Child Support

The following information is provided to the public to try to answer questions which commonly occur in cases involving child support. This information is not meant to be a substitute for advice from an attorney. Some specific laws are discussed in this information. There are many laws which may apply to your particular case which are not discussed here. The state statutes referred to in this information are called the "Revised Code of Washington, " usually abbreviated as "RCW." The state statutes can be found at the Yakima County Law Library or at the Yakima Valley Regional Library. The librarians are not attorneys and cannot give you legal advice.

If you have questions about child support, whether you are the one who will be paying it or receiving it, you should consult with an attorney. Your right to receive support or your obligation to pay support is serious and can be very complicated.

Child Support Laws
Washington State law requires parents to support their children. In all divorce, custody and paternity cases, the judge must decide or approve the appropriate amount of child support that 1 parent must pay another for the benefit of their children.

The amount of child support is determined by the amount of income each parent has, the number and ages of the children involved, special needs of the child such as day care costs, and several other factors. The judge looks at the whole situation.

Income Reporting
Parents are required to fill out "worksheets" which ask for income and expense information. Child support is determined using the information in the work sheets. There is an "economic table" showing the basic child support required depending on the combined income of the parents, and the number and ages of the children. Each parent contributes a proportionate share towards the support of their child based upon their combined income. Some of the state laws which discuss the "economic table"and worksheets can be found in RCW 26.19.01 through 26.19. 100.

Parents cannot simply agree to lower or give up child support. It is the child's right to be supported by both parents, not the parents' right to receive or pay an agreed lower amount. Child support is paid by one parent to the other, but it is for the benefit of the child, to help pay for food, housing, clothing, and other usual living expenses.

The judge may set support at a higher or lower amount than the economic table suggests, but only if the judge can state in writing the reason to deviate from the basic amount in the table.

Temporary Child Support
If you have never had a child support order and a custody or divorce has has been filed, the court can order that child support is paid on a temporary basis while a case is waiting for trial. Completed worksheets are required for a temporary child support order the same as for a final order. To get a temporary child support order, you must file a motion for temporary child support, together with your completed worksheet, and schedule a hearing.

A hearing is scheduled by filing a document called a "Note for Motion Docket." Check with the Clerks office or the Family Court Facilitator to find out when these kind of hearings are held. You must give the other side at least 5 days advance notice that you are scheduling this hearing, and provide the other side with all of the documents you file with the court at least 5 court days before the hearing. He or she may file a work sheet and any other sworn statement in response, but must file it and give it to you at least 1 day before the hearing.

At the hearing, the judge will not listen to live testimony, but will make a decision based upon the appropriate documents which have been filed. The judge will also listen to a brief oral argument from both sides, and then will make an immediate decision for a temporary order.

Final Order
The court will include child support in any final order in any case involving a marriage dissolution (divorce), custody, or paternity. If you had a trial, the judge should have been given live testimony about the incomes of both parents. The judge will want to have completed child support work sheets at the trial. If your case was settled without a trial, the judge will still need the work sheets.

Changing Support
After a final order for child support has been granted by a court from any state, it can be changed only by a judge, and only under certain circumstances. This would happen only after you file a petition to modify child support, together with other necessary documents, and serve the other parent. The other parent will ordinarily have 20 days to file an answer. The judge will not simply go along with your request. For you to get child support changed, you will have to prove that you fall within one of the following situations:
  • There has been a substantial change of circumstances.
  • It has been more than a year since the last support order and the current order works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child.
  • It has been more than a year since the last support order and the child is in another age category under the economic tables.
  • It has been more than a year since the last support order and the child is still in high school and will not graduate until after he or she turns 18, and continued support is needed.
  • It has been more than a year since the last support order and your divorce, custody or paternity decree provided for an automatic adjustment of support.
  • Your order or decree was dated earlier than June 7, 1984 and you are trying to require health insurance coverage or change the current health insurance coverage.
  • More than 24 months have passed since the last order and either parent has had a change in income.
  • More than 24 months have passed since the last order and the economic table or state standards have changed.
  • If child support is changed or modified, the judge will not go back in time to change it before the petition to modify was filed.
Required Forms
To try to change support, several forms will be needed. Many of the following forms will be required in all cases. Some of the forms may be needed in your particular case. They include:
  • Answer (Modification of Child Support)
  • Child Support Order Summary Report
  • Child Support Work Sheets
  • Findings, Conclusion and Order on Petition for Modification of Child Support
  • Motion to Present Oral Testimony (Modification of Child Support)
  • Notice of Hearing
  • Order of Child Support
  • Order of Default (Modification of Child Support)
  • Order on Motion to Present Oral Testimony
  • Petition for Modification of Child Support
  • Request to Schedule Hearing
  • Return of Service
  • Summons for Modification of Child Support
These forms may be purchased as a set from the Yakima County Clerk. The Yakima Valley Regional Library reference desk may have a book of forms you can look at and photocopy. Neither the County Clerk nor the librarian can give you legal advice.

