine a total monthly support obligation. The parties’ proportional share of the monthly net income is then used to determine each party’s child support obligation. The non-residential parent would then be obligated to transfer their proportional share of the child support obligation to the other party. The presumptive minimum amount of support is $50 per month for each child.

Child support can be difficult to calculate for high-income parties. Up to a combined monthly net income of $12,000, child support is determined according to the set schedule. For incomes in excess of $12,000, the court has broad discretion to award higher amounts of support. The arguments for higher support nearly always center on the amount of support necessary to support the children in their previous lifestyle. For the non-residential parent responsible to pay support, the issue is whether the amounts provided will go for the support of the children or towards supporting the lifestyle of the other party. For the receiving parent, the argument is that the children should not be punished for their parents’ separation.

How is Income Calculated?

Each party’s monthly gross income is determined using a broad definition of the types of income that should be reported. Gross income is the parties’ total income before deductions for taxes, FICA, and other expenses. Income from overtime worked or a second job may also be considered, but may be excluded if it is shown the work is performed to pay for a current family’s needs, pay off a prior debt of the relationship, or pay back child support; and the income will cease once the debts have been paid.

Am I Eligible for a Deviation?

When there are unique circumstances that justify the court to not apply the presumptive amount of child support, a deviation may be ordered. Deviations, from the presumptive amount of child support, can be ordered at the discretion of the court. There are multiple reasons for the court to be asked to consider a deviation, including great disparity of living costs between the parties, possession of great wealth, incomes from other adults in the household, special needs of the children, or support paid for other children, among many reasons. If a deviation results in a lack of funds in the receiving party’s household to meet the basic needs of the children, or the child is receiving aid to families with dependent children, it is unlikely a downward deviation would be awarded.

Every situation is unique and you should contact one of our experienced child support attorneys in Tacoma to advise you on your unique circumstances.

Can the Amount of Child Support Be Modified?

Child support can be modified at any time upon a showing of a substantial shift in circumstances of one of the parents or the child. A substantial shift in circumstances would generally be considered the involuntary loss of employment, substantial change in custody of the child, or a substantial change in the needs of the child.

There are two ways to change a previous child support order:

  • A Motion to Adjust child support can be filed if:
  • Your order of child support allows for adjustments and you have followed the procedures as required; or
  • It’s been two years since your current order of child support was entered; and
  • Your income or the income of the other parent has changed; or
  • The economic tables of child support standards have changed; or
  • If it has been at least 1 year since your child support order was entered and a child has subsequently turned 12 years old.
  • A Petition for Modification of child support can be filed if:
  • There has been a substantial shift in circumstances (see above), or
  • You meet the conditions to file an adjustment of support; or
  • If the order of support was entered by default; or
  • If it has been one year since your current order of support was entered; and
  • The order causes severe economic difficulties to a parent or the child; or
  • Continuing support is requested after the child turns 18 years old to complete high school (this is generally dealt with in the order, but if not, the request must be filed while the child is still in school); or
  • To request the addition of an automatic adjustment provision to the support.

A motion for adjustment is often a quicker and simpler method, but adding on new expenses not dealt with in your current order of child support or changes in who receives the tax credit for the children require the filing of a modification. Modifications can be simple or complex. Please contact the Washington State Division of Child Support (DCS) or contact our offices for a free consultation.

How is Child Support Paid?

Child support can be paid directly to the other spouse or indirectly through the Washington State Division of Child Support (DCS). If child support is paid directly to the other spouse, each party should make certain to document the amount of support paid and the date paid. DCS has the authority to initiate enforcement action if necessary.

How Can Child Support Orders Be Enforced?

Most court orders, and all DCS administrative orders, of child support have language that authorizes immediate wage withholding actions to enforce the order even if payments are not delinquent. If child support is not paid, the DCS can attempt to enforce the child support order through garnishment of wages and liens on property. Other consequences range from the revocation of one’s driver’s license or other professional licenses, or the surrender of their tax refund. Orders of contempt can also be sought in the court when a person is intentionally avoiding the payment of their child support. These orders of contempt can also result in the incarceration of the obligated parent. If incarceration is sought as a remedy, the court may appoint an attorney to represent that party.

Can Back Child Support Be Discharged in Bankruptcy?

Child support and other debts in the nature of support generally cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. This means that not only the arrears in support payments but arrears for other payments such as medical or daycare may not be able to be discharged either. If the payments were for the support and welfare of the child they will likely be considered debts in the nature of support and not dischargeable.

Can Post-Secondary Education Expenses Be Ordered?

Yes, under certain circumstances, the child’s higher education expenses may be allocated between the parties by the court. A request to order the continuation of payments for the higher education expenses of children must come before the order of child support expires. For most court orders, this means upon graduation of the child from high school or when the child turns 18, whichever occurs last. If a request is quickly made before the court, the court will consider the needs of the child and the abilities of the parties to pay for their continuing educational needs.

Do I Need an Attorney?

It depends on your personal situation. If child support is one of the issues in a divorce or parentage action, having an attorney take care of all the issues may be the best option. If child support is the only issue, then you should first contact the (DCS) and see if they can be of assistance. Washington State’s DCS office has been set up to assist individuals with their child support issues and most often there is little, if any, cost for their services. DCS can enforce child support orders or administratively determine child support on behalf of a child’s residential caregiver. Weighing the costs and benefits of retaining an attorney can be difficult. Please give our office a call for a free consultation and we will give you our best evaluation given your circumstances.


This is a legal discussion and not legal advice. Child support issues can be complicated and it is important to understand all of the relevant regulations.

Contact our experienced family law attorneys in Tacoma at (253) 210-2008 for a free consultation about your available options.

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