Washington Child Support FAQ
By Erik Bjornson, Attorney at Law
Overview: In a dissolution action, the total child support payments can easily exceed $100,000 even for a parent with modest income. The court has wide discretion to determine the amount of child support and whether support of the child should continue past the time the child is 18 years old and whether the parents should pay for the child's college. Failing to pay the entire amount of child support ordered can result in the obligor parent being incarcerated in jail.
- How is Child Support determined in Washington State?
In Washington, the courts determine the amount of child support. Child support can also be set administratively by DSHS. The amount of child support is generally determined by the incomes of the parties and the number of children. However, many other factors apply as well such as the age of the children, the allowable deductions of each parent. The Washington State Child Support Worksheet is the normal starting place for determining support.
- What other factors come into play when child support is calculated?
Allowable day care expenses and health care expenses are some of the larger factors that can greatly change the amount of child support owed. Also, the court could determine that one or more of the parents are "underemployed" and impute to them a higher income than they are actually making increasing the amount of support owed.
- I am in the military and am separated from my spouse. Doesn't my allotment that I pay her cover child support?
You will certainly want to comply with the federal military regulations requiring you to support your dependants when applicable. However, a Washington State Child Support Order could increase the amount you are required to pay over and above what the military requires. You will want to make sure you comply with the Washington State Child Support Order and the applicable military regulations.
- My former spouse has threatened me with "contempt" concerning child support and believes I owe money for back support. What could happen if I am held in contempt? Can't I just show up at the hearing and explain to the judge that I am current in my support?
A "contempt action" in a current or post-dissolution case is very serious because it is a "quasi-criminal" proceeding which the other party may be asking that the other parent be sanctioned including the imposition of jail time. Often the prosecutor's office will bring a contempt action in order to attempt to force a party to pay child support. Other remedies for a contempt action include sanctions and having to pay the costs and attorney fees of the other party. A motion for contempt is often combined with a motion to obtain a back judgement for all of the child support claimed owed.
- I had a child without being married to the mother. Could I owe back child support?
Yes, you may owe a significant back support depending on your income and the age of the child and how much support you gave the child in the past. Back child support judgements of $10,000 to $30,000 are not unheard of.
- There is an order of child support that states that I should make the child support payments to the State of Washington. My ex-wife and I have agreed that I will send her the payments directly. Is there any problem in doing this?
You want to make sure you follow the payment instructions in the Order of Child Support precisely otherwise you may not receive credit for the payments you made. Also, your ex-spouse may have assigned her rights to collect the child support to the State of Washington.