When parents used to divorce, the typical arrangement used to be that one parent (typically the mother) would be awarded primary custody of the children while the other parent would have visitation rights. The parent with visitation rights would then pay child support to the parent with primary custody.
Today, however, it is widely accepted that divorcing parents should strive for a more balanced arrangement. As a result, some parents, often through agreement, have 50/50 parenting plans. In other words, each parent has the children 50% of the time. They may assume that since they equally share the parenting, neither would owe any child support to the other.
That, however, is generally not the case and often comes as an unpleasant surprise. Working with an experienced child custody lawyer, however, can help you plan for this possibility and ensure that the end result is fair for everyone involved, parents and children.
Understanding How Child Support Works in Washington State
Washington child support law works on the arguably outdated assumption that child support is paid to the parent who has the children the majority of the time. For whatever reason, this has yet to be changed, which creates problems for the custody arrangements that are more common today.
To further complicate matters, there is not much guidance as to how to handle situations where neither parent has the children a majority of the time (equal parenting). The law does provide, however, for deviations from the standard calculation under appropriate circumstances, and one basis for a deviation is where “the child spends a significant amount of time with the parent who is obligated to make a support transfer payment.”
Limitations to the Deviation to Standard Calculation for Child Support
Unfortunately, this deviation from the standard calculation does not simply erase the child support obligation in situations where there is a 50/50 custody arrangement. The courts are typically reluctant to grant such a deviation even where there is still a majority of time with one parent (i.e., even with a 40/60 parenting plan).
There is also an exception to this deviation rule where granting the deviation would leave one household with insufficient funds to meet the basic needs of the children. Thus if one household is low income, the deviation will probably not be granted. And since there is no definition of “insufficient funds” or “basic needs,” this rule could be applied even in a moderate-income situation.
How Support is Calculated in an Equal Parenting Situation
If the court does find that a deviation is appropriate due to equal parenting, there are two common ways of addressing what support arrangement would be appropriate. One is to grant a deviation based on actual expenses in each household.
For instance, if one parent buys most of the clothes, pays the medical bills, and bears most of the other expenses related to raising a child, then support might be adjusted to account for that after considering differences in income. For example, the lower income parent who pays most of the expenses would be awarded more child support than if they were the higher income parent.
A second way is to assume expenses are equal and thus adjust based simply on income differences. For example, let’s assume that Parent A makes $3,000 per month, Parent B makes $6,000 per month. Let’s also assume that the total support obligation between the two parents might be $1,534 per month for two children under 12, which is determined by Washington’s child support table. The combined income of the two parents is $9,000, but since Parent B makes twice as much as Parent A, Parent B would still be responsible for two-thirds (67%) of the cost, or $1,023.00.
If we assume expenses are equal in each home, each spending half of the $1,534.00. In other words, that would mean each parent needs to have $767 available in their home to spend on raising their children. This would mean Parent B should pay $256 per month to Parent A ($1,023 – $767). This would leave Parent B with $767 of the $1,023 obligation to spend in his or her own home on raising the children. Parent A would have their own $511 share ($1,534 – $1,023) plus the $256 in support, thus leaving them also with $767 per month to spend on raising the children.
How a Family Lawyer Can Help
While this may seem very mathematical, the reality is that there are numerous elements that may be subject to dispute. For example, it is not uncommon for one parent whose primary role was raising the children and therefore unemployed or only employed part-time. In these situations, their contribution to child support will be based on what it is believed that they could earn if they were employed full-time.
Another potential issue is that one parent may attempt to artificially reduce their income or hide additional sources of income. Both gross and net income should be considered when calculating child support. You will also need to factor in additional expenses not included in basic support such as health insurance or day care.
In these situations, you need someone on your side to advocate for a fair outcome for you and your children. A family law attorney can explain your obligations and what you can expect, help you understand your options, and guide you through the process.
Contact Seattle Divorce Services Today
We have decades of combined experience in helping divorcing parents navigate their child support issues. We offer both litigation support for adversarial cases as well as mediation and collaborative approaches. Whatever your needs may be, contact us today by calling 206-784-3049 to discuss how we can help.