–by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Family Law Attorney
How do you adjust child support in Washington State? If you have an administrative child support order, contact your support enforcement officer. If you have a court-issued support order, complete the forms available on Washington’s Court Forms website under Family Law > Child Support > Adjust Child Support Order. Then file the court forms along with a calendar note, provide the jurist with working copies, and serve the documents on the opposing party(ies).
The remainder of this article explains in more detail and answers related questions.
Table of Contents
I. What Is an Adjustment of Child Support
II. How to Adjust an Administrative Child Support Order
III. How to Adjust a Court-Issued Child Support Order
I. What Is an Adjustment of Child Support? There are two ways to change child support – by 1) adjustment and 2) modification. An adjustment is a quick method intended for simple changes. By comparison, a modification is a more extensive procedure intended for complex changes.
An adjustment usually takes about two weeks from beginning until end. Any requested change that does not qualify as complex is allowable. Commonly adjustments involve using the same calculation formula as in the current order but merely plugging in the parties’ new incomes. The process is by “motion”, a request for small relief.
On the other hand, a modification typically takes three months or longer. More complex child support issues MUST proceed by modification. The delineation between simple and complex is a gray area, but complex issues generally include 1) imputing income to a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed party, 2) addressing deviations from the standard support calculation, 3) deciding whether to extend the economic table when the parties’ combined incomes exceed $12,000 per month, and 4) changing language in the child support order, such as adding a provision for post-secondary support. The modification process often involves a petition (a request for the court to make a large decision), a motion for temporary orders (optional), and an arbitration (an informal trial).
Most people would prefer to change child support by adjustment rather modification if the change is simple enough. Adjusting rather than modifying saves time, effort, and money.
There must be a valid reason to adjust the current child support order. A valid reason is any relevant change in circumstances that occurred after entry of the current child support order. For example, a change in 1) the parties’ incomes or 2) the state’s child support economic table (the presumptive formula for calculating support) is sufficient to adjust child support.
II. How to Adjust an Administrative Child Support Order. There are two types of child support orders in Washington – 1) administrative child support orders implemented by DSHS’s Division of Child Support (DCS) and administrative law judges and 2) court-issued child support orders. We have a separate article on the differences between these two.
If you have an administrative child support order, DCS will probably help you adjust it free of charge. Just contact your support enforcement officer. Administrative orders can usually be reviewed or adjusted annually.
III. How to Adjust a Court-Issued Child Support Order. Generally a court-issued child support order cannot be adjusted until at least twenty-four months have passed since entry of the current child support order. Sometimes the order shortens the waiting period to one year.
Often DCS will help adjust court-issued child support orders, though the department might only be willing to assist you once every three years. Even if DCS would be willing to assist, some parties elect to represent themselves or hire their own attorneys. DCS is a neutral party rather than your advocate.
If you elect to file your own motion for adjustment, you will need to understand how child support works. We have a separate article on Calculating Child Support: The Basics.
You will also need to complete the following documents from Washington’s Court Forms Website: Motion to Adjust Child Support Order, Confidential Information Form, a Case Cover Sheet, Washington State Child Support Worksheets, a Financial Declaration, a Sealed Financial Source Documents Cover Sheet (attach proof of your income), an Order on motion to Adjust Child Support Order, and a proposed Child Support Order (click here for an article on how to complete a child support order). You can find all these forms under Family Law > Child Support > Adjust Child Support Order. The documents are supposed to be self-explanatory.
You should also prepare a declaration explaining why the court should grant your motion. Click here for an article on writing declarations in support of a motion.
Next you should complete a calendar note or hearing notice setting the hearing location, date, and time. Typically you can download this form from the county superior court’s website. Larger counties have calendar notes specifically for domestic or family law cases; make sure you use the correct calendar note for your case type. If you’re confused about the county’s local rules and calendar note, make sure to speak briefly with a local attorney, LLLT, or family law facilitator. Facilitators are the least expensive option at $10 per session. They can only answer basic questions, but that should be enough.
Lastly, follow the instructions in our separate article on the process of filing a motion. The process described there is the same as when adjusting a court-issued child support order.
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