22 Jun How To Know Whether Your Child Support Is Fair
Custody and child support are, without question, the two most important issues for divorcing parents. Each partner wants their children to have the best lives possible and hope they and their former spouse can come to an agreement that gives their children everything they need.
Washington State courts are required to consider the best interests of the children when determining child support. The goal is to make arrangements that support the standard of living to which the children had become accustomed while their parents were married. However, sometimes one partner feels they got the raw end of the deal when the court gives its final verdict on child support. Here’s how to know whether your child support is fair.
Remember That Child Custody and Visitation Are Different Than Child Support
The two are obviously related, but child custody is different than child support. Custody is divided into two types: physical and legal. Physical custody encompasses who the children live with most of the time. Child custody settlements may award shared physical custody, dividing the time the children spend at each parent’s home equally. Or one parent may be awarded exclusive physical custody while the other retains visitation rights.
Legal custody refers to the responsibility for making major life decisions regarding things such as education and medical care. Parents usually share legal custody, but if they are so estranged that they cannot agree on anything, the court may award one parent sole legal custody.
Custody is relevant in child support decisions, but it is not definitive. The calculation factors in the combined income of the parents, and a parent who makes significantly more money than the other parent may pay a greater amount or a greater percentage of their income in child support.
How Washington Calculates Child Support
Child support is supposed to cover basics such as food, shelter, and clothing, but it also may contribute to other expenses, such as utilities necessary to provide an appropriate home for the children.
The state looks at parental combined gross income and makes deductions for state and federal taxes; it may also deduct things such as pensions, union dues, and other required payroll deductions to arrive at the combined net income for the couple. Gross income includes wages or salary, bonuses, commissions, and even unemployment benefits and inheritances.
Determining combined income is fairly straight forward for parents who earn regular salaries or wages and receive W-2 forms. For parents whose income is sporadic, such as seasonal, freelance or gig workers, establishing income can be more difficult. In some unfortunate cases, one spouse may even hide income or deliberately remain underemployed to avoid paying their fair share of child support.
Courts frown on this kind of subterfuge. A child support lawyer can recognize the signs that a parent may be trying to hide income and ask the court to order document production or other remedies to flush out the true income of the deceptive parent.
In making a child support determination, the court may also consider expenses such as day care, recreational activities, and health insurance costs, plus costs for children with special needs that health insurance does not cover. It may also consider spousal support payments. The assumption is that the custodial parent—or the parent with whom the children spend the most time—incurs greater expenses in the everyday care of the children. So even if that spouse is receiving alimony, they may also receive an award of child support.
The obligation to pay child support continues until the children reach the age of 18. In some circumstances, the court or the state may issue a directive that child support continues past age 18 in order to pay for the children’s higher educationor for the care of a child who is unable to care for themselves.
How Do You Know Whether Your Child Support Is Fair?
Once DCS (the Division of Child Support) or a court determines the combined net income for the parents, it can look at the percentage each partner contributes to that income. The parent who makes more money is likely to be required to contribute a larger percentage of the child support amount deemed adequate to maintain the children’s lifestyle.
You can do some calculations to determine if you think your child support award is fair. Each partner has access to the net income calculation and the factors on which the court may have relied to determine the child support amount. If your share of child support represents a greater percentage of net income than you earn, you may have cause to question the award.
Make sure you fully understand the court’s reasoning,and consult with your lawyer about filing an objection or a request for a recalculation of the award. It is typical to do this when a child turns 12, as expenses tend to go up for teenagers. Courts will also consider legitimate changes in circumstances that reduced or eliminated income, such as job loss, disability, or illness.
If you think your current child support arrangement is unfair, spell out the reasons you think so. Be aware that remarriage is not typically grounds for amendment of a child support agreement, except in extraordinary circumstances where the new relationship creates a material change in a parent’s income.
If you are facing unusual circumstances, such as significant increases in private school tuition, substantial additional medical expenses, or the need for frequent or long-distance travel to activities or medical treatments, you might have grounds for a modification of your child support arrangement. Consult with knowledgeable child support attorneys who know Washington State laws. LaCoste Family Law practices family law in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. We can help you calculate a reasonable estimate of anticipated child support costs based on the state’s economic table of child support, on the estimator on the DCS website, or on the more detailed worksheets that the DCS supplies. Remember that these all produce only estimates; the courts or the DCS can consider additional factors in making an award of child support.