In Washington State, the court is required to enter an order on support in every action where the court issues a parenting plan or a residential schedule. Support is intended to benefit the child and parents are not permitted to contract away a child’s right to support. Parents may not exchange the right to receive child maintenance for other financial concessions in a divorce action. Courts will not accept support orders where the parents have agreed to deviate from the statutorily required amount of support unless the reason for the deviation are stated in the order and are permitted by law.
Child Support is closely governed by statute and is set out in a schedule. The amount of support required to support a particular child is determined by the number of children in the household and the parent’s combined net income. Each parent is responsible for paying a percentage of the required support based upon their net income. If a parent does not have any income, then income will be imputed to them based upon the average salary of a man or woman in their age group, or based upon their recent earnings history. A support worksheet then takes into account other expenses each parent pays for the child including health insurance, day care expenses, etc. to reach a final transfer parent that one parent will pay to the other. The parent receiving support is the parent who has the child the majority of the time.
Many people believe that they will not have to pay child support if they have joint custody, or an equal parenting plan. That is not the case. If one parent earns more than the other parent, then the higher earning parent will likely be required to pay child support to the other parent. The court may grant deviations, or changes, to the amount of support based upon the children spending a significant amount of time in the paying parent’s home. The court has discretion to decide whether or not to grant a request for a deviation. If the court does allow a deviation, then the court will apply a formula that considers the number of overnights the children spend in the paying parent’s household to reduce the amount of child maintenance the paying parent must pay each month.
Child support is supposed to be straight forward and based upon earnings. Sometimes, earnings can be difficult to determine, especially when one parent owns their own their own business and does not receive a pay stub that clearly states their income. There are many ways to determine income in more complicated cases. The court will not necessarily rely on tax returns to determine income because some deductions from income exist only on paper and do not actually reduce a parent’s available funds to pay the support. The court will require the parties to submit bank statements, tax returns and pay stubs to establish their income for amount of support.
Child support is complicated and requires the assistance of an experienced attorney, especially when income is not straight forward. Once entered, a child support order can be modified every two years or adjusted annually.