In connection with a divorce involving minor children, or when unmarried parents separate, child support must be determined. RCW Title 26 governs child support implementation, modification, and enforcement. Different procedural rules apply depending on whether child support is being established for the first time, or modified. See the following links for a discussion of those procedures:

In each of those situations, however, the Court’s determination of the level of child support should be the same. Child support is determined using child support worksheets and a child support schedule which take into account specific factors – the income of each parent, the age and number of the children, for example. The Washington State Division of Child Support has a helpful website here, which includes a child support calculator.

Determination of child support is not purely mathematical, however, as there are factors which cannot be quantified but may affect the child support calculation, such as a parenting plan that provides both parents a substantial amount of time with the children. In addition, there are situations in which one parent may be determined to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and the Court will be required to impute income to that parent. Some common issues are discussed below.

This answer to this question is governed by RCW 26.19.075(1)(d). A Court may deviate from the Child Support Worksheet standard calculation if the child spends a significant amount of time with the parent who is obligated to make a support transfer payment. The court may not deviate on that basis if the deviation will result in insufficient funds in the household receiving the support to meet the basic needs of the child or if the child is receiving temporary assistance for needy families (TANF).

In practice, if the children spend an equal amount of time with each parent, and the parents’ respective incomes are nearly equal, there is a good chance that the Court will not order a child support transfer payment. However, if one parent makes substantially more than the other parent, a Court will often order a transfer payment. The method for determining that transfer payment varies from Court to Court, but a common method is to subtract the smaller support obligation from the larger support obligation, and divide by two, to arrive at the transfer payment. But ultimately, the determination is at the discretion of the Judge.

The Court’s determination of whether to impute income, and if so in what amount, is based on a variety of factors set forth in RCW 26.19.071(6). If the other party is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, the court shall impute income to him or her. Of course, convincing the Court that the other party is voluntarily unemployed is often the hardest part. The statute says the Court’s decision regarding whether the other parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed is based on that parent’s, “work history, education, health, and age, or any other relevant factors. A court shall not impute income to a parent who is gainfully employed on a full-time basis, unless the court finds that the parent is voluntarily underemployed and finds that the parent is purposely underemployed to reduce the parent’s child support obligation. Income shall not be imputed for an unemployable parent.” Establishing that the other party is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed is primarily a factual, as opposed to legal, matter. Substantial effort and organization will be needed to present a thorough case.

If you are able to establish that the other party is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the Court will then determine the level of income to impute to the other party. The income level shall be imputed in the following order of priority:

  • Full-time earnings at the current rate of pay;
  • Full-time earnings at the historical rate of pay based on reliable information;
  • Full-time earnings at a past rate of pay where information is incomplete or sporadic;
  • Full-time earnings at minimum wage;
  • Median net monthly income of year-round full-time workers as derived from the U.S. Census Bureau.

See RCW 26.19.071(6) for the full statutory language.

Imputation of income is again an issue that is at the discretion of the Judge, within the parameters set forth in the statute above. This is a fact-intensive issue, and the best practice is to be well-organized and thorough in the presentation of the facts of your case.

Under RCW 26.19.080, health care costs, day care costs, and certain other expenses including but not limited to tuition and long-distance transportation expenses, are not included in the economic table used to determine the standard child support payment. Those payments are in addition to the standard payment, and are to be shared in proportion with the parents’ respective combined monthly net income. (For example, if the combined monthly net income is $5,000, and the husband’s monthly net income is $3,000, then he would be responsible for 60% of the out-of-pocket health care costs related to the children, with certain exceptions.) Although health care costs and day care expenses can be included in the child support worksheets to arrive at the Standard Calculation, we believe it is a better practice to determine the respective percentages of the combined monthly net income, and state that the parties are responsible for their share of those expenses. Otherwise, if those expenses change (and it is a frequent occurrence that children will switch daycare providers, or to graduate from daycare to public school, or a daycare provider’s rates will change) then the parties will need to modify the Order of Child Support to reflect a new Standard Calculation. Whereas if it is simply stated that the parents are responsible for a given percentage of health care and day care expenses, the Order of Child Support does not need to be modified.

It is clear from RCW 26.19.080 that health care costs, day care expenses, tuition, and long-distance transportation expenses are not included in the standard economic table. But are there other expenses, such as fees for extracurricular activities, that are to be shared in proportion to the parents’ net incomes? The answer is, it depends. Primarily, it depends on the amount of the specific expense, relative to the parents’ incomes. For example, assume that a child is actively involved in sports with both parents encouragement, and the parents have a combined monthly net income of $5,000 and the non-custodial parent has a monthly child support obligation of $500. If there is an athletic tournament that both parents would like the child to participate in, and the travel costs and tournament fees are $1,000, a Court will almost certainly require the parents to split the costs in proportion to their respective monthly net incomes.

RCW 26.19.071 states that all income and resources of each parent’s household shall be disclosed and considered by the Court in determining the child support obligation. However, only the income of the parents of children whose support is at issue shall be used to calculate the basic support obligation. Thus, while the Court is to consider the income of new spouses, the Court can (and usually does) choose to disregard said income when entering the Order of Child Support.