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What is Child Support?

The Washington statutes that governs the scheduling of child support are in RCW 29.19. The legislator’s intent in establishing a child support schedule is to insure that child support orders are adequate to meet a child's basic needs and to provide additional child support commensurate with the parents' income, resources, and standard of living. The legislature also intends that the child support obligation should be equitably apportioned between the parents. See RCW 26.19.001

When establishing a Child Support Order, the court must perform a mandatory calculation to determine each party’s net income, set the support amount and determine the proportional share of other expenses. This calculation is done in Child Support Worksheets.

Child support consists of:

  1. A basic support amount for food clothing and shelter as set by the economic table in RCW 26.19.020 which typically provides a transfer payment from one parent to the other depending on who the primary parent is or who has the majority of the income if the parties have equal residential time. The transfer payment can be found on Line 17 of the Child Support Worksheets; and
  2. A proportional share which dictates the percentage the parents will share in all other expenses (uninsured medical, childcare, education). The proportional share can be found on Line 6 of the Child Support Worksheets.  

First, a court must determine each of your gross income (Line 1 of the Child Support Worksheets) which is governed by RCW 26.19.071. All income is considered for calculation of child support purposes – wages, commissions, salary, bonuses, overtime, investment income, etc. RSUs are not typically viewed as income for child support calculation purposes.

Second, the court will determine your net income. The court only allows certain deductions to determine net income (See Line 2 of the Child Support Worksheets):  income taxes, federal insurance contributions act (FICA) including social security, medicare, self-employment taxes, state industrial insurance, mandatory union/professional dues, mandatory pension payments, business expenses, spousal support paid and up to $5,000 per year in voluntary retirement contributions.

Third, the combined monthly net income is determined (Line 4) and then the basic child support obligation is determined by finding the combined monthly net income on the economic table in RCW 26.19.020 (Line 5).

The economic table caps out at a combined monthly income of $12,000 per month and RCW 26.19.065 establishes upper and lower limits on child support amounts. This statute accounts for poverty levels and sets deviations allowed and maxes out a parent’s child support obligation at 45% of his or her net income for all their children (this typically only comes into play when the obligor is supporting several children from different relationships with multiple Child Support Orders in place.) It sets a minimum support of $50.00 per child per month. It also provides authority for the court to set child support above the maximum amount in the economic table for parent’s whose combined net monthly income exceeds $12,000.

Fourth, the proportional share is determined by dividing out each parent’s percentage of the combined monthly net income (Line 6).

Fifth, there are several common law (not codified in statutes) ways to deviate from a child support amount based on the facts of your case – ie. If both parents have a substantial amount of time with the child(ren) then a residential credit may apply; if one parent has substantial household income that affects the expense allocation then the court may deviate; if one or both parents have other children from other relationships that they pay support for, the court may deviate.

Post-Secondary Support

The Washington statute that governs the scheduling of post-secondary support is RCW 26.19.090. Any court action requesting post-secondary support must be filed before child support is terminated as the court no longer has jurisdiction to make orders regarding the child once child support is terminated.

The court will not award post-secondary support unless the child is in fact dependent and is relying upon the parents for reasonable necessity of life. The court considers several factors when deciding whether to order post-secondary support and for how long:

  1. Age of the child;
  2. The child’s needs;
  3. The expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together;
  4. The child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities or disabilities;
  5. The nature of the post-secondary education sought;
  6. The parents’ level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources; and
  7. The amount and type of support the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together. 

The child must enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school, must be actively pursing a course of study commensurate with the child’s vocational goals, and must be in good academic standing as defined by the institution. If not, the court ordered support will be suspended. In addition, the child must share academic records with both parents.

The court cannot order post-secondary support after the child’s 23rd birthday except for exceptional circumstances such as mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.

The court retains broad discretion in family law matters including post-secondary support. There is precedent in case law but, local courts typically do their own thing. In King County, for example, the court typically orders both parents and the child to equally contribute to tuition, room, and board expenses for college. King County also caps the amount of expenses at the amount published in the University of Washington website for instate tuition, room, and board.

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