Divorce can be an expensive process. Between attorneys’ fees and the costs of paying for two different sets of rent payments, utility bills, and other costs, living apart is usually twice as expensive as living together.

That’s why when parents separate, the court is most concerned with whether or not the former couple can continue to provide for the basic needs of their children. To that end, the state of Washington has enacted certain minimum standards, or guidelines, which advise the court on the average amount of money a child needs to survive. In order to understand how much money you or your former partner will pay in child support payments, you need to have a basic understanding of the state’ s guidelines.

Net Income Calculations

In general, the parent who provides most of the day-to-day care for the children is the one who receives the support payments. When couples split their children’s time relatively equally, then this arrangement may change. Usually, however, the parent who spends the most time with the children will receive support payments.

Figuring out child support payments is similar to calculating income tax: In order to know how much support a child should receive, you need to calculate the combined net income of both parents.

The net income is the amount of money left over after taking out money for taxes, some retirement or pension payments, or business expenses are subtracted. Both parents’ net income will be added together, and compared to a sheet of guidelines. For example, if a former couple had two children under the age of 12, and their combined monthly net income is $3,000, then the guidelines say that each child needs $436 per month in support, for a total of $872 per month.

The number provided by the guidelines is called the basic support obligation. This means that at minimum (barring extraordinary circumstances), this is the amount of money one or both parents will need to contribute to care for the children’s expenses, like food, medical care, daycare, clothing, and shelter.

During a divorce case, both parents will need to file a financial affidavit and provide the court with at least two years of income tax returns. The court will use this information to verify each parent’s income and determine if their self-reported income is accurate.

What If There Is Little or No Income?

Occasionally, when a former spouse has no income or their income cannot be verified through traditional methods like tax returns, the court will impute a certain amount of income to them regardless of what they actually make. When the court considers a person voluntarily unemployed, or voluntarily underemployed, he or she is often responsible for child supports to the custodial parent even though they may not have a job.

For example, a parent who does not work in order to stay at home on days where the children visit would be considered voluntarily unemployed. In the same way, a parent who is attending school full time is also considered voluntarily unemployed.

Though wanting to spend time raising children or wanting to get a degree is a noble pursuit, the state of Washington believes that a parent’s primary goal is to provide for their child financially. In instances where income is imputed by the court, the parent may find themselves owing child support even though they are not working. Unless the court can be persuaded otherwise, these people may have no other option than to find a job in order to support their children and meet their financial obligations.

When one or both parents face extraordinary hardships, like extreme poverty or a disabling condition, the court has the ability to reduce the child support below the guidelines. However, this usually only happens in cases of serious need.

In some instances, child support payments can be reduced if the total amount of payments owed would be more than 45% of a person’s net income. For example, if a man had 4 children with four different women, he may owe each woman hundreds of dollars a month in child support.

However, state law says that only 45% of his net monthly income can be used to pay child support, since he also needs to provide for himself as well. In that case, it is likely that each child would receive below the minimum requirements under the guidelines because there simply isn’t enough money to go around.

Complicated Calculations

It can be very difficult to predict how much a person would owe or receive in child support in the state of Washington. Though the guidelines provide a rough estimate of the numbers, these amounts can change based on the age of the children, the number of children each parents supports, and the amount of money each parent makes.

In addition, the court may order the parents to split some major expenses, like daycare when both parents work or orthodontic braces when the children are in middle school. These types of large expenses may be entirely separate from any child support calculations, or they may become part of the parenting plan as well.

Fairly and accurately dividing income, expenses, and support obligations like these often requires the help of a skilled Washington family law attorney. The lawyers at Pacific Northwest Family Law have many techniques at their disposal to help divorcing couples decide on a fair and equitable support agreement, and achieve great successes using mediation, collaboration, and other dispute resolution methods.

For a consultation with one of our experienced Washington divorce attorneys, or to learn more about the Washington child support guidelines, contact us today by calling 360-926-9112.