In Washington, child support is mandatory. No matter how amicable the parties, how old the children, or the disparity in income, every divorce with children must include a Child Support Order. While Spousal Maintenance (Alimony) may be more of an art based on vague factors and general discretion, child support is a science based on calculations and spreadsheets.
The net income of each party is the most important factor to consider while determining child support. The first step is to establish each party’s net income. Once you have this vital information, the remaining steps are laid out with more specificity. Washington’s legislature passed RCW 26.19.071 to provide guidance in this regard. Courts require each parent to fully disclose all income and will consider most income-sources including most commonly: salary, wages, commissions, deferred compensation, restricted stock units, bonuses, capital gains, dividends, unemployment and workers compensation benefits, social security, etc. A few sources including gifts, child support, prizes, disability benefits, are not included.
Reviewing pay stubs, W2s, 1099s, and tax returns are the best place to start for determining income. The Courts will often average out income as best as possible while reducing annual net income by up to $5,000 for voluntary retirement contributions. Once income tax, FICA, and state taxes are removed, the net income is calculated.
Once the parties agree on net income, the figures are compared to RCW 26.19.020, which provides the Child Support Economic Support Table. Essentially, you add up both net incomes and compare that to the number of children between the parties. This creates the total child support payment owed between both parents. This figure is then prorated based on the net incomes of the parties creating the child support transfer payment for each.
If a parent maintains primary custody over the children, it is likely they will be paid child support by the other parent using the support transfer payment determined through the support table’s proration. Here’s where the Courts have a bit of discretion. At the request of one or both parties, the Court may choose to deviate from this standard payment. The most common reason to deviate is because the parents share substantial custody of the children. In this case, neither parent will often be responsible for child support. Other common reasons include extraordinary income, debts, or needs of one party, substantial income from a child of the parties, special medical, educational, or psychological needs of the child, or unusual costs to be incurred.
Given the support provided by Washington state in determining income the child support figures seem simple to determine, but unfortunately, that is not the case. There are many small caveats and exceptions to each rule that require experience or knowledge to properly interpret. The experienced family law attorneys at the law offices of Magnuson Lowell PS are ready to answer your questions about child support. Call today for a free case evaluation.