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Washington Child Support Attorney

Will I have to pay child support?

In Washington, the non-custodial parent (i.e. the parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child) is legally obligated to pay child support.  In other words, you have to pay child support if your children spend most of their time with the other parent.

The law governing child support is found in RCW 26.19.

I am the custodial parent.  Do I have to pay child support?


The primary parent, by definition, has primary custody of the child, which means the parent satisfies his or her basic support obligation by taking care of the children – feeding them, clothing them, and paying for their education, for example.

Legally speaking, the primary parent has no legal obligation to send money to the non-custodial parent to financially support that parent in caring for your child.    

Do I have to be married to the other parent to get child support?

No.  Unmarried parents can receive child support.  Alternatively, unmarried parents can be ordered to pay child support.

How is child support calculated?

Washington uses a fairly strict formula for calculating child support. 

  • Step 1: Each parent fills out a child support worksheet, from which the court determines each parent's monthly net income
  • Step 2: The court adds together both parents' incomes to arrive at the combined monthly net income.
  •  Step 3: The court determines your basic support obligation based on the number and ages of your children.

How does the court determine my income?

Your child support obligation depends on your monthly gross income, from which the court then calculates your monthly net income. 

Under RCW 26.19.071, your monthly gross income includes all income from any source.  Here are the most common sources of income from which your gross income is calculated:

  • Salary and W2 wages
  • Income from self-employment
  • Retirement benefits
  • Social security benefits
  • Workers' compensation
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Disability insurance benefits

Not every source of income, however, is part of your gross income.  The following sources of income do not count:

  • Food stamps
  • Your new spouse's income
  • The income of any adult living in your home
  • Pregnant woman assistance benefits
  • Income from a second job if you typically work more than 40 hours a week at your second job and you are working this second job to pay off past debts from an earlier relationship.  This includes past child support. 

Note:  You will still have to disclose this income to the Court on your child support worksheet, but this income cannot be included in your gross income calculation. 

Example #1:  Your annual gross income is $60,000.  Your sister, who is temporarily living with you, earns $30,000 a year. Your sister helps you pay the mortgage.  For purposes of child support, your annual gross income is still $60,000, not $90,000. 

Example #2:  Your annual gross income is $50,000.  Your new spouse is a multi-millionaire, and together you now own multiple businesses and own several houses.  For purposes of child support, your annual gross income is $50,000, although the court will likely consider your higher family income in determining your support obligation.    

Can the other parent and I agree to a different child support amount?


By law, a Washington court must calculate child support using the statutory child support schedule.  Courts may consider the parents' agreements in justifying an upward or downward departure in child support, but they are not required to consider them.

What money can I deduct from my income?

The court determines child support based on your net income, not your gross income.  On your child support worksheet, you can subtract (deduct) the following from your gross income:

  • Federal income tax
  • Social security and Medicare
  • L&I insurance
  • Mandatory union dues
  • Mandatory pension contributions (in some cases)

You cannot deduct money that your employer has already deducted from your paycheck. Medical insurance is a typical example. 

Will the court use my current spouse's income in calculating child support?


By law, the court must consider your income and the other parent's income in determining child support.

The court may consider any other “household income,” which includes your new spouse or live-in partner. 

Is there a limit to much child support I have to pay?

In Washington, you cannot be forced to pay more than 45 percent of your net monthly income in child support, unless the court find good cause to order you to pay more.

Example #1: Your net monthly income is $5,000.  The maximum child support you will have to pay per month is $2,250. 

Note:  It does not matter how many biological children or stepchildren you have.  The most you will have to pay is still 45 percent.

Example #2: Your net monthly income is $5,000.  You and your ex-wife have three biological children.  You are also legally responsible for two (2) of your ex-wife's stepchildren.  Your maximum monthly child support obligation is still no more than $2,250.

What is the minimum amount of child support I have to pay?

If your monthly net income is more than 125 percent below the federal poverty guidelines, then you cannot be ordered to pay more than $50 / month in child support.  In general, this means your monthly net income is less than $1,000. 

I'm concerned my spouse will underreport income to avoid paying child support.  How does the court verify income?

In addition to filing a completed child support worksheet, each parent must provide two years' worth of tax returns and current paystubs for the court to verify income. 

Many courts require more detailed records.  In King County, for example, you have to provide copies your pay stubs and bank statements for the past six (6) months, in addition to your complete personal tax returns for the past two (2) years.

I am currently not working.  Do I still have to pay child support?


Unfortunately, some non-custodial parents stop working or take less-paying jobs to reduce their child support obligations or to try to avoid paying support altogether.

This is illegal.

In Washington, the court is required to impute income to a parent who is “voluntarily employed” or “voluntarily underemployed.” 

Imputing income means treating the parent as legally having income the parent does not actually have for the purpose of determining child support.

How does the court impute income to a parent?

To decide whether to impute income to a parent, the court considers the following the following statutory factors:

  • Your assets
  • Employment history
  • Criminal record
  • Local job market
  • Health
  • Age
  • Job skills
  • Earning potential
  • Educational background
  • Other court obligations (i.e. child support)

A court cannot impute income to you if you are medically or physically disabled.  In this case, you are not voluntarily unemployed.  You cannot physically work.

My spouse and I have 50 / 50 custody.  Do I still have to pay child support?


In Washington, the court primarily bases child support on your income and your spouse's income.  If you make a lot more money than her, then you will have to pay child support her, regardless of whether you split custody.

That said, you should request a downward deviation from your basic support obligation for this very reason (see below).  

Can my spouse and I agree to waive child support?

Yes (in theory), but the Court may not accept your agreement.

Remember that both parents have a legal obligation to pay child support.  You can't just ignore your legal obligations because both of you agree.  

That said, if the record is clear that both of you can adequately provide for your child's needs (i.e. you both have steady incomes), then the court is more likely to consider a joint waiver request.  But don't count on it in most cases.  

Can a court deviate from the standard child support calculation?


 In some respects, child support formulas are great because they simplify the process.  But life doesn't always fit into a perfect formula, especially when you're going through a divorce.

In Washington, the court has the authority to deviate from the standard child support calculation if it finds that that the non-custodial parent cannot needs to pay less money, or if the custodial parent needs more money to support the child.

Before authorizing a deviation, the court must consider the following factors set forth in RCW 26.19.075:

  • Debts / high expenses

Example:  The child is special needs and requires in-home care.  The court will likely require the non-custodial parent to pay more than the standard calculation.  In other words, the court will authorize an upward deviation.

  • Children from other relationships

Example:  The non-custodial parent pays child support for other children from other relationships.  The court will likely authorize a downward deviation in child support.

  • Household income

Example:  The primary parent has remarried, and the new spouse earns significantly more money than the non-custodial parent.  The court will likely authorize a downward deviation in child support.

  • Residential schedule

Example:  The child spends a “significant amount of time” with the non-custodial parent.  The court will likely authorize a downward deviation in support. 

When can I legally stop paying child support?

In Washington, you can normally stop paying child support when one of the following occurs:

  • Your child turns 18 years old
  • Your child gets married
  • Your child graduates from high school
  • Your child dies

There are always exceptions, of course.  As part of the divorce, you may agree pay for your child's post-secondary education (i.e. college or graduate school).  You may also agree to pay for your older child if he or she is mentally or physically disabled.  

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