In Washington, a court could order one or both parents to pay child support. Your Washington child support award will depend on your custody arrangement and each parent’s income. Typically, the noncustodial parent (parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child) pays child support. The custodial parent (parent who lives with the child) is responsible for child support too, but Washington child support laws assume that the custodial parent spends money directly on the child.
You can estimate your share of support by using the Washington child support calculator. The child support schedule is based on Washington’s state child support guidelines. You can determine your child support obligation based on the parents’ combined income, the number of children, and the children’s ages.
In addition to the basic support shown by the schedule, however, parents must also cover additional expenses. Both parents must share childcare and other costs, like those required for the child’s education or travel for visitation. Also, a court will order one or both parents to cover the child’s medical care. This could mean everything from providing dental insurance to reimbursement for prescriptions.
While parents may agree to pay more than the Washington child support guideline amount, they can’t pay less unless a court finds that it’s in the child’s best interests. In any event, a judge must approve the final child support amount. Depending on each parent’s needs and the best interests of the child, a court could adjust support payments up or down.
To estimate child support using the Washington child support schedule, you’ll need to know the gross and net incomes of both parents. A parent’s gross income is money received from all sources. Gross income includes your salary, wages, bonuses, commissions, pension, severance, or military pay. It is also money received from dividends, interest, royalties, or a trust. Even an unemployed parent may have income for child support purposes if he or she receives social security payments, workers’ compensation, unemployment, or disability benefits. Income can also come from veteran’s benefits.
Parents can’t shirk their responsibility to pay child support. A deadbeat parent who tries to avoid responsibility for child support by not working will be held accountable for a share of the combined income. A court has the authority to impute—or assign—income to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed based upon that parent's work history, education, health, and age, among other factors.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income calculations, like gifts, prizes, food stamps, and alimony received from another relationship. If either parent married someone else, the new spouse’s income should be excluded.
Once you have both parents’ gross incomes, you make deductions to determine the net income for each. Net income is gross income minus state and federal income taxes, FICA taxes, and court-ordered maintenance (like spousal support or child support from another case) already paid. You can also deduct certain retirement and pension contributions, dues, and business expenses from a parent’s gross income. For a complete list of these deductions, see the Wash. Rev. Code § 26-19-071 (2020) and the Washington Courts Schedule and Worksheets.
You can access Washington's Child Support Schedule on the state legislature’s website. To calculate child support, use the combined net income of both parents (in other words, add your net income to the other parent’s net income) to determine the total amount of child support due. This total amount is then divided between the parents in the same proportion as their individual contributions to the combined income.
It works like this: let’s say that Parent A and Parent B have one child together and their combined income is $1,000. Based on the child support schedule, they must cover a total of $220 in child support per month. If Parent A contributes 60% of the combined income (or $600 per month), then this parent will pay 60% of the total child support, or $132 per month. Parent B, who makes 40% of the combined income (or $400), will pay only 40%, or $88 per month in child support.
$1,000 is the lowest combined income on the schedule. If the parents’ combined income is lower than this amount, then a court will look at each household’s resources and living expenses to come up with a fair payment. The minimum amount of support is $50 per month. The maximum is 45% of a parent’s net income, unless there is some good reason – such as substantial wealth – for that percentage to increase.
Occasionally, the guideline support amount is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is put in place, either parent can ask to adjust the amount of support. In that case, a court will review a long list of factors to either increase or decrease the amount of child support. These factors include:
A parent who fails to pay court-ordered child support is in violation of a court order. That means a parent who refuses to pay child support can have his or her wages garnished, tax refunds intercepted, and face other legal and financial penalties. If you’re dealing with a deadbeat parent and unable to collect your court-ordered child support, contact Washington’s Division of Child Support at 1-800-442-KIDS (5437) for assistance.
Once a child support order is in place, the order is in full effect until a child turns 18 or is emancipated. Your order may even continue child support past a child’s 18th birthday if the child has disabilities or special circumstances apply. Either parent can ask the court to modify or change a child support order.
If it’s been less than one year since the order was issued or modified, you’ll have to show a substantial change in circumstances such as a job loss, a new baby, or medical emergency, to justify a change in support. However, a paying parent’s voluntary unemployment or underemployment is not by itself a substantial change in circumstances; there has to be a good reason why this parent is working less or not at all.
After the order has been in place for a year, you don’t need to show a substantial change in circumstances. Instead, a court can increase or decrease the amount of support if meeting the terms of the order has created a severe economic hardship on either parent or on the child. More information about how to modify a child support order is available on the Washington Division of Child Support website.
Paying child support does not result in a tax break and parents who receive child support on behalf of their children don’t have to report it as income.
More often, the custodial parent may claim the dependent deduction or child tax credit. In some cases, parents may share the dependent deduction with one parent claiming it in odd years and the other parent claiming it during even ones.
In addition to the information above, you can learn more about related child support issues on our Washington Divorce and Family Law site. Also see the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services page for tools and tips for establishing and modifying child support orders.