Washington law requires that parents financially support their children. The primary tool used in divorce to ensure that both parents make financial contributions is child support. The financial support of children must be addressed in every divorce involving a child.
By default, child support has two components: (a) a periodic (usually monthly) “transfer payment” from one parent to another, and (b) a sharing of certain expenses. However, there are other approaches that may be acceptable so long as it is clear that the children are well taken care of by their parents.
In Washington, if a court determines child support, the law provides that a presumed child support transfer payment and percentage sharing is driven by the net incomes of the parents. The presumed (but not automatic) transfer payment and percentages are determined from completing a child support worksheet. A court is required to consider whether the worksheet results in an appropriate amount for child support, and will change the amount if it does not.
The child support worksheet is merely a supporting document. The look-up table for the amounts listed is based on statewide average expenses. Also baked into the worksheet is the concept that one parent will incur the bulk of the child rearing expenses. The results from the worksheet are therefore inherently arbitrary in most circumstances. All decisions in the worksheet are driven solely by income.
The child support worksheet ignores the actual cost of raising your children, different costs of living across the state, the time children are spending in each household, the expenditures for kids in each household, the possible desirability of maintaining neighborhood stability for children, their special needs, and other circumstances. Outside of the monthly transfer amount in the worksheet, certain expenses are expected to be shared. Examples include work-related child care, long-distance transportation, medical insurance premiums, uninsured medical expenses, education expenses, and similar expenses.
Fortunately, the child support worksheets are not binding, and the amounts and percentages can (and frequently do) differ from may be in the worksheets to make sure children are properly supported.
In divorce mediations, the amount of child support is negotiated. This affords the opportunity to tailor child support to match your and your children’s specific circumstances, including better matching the child-rearing expenses in each household, and how you can best structure financially supporting your children.