Remarriage and Child Support in Washington

By , Retired Judge
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If you're a divorced parent in Washington state, and are subject to a child support order, will remarriage affect support obligations? That's a question you should be asking if remarriage is in your future. This article will provide you with some information on that topic.

A Brief Look at Child Support in Washington

The Washington state legislature has established certain guidelines for the courts to use in setting child support. Support is primarily based on combined parental income, and the total support figure calculated under the guidelines formula is divided between the parents proportionate to their individual incomes. Some income sources the courts look at are:

  • salaries, wages, and commissions
  • self-employment income and joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation
  • dividends, interest, and capital gains
  • annuities and pension retirement benefits, and
  • Social Security benefits, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and workers' compensation.

Certain income is excluded in calculating child support, such as a new spouse or domestic partner's income (or income of other adults in the household).

In addition to income, the court considers other items in determining a final support figure, like the child's health care and day care expenses. These items are also divided proportionately between the parents.

You can find more information on the guidelines and calculating child support on the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services website.

The Court Can Impute Income Under Certain Circumstances

If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court can attribute or "impute" income to that parent when calculating support. In addressing this situation, the court looks at a number of factors, including:

  • work history
  • education
  • health and age, and
  • any other relevant factors.

The Court Is Permitted to Deviate From the Guidelines

Although it's expected that the court will use the guidelines as a matter of course to determine child support, the law provides some leeway in cases where that might be inappropriate. Some of the items a court can consider in deciding whether to deviate from the guidelines are:

  • income of a new spouse, new domestic partner, or other adults in the household (but only if a deviation is being requested for a reason other than the availability of this income)
  • a particular source of income is not a recurring source (for example, overtime or bonuses)
  • extraordinary debt not voluntarily incurred
  • special medical, educational, or psychological needs of the children, and
  • children from other relationships whom a parent has a duty to support.

It's Possible to Modify a Child Support Order

If you want the court to change your child support order, you can certainly make that request. However, the court won't alter an order unless you can prove that there's been a substantial change of circumstances since the last order was entered. Additionally, you must show that this change wasn't contemplated at that time and that it relates to the children's changed financial needs or the parents' relative ability to meet those needs.

There are also some situations where a court can modify a child support order without the existence of changed circumstances. If you're interested, you can find this information in the Washington Code at RCW 26.09.170.

The question of the day is, does remarriage constitute a substantial change of circumstances that warrants modification of child support?

Certain Aspects of Remarriage May Justify a Support Modification

In and of itself, remarriage isn't a basis for modifying a child support order. This is because your new spouse ordinarily has no duty to support your children from a prior relationship. But remarriage can generate situations that may apply to a support modification request.

A New Child Could Be a Factor

In the past, under what is known as common law, a new child wouldn't impact a support payer's obligation. Why? Because the prevailing theory was that your primary obligation was to the children from your past relationship. But many states today acknowledge that all a parent's children are entitled to benefit from the parent's income.

The law in Washington is in line with this modern reasoning. The guidelines deviation standards seen above specifically include children from other relationships whom the parent has a duty to support. And the state's case law holds that the court should consider the needs of all a parent's children when deciding whether to modify an existing child support order.

The Presence of a New Spouse May Be Relevant

There are a number of ways that a new spouse might impact child support. You saw above that a stepparent (new spouse) isn't normally responsible for supporting a stepchild. However, if you take that child into your home, and your new spouse basically assumes the role of a parent, a duty to support that child may arise.

Additionally, a new spouse's income may come into play. Again, Washington law says that a new spouse's income is excluded when calculating child support. But notice that the guidelines deviation standards allow the court to look at that income when a parent is requesting that the court vary from the guidelines (as long as the new spouse's income isn't the only reason for seeking the deviation).

So what's the relevance of your new spouse's income in a modification request? One example may be that this income is probably being used to pay some of the household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and groceries. If that's the case, then less of your individual income is going toward those costs, and that leaves more of your income available for supporting your children.

This article is only meant as an overview of the topic of remarriage and child support in Washington. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.

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