Family Law

Children & Divorce – Child Support

Both parents have a duty to support their child regardless of marital status.  Child support is designed with the primary goal of preventing a harmful reduction in a child’s standard of living, in the best interests of children whose parents are divorced.[1]  The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that parental duties entail these minimum attributes: (1) express love and affection for the child; (2) express personal concern over the health, education and general wellbeing of the child; (3) the necessary food, clothing, and medical care; (4) provide an adequate domicile; and (5) furnish social and religious guidance.[2]

The legislature has enacted a statutory scheme designed to address child support, making clear “that the child support obligation should be equitably apportioned between the parents.”[3]  The statute aims to insure that child support orders “provide additional support commensurate with the parents’ income, resources, and standard of living.”[4]  Consequently, when ordering child support, courts determine the “standard calculation” child support level from the economic table, found in RCW 26.19.020.[5]  But the economic table is only presumptive for combined monthly net incomes up to and including $12,000: “When combined monthly net income exceeds twelve thousand dollars, the court may exceed the presumptive amount of support set for combined monthly net incomes of twelve thousand dollars upon written findings of fact.”[6]

Certain expenses shall be paid in proportion to the basic child support obligation.  For example, monthly healthcare costs are shared by the parents in the same proportion as the basic child support obligation, which includes medical, dental, orthodontia, vision, chiropractic, mental health treatment, prescription medications, and other similar costs for care and treatment.[7]  The same is true for daycare and “special child rearing costs” such as long-distance travel expenses.[8]

There are instances where a change in the parties’ economic circumstances warrant a modification of child support.  The court may modify any of the provisions in the order of support—e.g., amount of support, duration of support, etc.  To do this, the parent seeking to modify the existing child support order has the burden of showing there has been “a substantial change of circumstances.”[9]  Any change relied upon must have occurred since the former decree or the last order fixing support money payments.[10]

There are some instances where a child support modification may occur without a change of circumstances, the most notable involving what is known as “postsecondary educational support.”  This constitutes support after the child graduates from high school or is no longer a minor (whichever is later) if the child is attending an accredited college or vocational school.[11]  In ordering postsecondary educational support, the court will consider a bevy of factors including: whether the child is in fact dependent; the child’s needs, the child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, or disabilities; the parents’ level of education; and so on.[12]  Absent “exceptional circumstances,” postsecondary educational support will not extend beyond the child’s twenty-third birthday.[13]

It is no secret that child support is a vital component to raising a child when the parents are not in a relationship.  Ensuring that you have properly calculated the child support amount is a must for not only the child, but also the parents taking care of the child.  A family law attorney at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson can assist with these matters so that your economic circumstances are taking into full consideration.

[1] Mattson v. Mattson, 976P.2d 157, 162 (Wash. Ct. App. 1999).
[2] In re Interest of Pawling, 679 P.2d 916, 919 (Wash. 1984).
[3] RCW 26.19.001.
[4] Id.
[5] Leslie v. Verhey, 954 P.2d 330, 333 (Wash. Ct. App. 1998).
[6] RCW 26.19.020.
[7] RCW 26.19.080(2).
[8] RCW 26.19.080(3).
[9] RCW 26.09.170.
[10] In re Marriage of Zander, 695 P.2d 1007 (Wash. Ct. App. 1985).
[11] RCW 26.19.090(3).
[12] RCW 26.19.090(2).
[13] RCW 26.19.090(5).