Washington Child Support Modification FAQs

Frequently asked questions about modifying child support orders in Washington.

When can an order of child support be modified?

Either parent may request a modification (change) of child support. Generally speaking, if it’s been less than one year since the order was issued or modified, the requesting parent must show a substantial change in circumstances to support a change in the amount. Some examples of substantial changes in circumstances include a raise, decrease in income, or the loss of a job.

However, courts will review requests based on reduced income very carefully. If a court finds that that paying parent has intentionally or voluntarily become unemployed or underemployed to avoid child support, the court may “impute” income to that parent, meaning a judge will assign child support payments to that parent based on what they were or could be making, not the voluntarily reduced income amount. So, it’s never a good idea to quit a job or reduce your hours in order to avoid support payments.

Can child support be modified without a substantial change in circumstances?

Yes. Once the child support order has been in place for at least one year, the parent requesting a change in support does not have to show a substantial change in circumstances if:

  • the order works a severe economic hardship on either parent or the child
  • the child is no longer in the age category on which the current support amount was based, or
  • a child is still in high school and there is a finding that there is a need to extend support beyond the eighteenth birthday to complete high school.

How do I begin a child support modification action?

You can begin an action to reduce or increase child support by filing a petition for modification and the necessary child support worksheets. The Washington State Office of the Administrator for the Courts website provides a variety of state court forms by category, including a “Child Support Modification” form. You can access these forms by clicking here. You will also need to pay a fee when you file your paperwork at your local court clerk’s office.

I filed my support modification petition. What do I do now?

You need to “serve” (personally delivery) a summons, a copy of the petition, and the worksheets on your child’s other parent. Once this is done, you will need to file proof of service with the court. In order to serve the other party correctly, it’s best to hire a professional process server. You can find qualified process servers online or in your local telephone directory.

When must the other parent respond?

The responding party's answer and worksheets must be served to you (or your attorney) and then filed with the court within 20 days after you serve the petition, or 60 days if served out of state.

When can a hearing be scheduled?

After the other party has filed a response, either party may schedule a hearing. You should check with the court administrator in your county to make sure you set the hearing correctly according to local court rules.

I am seeking a support modification for my two children. It has been over month since my ex-wife was served at her home in Tacoma. What do I do now?

Since she was served within the state, her failure to answer within the time required - 20 days - can result in entry of a default judgment for you. A default judgment is where the court issues orders without the appearance of the responding party.

You (or your attorney) may prepare a motion for default and serve that on the responding party. You’ll need to make sure the proof of service gets filed with the court. You should also check with the court administrator in your county to correctly set the default hearing according to the local rules.

If you have questions about modification of child support, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.

Resources

For more information on how child support is calculated see Child Support in Washington, by Teresa Wall–Cyb.

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