The support of one’s biological and dependent children is a legal duty imposed without regard to gender on both parents. The amount of support is established by the law enacted by the legislature based on the amount of each parent’s income, the number of children between the parties, the ages of the children. RCW 26.19.020. Beginning in 2011 and every four years after that, a committee composed of various interests (tribal authorities, judicial officers, DSHS Division of Child Support, economists, Bar Association etc.) are required to meet and formulate recommendations to the legislature about changing the economic table on which child support is based.
Child support “worksheets” have been created to summarize the amount of support the non-custodial parent must pay based on the economic table factors and the worksheet must be included with each child support order. RCW 26.19.035.
Almost all sources of income of both parents are considered by the court in setting child support: salary, rent, commissions, capital gains, interest income etc. Certain government benefits such as food stamps are excluded and withholding taxes and other standard deductions are applied so that support is calculated based on net income. RCW 26.19.071.
In general, the court must impose the amount of support calculated in accordance with the state’s child support “worksheet”. However, the court has some power to impose an amount of support that deviates from the worksheet if the judge makes a finding that “deviation” from the worksheet amount is appropriate under the circumstances of particular children and their parents. Deviation is not favored. For instance, no “deviation” is allowed for a parent’s heavy debt load unless the debt is very high and was “involuntarily” incurred. RCW 26.09.075.
If a child spends a significant (in the range of half) his or her time with each parent, and the parents’ income is the same, no child support would be ordered. However, if one parent’s income is significantly higher than the other’s, support would be imposed on the higher earning parent so as to more closely equalize the child’s financial circumstances in both homes even though the child spends equal amounts of time in both homes.
If the parents share primary custody of multiple children, support will be adjusted to fairly reflect this division of financial and other parental obligations. In Re Marriage of Arvey 77 Wn. App. 817 (1995).
Support under the “worksheet” is calculated at a higher rate for children 12 and over based on legislative determination that teenagers are more expensive to provide for than pre-adolescent children. If the support order mandates an automatic increase to the higher level when the child reaches age 12, the order will not need to be modified to increase support. If the order does not require this increase, the parent(s) may seek modification of the order based on the current income of the parents and the age of the child.
In addition to basic support determined by application of the economic guidelines in the support worksheet (“base transfer amount”), the parents are required to share the expense of the children for medical insurance, uninsured medical costs, and daycare if required to enable the parents to work. The percentage of uninsured medical expenses and daycare each parent must pay is proportionate to the relative earnings of the parents.
Other “special” expenses of the children, such as tuition for parochial or private school, athletic activities, music lesions etc. are borne by the parent receiving the base transfer amount. The court may require the parents to share these expenses proportionately in addition to the base transfer amount for the non-primary parent if the additional expenses are consistent with the parents’ means or the children have special needs or history of similar spending by the parents before their separation.
Child support must continue as long as the order specifies. If the order is “temporary” it will remain in effect until divorce or other pending litigation between the parents that would determine final support. If the order is “final” it will remain in force until terminated by the child attaining the age stated in the order or until it is sooner modified on petition by a parent to the court. The normal age for termination is 18 or graduation from high school, whichever occurs last.
If a parent timely petitions the court for an order of “post secondary support” the court may impose a continuing support obligation on the parents to provide support to the child while s/he completes post-secondary education. Such orders are not granted unless the child is planning to attend college or other post-secondary educational program, the court determines that the parents can afford to contribute and the student complies with statutory requirements such as allowing the child’s parents access to the child’s grades and other records. RCW 26.19.075.
Child support orders may be adjusted or modified from time to time by the court at the request of either parent based on change of income or certain other circumstances. RCW 26.09.175.