Washington Child Support

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Child support in Washington State is defined as "money which an absent parent is ordered to pay on a regular basis to help support the cost of raising his or her child." Washington State provides several different options for parents who need to obtain child support.

Obtaining Child Support in Washington State

Parents who wish to obtain child support in the state of Washington may do so by seeking an administrative order from The Division of Child Support (DCS). DCS is a division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. A DCS administrative order may be issued when there is no existing court order for support and/or when a court order does not establish a fixed support amount. Before any administrative order can be reached, however, the father must have formally acknowledged paternity.

Another option for parents seeking support in Washington State is to obtain a court order for support. A court order can be obtained as part of divorce proceedings or as part of a court action to establish a child custody arrangement. A separate action to obtain a support order and/or to determine paternity may also be filed.

DCS will help parents to obtain a court order for support and will assist parents in establishing paternity. DCS can also help to locate absentee parents who should be paying support. For assistance with any of these issues, parents may find the appropriate field office and the contact information at DCS on the website of the Department of Social and Health Services.

The assistance provided by DCS is limited to child support issues. DCS does not represent or provide legal assistance to the parents, even on such issues. DCS aims only to protect the best interests of the child. Parents who need legal advice on their own support issues, on their divorce or custody arrangement, or on any other legal matters should consider speaking with an experienced Washington State family law attorney.

Calculating Support

Washington State follows uniform guidelines to determine how much support a non-custodial parent must pay to a custodial parent. These guidelines are found in Chapter 26.19 of the Washington Revised Code. The amount of support determined by the guidelines is presumed to be the amount that a child is entitled to. This means a support order will deviate from these guidelines only in the event that deviation is in the best interests of the child. Parents who create their own support agreement when negotiating a divorce settlement or custody agreement, therefore, should either follow the guidelines or be ready to explain why their alternative suggestion for support is more appropriate.

According to the guidelines, the first step in determining support is to add up the total combined income of both mother and father. Income from all sources should be included to arrive at this combined family income amount. Next, subtractions can be made from the total combined income for costs such as taxes, and for any existing child support obligations or spousal support obligations that either parent may owe for prior spouses or children. The amount calculated by doing this subtraction is used to determine the basic support amount owed to the children.

Washington determines the basic support amount owed by using a table called the Child Support Economic Table. This is found in 26.19.020. The table lists different incomes. For each amount, the table lists how much basic support parents with that particular income should pay in total for one, two, three, four or five children. For instance, parents with a low combined income and one child would pay much less than parents with a higher income and five children.

Each parent is assumed to be responsible for a percentage of the basic support obligation that is equal to the percentage of the family income he/she earns. For instance, a parent who earns 40 percent of the income pays 40 percent of the basic support for the children. The non-custodial parent, therefore, will pay the custodial parent his percentage of the total basic support amount owed. The non-custodial parent will also need to pay his/her share of the child's medical expenses and childcare costs.

If the child spends some time in the care of the non-custodial parent, then it is assumed that the parent will spend money on the child during that time. As such, the parent's required support amount is reduced based on how much time he/she spends with the child.

Washington has a worksheet available that parents can use to help determine their appropriate support amount. Ultimately, however, only the court or DCS will make a final determination on the appropriate support amount.

Enforcing Child Support

When an order of support is issued in Washington State, it is generally required that the money owed for support be withdrawn automatically from the paycheck of the paying parent. The order to withhold income for child support will be sent to the parent's employer, and the money will be automatically deducted before payment is made. If the parent is not working, unemployment, workers compensation, and unprotected pensions may also be subject to automatic deductions.

If payments are not made as required, DCS will take a number of actions to help the custodial parent to collect the money owed. These options may include filing liens against property including vehicles and vessels; seizing property in safe deposit boxes; seizing vehicles and personal property; suspending driver's and professional licenses; seizing tax returns; preventing passport renewals and reporting the delinquency to the credit bureau. DCS also operates a "DCS Most Wanted" website where it publishes the names and pictures of parents who have not paid the support required.   

In addition to DCS enforcement actions, the judge who issued a support order may hold the non-paying parent in contempt of court.

Child Support Modifications

When payments are ordered, parents may not change the required payment amount without obtaining a change in the child support order. DCS can make such a change for administrative orders, or the court can make a change in a support order that has been issued.

Parents may request review of the support order if at least three years have passed since the order was issued or last reviewed. They may also request review if there has been a significant change in circumstances such as permanent disability, incarceration, unemployment or the birth of new children. Typically, in order for a change to be considered, it must be a change of at least (plus/minus) 25 percent and a change of at least $100.

Change requests will be reviewed to determine if modification is appropriate. DCS may either make an administrative change or help parents to petition the court for modification. Parents may also petition the court on their own if they choose to do so.

Getting Legal Help

DCS provides a comprehensive array of services for residents of Washington State, but all of the assistance it provides relates directly to child support. As such, parents who are involved in a divorce, a custody negotiation or who have any legal issues outside of a basic support determination are often best served by consulting with an experienced Washington State family law attorney. 

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