If you have a child with someone else, whether or not you are married, it is possible that you are eligible to receive, or required to pay, child support. If you do have a child with someone else,  then the parent who has the child the majority of the time, or even a party in a 50/50 custody situation, can request child support.

Child Support 101

What Is Child Support?

Child support ultimately boils down to a monthly transfer payment and potential other payments for uninsured medical expenses and other shared expenses (agreed extracurricular activities, cell phones, work-related daycare, education costs, driving costs, etc.). 

Who Handles Child Support Orders?

Child support can be handled either through the state administrative agency (in Washington the agency is DSHS Department of Child Support) or the court system

How Is Child Support Payment Amount Calculated?

The transfer payment is calculated using each party’s income, actual or imputed, the number of children the parties have in common, any children either party has that is not a child in common, and the amount the state thinks it costs to raise the child(ren). Those extra costs mentioned are typically paid based on each party’s proportional share.

Common Types of Child Support Orders

If you’re reading this post, it is likely because you already have a Child Support Order in place. There are three types of Child Support Orders that you should be aware of as you continue reading: 1) Administrative Child Support Orders, 2) Temporary Child Support Orders, 3) Final Child Support Orders.

Administrative Child Support Orders

Either parent of a child can request that the state establish child support. This is done administratively by an administrative law judge. You are assigned a case number and a case worker through the state. The state will send out letters requesting documentation be filled out and returned to them, as well as financial documentation that you gather and send to them. The state will then calculate an amount for each party’s net income and an amount for child support.  They will prepare an order, and send it to you for review. If you disagree with the calculations, then you can request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge will make the decision on the net incomes and ultimate child support transfer amount. Once the Administrative Child Support Order is entered, it becomes subject to the state’s statutory laws regarding modification which we will address below. It is possible that if neither parent requests a modification of the Administrative Child Support Order, that the state may initiate one on their own. 

Court Issued Child Support Orders

If you have an existing court case between you and the other parent regarding your child in common, or you simply prefer to go through the court system instead of the state, you can file a request for child support through the court system.  If you are married to the other parent,  child support can be handled through the divorce, and if you are not married to the other parent then child support can be handled through a Petition for a Parenting Plan, Residential Schedule and/or Child Support.

Temporary Child Support Orders

Once you file for child support, either in a new case or through an existing case, it is likely that you will first receive a Temporary Child Support Order. This is done through a Motion for Temporary Family Law Order that includes a request for child support. A Temporary Child Support Order can be enforced through the state. If the parent paying support either refuses to pay or falls behind in payments, you can also file a Motion for Contempt to be heard through your court case. If you want to modify the Temporary Child Support Order prior to it becoming a Final Child Support Order, you are able to do so through the existing case. This could be done via a motion, but you would likely have to follow the state’s statutory laws regarding modification.

Final Child Support Orders

Once final orders are entered in your family law matter, you will have a Final Child Support Order in place. As mentioned under Temporary Child Support Orders, a Final Child Support Order can be enforced through the state, and if the parent paying support refuses to pay or falls behind in payments you can file a Motion for Contempt. A Final Child Support Order can only be modified if you qualify under the state’s statutory laws regarding modification. If you are wanting to file for modification of a Final Child Support Order, you must file a Petition to Modify Child Support and the necessary accompanying pleadings. A court hearing will be set, and the commissioner will determine whether you qualify for a modification and what the new numbers would be based on the information presented at the hearing. A new Final Child Support Order will be entered based on the commissioner’s ruling.

How Can You Modify an Existing Child Support Order?

Generally speaking, you can’t request changes to child support payments that have already been made or that are past due. If you come to the point where the child support amount may be out-of-date, then I recommend you see if you can qualify for a modification sooner rather than later. 

The standards under which you can modify child support or are listed under RCW 26.09.170. If there has been a substantial change in circumstances, you can request a modification of the Final Child Support Order at any time (administrative or court issued). RCW 26.09.170. A substantial change could be a new child being born (or no longer falling under the jurisdiction of the Child Support Order) or a change to either parent’s income, to name a couple options. If the person paying support has become voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, that does not constitute a substantial change in circumstances. RCW 26.09.170. If there has not been a substantial change in circumstances and it has been at least one year since the Final Child Support Order was entered, you can request a modification if you can show that the monthly child support payment is a severe economic hardship to either parent, the support needs to extend beyond the established end date, or an automatic adjustment to support provision needs to be added. RCW 26.09.170. If it has been at least two years since the date the Final Child Support Order was entered, you can request a modification without showing a substantial change in circumstances if you can show that there has been a change to either parent’s income or a change in the economic table/standards.

Final Thoughts

Establishing or modifying child support can be one of the more straightforward court processes since a lot of it is based solely on the numbers, but it can get confusing if you don’t know how to run the calculations or if either party has an interesting family or job situation. If you have questions about establishing or modifying child support, don’t hesitate to reach out to Navigate Law Group for an experienced attorney to assist you. 

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Disclaimer

Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.