Washington parents, like those in other states, are legally obligated to provide for their children financially, even after they split up. Chapter 26.119 of the Revised Code of Washington describes these financial support responsibilities, as well as the formula Washington courts use to establish a child support amount.
Worksheets Help Determine Support Amounts
To determine a presumptive child support amount, Washington courts use a worksheet based on the state's child support laws. The worksheet includes information such as the parents' incomes, number of children, day care expenses, health insurance and other special expenses. Child support calculations are complicated, but the worksheets help parents see what they might have to pay when the judge issues an order in their case. Generally, Washington child support is calculated based on apportioning financial responsibility between the parents based on each parent's share of their combined income, after a basic parental living allowance is deducted from their income. For example, a noncustodial parent who earns 40 percent of the couple's income can expect to pay 40 percent of the financial support for the child.
Washington law includes many sources of money as income for purposes of child support. Wages and salaries are included, of course, but income also includes workers compensation payments, Social Security benefits and bonuses, as well as money from many other sources. Income does not include certain payments such as child support received from other relationships, gifts, food stamps or income earned by a parent's new spouse. These sources of money must be disclosed to the court as part of the child support case, however.
Washington courts know their child support awards may become outdated as parents change jobs or the child's expenses change, so courts can modify child support awards over time. For example, when a child no longer requires day care because he is in public school while his custodial parent is working, the court could modify the child support award to reflect the reduced expenses. Depending on the language of the original child support order, the parents can change the child support amount themselves by agreement or one parent must ask the court to change it. However, courts do not change past child support amounts. They can only change payment amounts going forward.
Enforcing Support Orders
Washington law allows the state or private individuals to ask the court for help enforcing child support orders when one parent does not pay as ordered. The court can hold the offending parent in contempt of court for failing to follow a court order. Other enforcement options can include seizing a parent's bank account, vehicle or other property; revoking his driver's or occupational licenses; asking the federal government to deny him a passport; and seizing his tax refund.