State Laws
There are several statutes and cases which address issues involving child support. It can be very complicated. You are urged to discuss your situation with an attorney. The primary state laws that control changing child support can be found in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 26.09.170. and RCW 26.09.175.

Income Evaluation
Hearings to change child support are usually conducted by the judge reading the relevant portions of the court file, reviewing the child support worksheets and sworn statements or affidavits, and by hearing brief legal arguments on the issues. The law provides that the judge will not listen to live testimony unless the judge gives prior permission. You must provide income information such as pay stubs, W-2 forms and tax returns for the last 2 years. This will help the judge understand the basic economic circumstances of the parents.

Income of a new spouse or another adult in your household is generally not considered in determining the basic amount of child support. However, that information must also be included in the worksheets.

The law assumes that all parents, even if unemployed, can pay at least $25 per month per child. If income information is not available for a parent, for example, because the parent cannot be found, the court can assume that parent earns an amount equal to the state average for workers of the same age and sex. That state average income can be used to fill out the worksheets.

Some parents quit working to try to avoid paying child support. If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court can use a figure based upon the average incomes for workers in the state, or on some other reasonable basis.

State-by-State Child Support
If one parent lives in another state, it may be difficult to change an existing support order in this state. In certain circumstances, the courts in the other state may need to be used instead. Each state has its own laws regarding child support. You are advised to consult with an attorney if the other parent lives in another state.

Child Support & Visitation
Child support and visitation of children have no legal relation. One parent cannot withhold visits simply because the other parent is behind on payments. The other parent cannot withhold paying support simply because he or she has not been able to visit the child. Remember, visits and support are for your child and should not be used as a weapon between parents.

If parents are not following court orders to pay support or allow visitation, the other parent can force them to court by filing a motion for contempt. Contempt can mean jail. It certainly can mean some expenses for the parent who is wrong. The judge can require the parent who is wrong to pay the other parent's attorney's fees!

Using the work sheets, instructions and the child support tables, the law tries to make the process simple, predictable, and uniform across the state. The instructions to the work sheets should answer many questions you have. Yakima County Superior Court cannot give you legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about child support, you should consult with an attorney.

Collecting Support
Parents who are ordered to pay support can be forced to do so through various means. Parents can be brought to court to collect past due child support going back as far as 10 years. A parent may be required to pay support to the Washington State Support Registry rather than directly paying to the other parent. See RCW 26.23.050.

The court may order parents who are behind on paying child support to have the support automatically deducted from their wages. See RCW 26.18.070.

If you are having difficulty collecting child support from the other parent, you may be able to get help from the Office of Support Enforcement at Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), or the Support Enforcement Office of the County Prosecuting Attorney.

Conclusion
Parents must be responsible for caring for their children emotionally and financially. There are limited ways to change the amount of child support that may have been ordered in the past, either to raise it or lower it. Failure to pay support can result in extra expense to the person required to pay it. Children should not be caught in the middle of any dispute between their parents about money. Child support is an adult matter. Please leave your children out of any arguments.

If you cannot resolve your matters with the other parent, the court is available to hear your case once you file the necessary documents. If you have questions or concerns about child support, it is wise to consult with an attorney.

The Yakima Office of Support Enforcement located at 1002 N 16th Avenue in Yakima may be able to answer some of your questions about support. Their phone number in Yakima is 509-575-2138, or 1-800-441-0859.