How Does the Court Determine Child Support?

Posted On March 14, 2022 Child Support,Children,Custody,Family Law,Parenting Plans

One or both parents may be legally obligated to pay child support in Washington. However, the noncustodial parent is typically who has to pay child support, which is the parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child. Therefore, the court determines child support based on the child custody arrangement as well as each parent’s income. The custodial parent, who is the parent the child lives with, is assumed to provide financial support for the child already. 

How Child Support is Calculated

The Washington State Support Schedule provides the basis for calculating child support. It is a formula the court uses to determine a parent’s child support obligation based on the number of children, their ages, and the parents’ combined income. Child support is designed to help maintain and provide basic necessities for a child—for example, food, clothing, medical care, a safe place to live, child care, etc. However, each situation is different, and parents may be obligated to pay for additional expenses. Parents can agree to pay more but cannot pay less than the court-ordered amount. Child support is a continuing issue after divorce and may be modified over time, depending on the best interests of the child and the parent’s needs. 

Estimating Child Support

The gross and net incomes of both parents impact how the court calculates child support, but the money received after taxes (net income) ultimately determines support payments. In addition to job wages, the court takes into account:

  • Bonuses
  • Tips
  • Commissions
  • Dividends
  • Interest
  • Unemployment or disability benefits
  • Public assistance
  • Social Security/Pension
  • Military pay
  • Rental income

Allowances may be made for: 

  • Taxes
  • Tax deductions
  • Union dues
  • Insurance
  • Retirement contributions that are mandatory
  • Money paid to any other dependents

The types of income not considered in calculations include prizes, gifts, food stamps, and alimony received from another relationship. Parents cannot avoid their responsibility to pay child support by purposely remaining unemployed or underemployed. If the court finds a parent is doing so, they have the authority to assign child support payments based on how much the parent could earn. 

Dividing Payments Between Parents

After determining the combined monthly net income of both parents, and the corresponding amount of child support owed based on the state’s support schedule, the total amount of child support is divided between the parents in proportion to their net income contributions.

For example, if Parent A and Parent B have one child and a combined net income of $1000 per month, a total of $216 is owed for child support based on Washington’s child support schedule. If parent A contributes 70% of the combined net income ($700 out of $1,000), they are responsible for 70% of the child support ($151.20). Parent B makes 30% of the combined net income ($300 out of $1,000), so they are responsible for 30% of the child support ($64.80) per month. 

If the parents combined net income is lower than $1,000, the court will come up with fair child support payments, but the minimum is $50 per month. The maximum a parent can pay is 45% of their net income unless you can explain why it should be increased, such as substantial wealth. In some cases, calculating child support based on the state’s support schedule can be unfair for a parent or the child. In those situations, the parent can ask the court to adjust the payments before the judge issues an order.  

The Washington State Department of Social and Heath Services offers a child support estimator tool that can be useful to gauge an estimate of your child support payments.

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