This article explains the basics of calculating child support in Washington State. The government has written a more formal guide to calculating child support, but many readers find it overwhelming. Our law firm recommends reading our basic guide first, and then if you want more information, the government’s guide.
There are two authorities who issue child support orders in Washington: 1) state courts and 2) the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). This article focuses on court-ordered child support, though the two authorities calculate child support in nearly identical ways.
1) The Basic Concepts. Good news: Washington has simplified child support calculations by adopting a standardized child support formula. Plug information into an equation, and it tells you the presumptive child support amount. Even better news: the state has developed a free online child support calculator that can do the math for you. But do not use the calculator yet – read the rest of this article so you understand how to use the calculator properly.
Child support disputes tend to center around the incomes each party plugs into the child support calculator. The child support amount goes up 1) as payor’s net income increases and 2) as the recipient’s net income decreases.
Most types of income should be included, such as overtime, wages from a second job, and bonuses. But there are nonetheless types of income that should be excluded, such as non-recurring income (one-time gifts, prizes, and bonuses). You can find a list of all the excludable types of income by clicking the link in this sentence.
State law also instructs courts to ‘impute’ a party with income if he or she is voluntarily under-employed. Imputing income means to plug into the formula the income the person could earn if he or she tried to become fully employed. For example, a party should be imputed at his or her former income if he or she works fewer hours to avoid paying child support. As might come as a surprise, Washington’s case law says to impute a party who quits a job to get a school degree, as a well as to impute a parent who stays home to care for the parties’ children.
After determining the parties’ incomes and plugging them into the child support calculator, Washington law requires ‘worksheets’ showing the math. The online calculator automatically generates these worksheets, which can be printed.
Line 17 of the worksheets contains the ‘standard transfer payment’ for each parent. The standard transfer payment is what the formula indicates the non-primary care parent (non-custodial parent) should normally pay the primary care parent (custodial parent) on a monthly basis. Even though the worksheets list standard transfer amounts for both parents, only the non-primary care parent pays.
2) Extending the Economic Table. Washington’s child support formula only extends to a combined monthly income of $12,000 for the parties. The result is that the standard transfer payment for higher earning parents does not rise much after it reaches this threshold. This is sometimes called the ‘maximum presumptive amount of child support’.
If you are a primary care parent affected by this maximum, you can argue for an extrapolated economic table. An extrapolated economic table extends beyond $12,000 total income, allowing for higher child support figures. Unfortunately, you might need an attorney to argue for extrapolation. It usually requires software only accessible to legal professionals, such as SupportCalc.
3) Deviations. Though courts usually set child support at the standard transfer amount, they occasionally adopt different figures. Adopting a figure that differs from the standard transfer amount is called ‘deviating’. Washington’s child support statute essentially lists all the possible deviations; the court generally will not deviate unless it is for one of the listed reasons. The most common deviations are:
- Substantial Visitation (Residential Credit). Child support can deviate downward if the non-primary care parent has substantial residential time with the child(ren). Substantial residential time usually means more than 90 overnights with the child(ren) each year, and the deviation can nearly eliminate child support for parents who have relatively equal amounts of residential time. Notably, this deviation only applies if the primary care parent will still have adequate funds to support his or her household. By definition a primary care parent would not have sufficient funds if he or she already receives financial assistance from the state.
- Very Little Visitation. Child support can deviate upwards if the non-primary care parent has little or no residential time with the child(ren). No visitation often results in an upward deviation of approximately 20%.
- Other Children. Child support can deviate downward if the non-primary care parent also supports other children from different relationships. When deciding whether to apply this deviation, judges usually consider the parties’ relative financial positions. If the court elects to deviate on this basis, it usually applies the ‘whole family formula’. In essence, the whole family formula is a means of calculating a bulk discount. The court does not need to apply the whole family formula; it can calculate the deviation however the court sees as fair.
4) Extraordinary Expenses. In addition to the monthly transfer payment, certain types of special expenses are divided between the parties based upon their proportionate shares of income. The parties’ proportionate shares of income are listed on line 6 of the worksheets.
These special expenses used to be called ‘extraordinary expenses’, though Washington child support statute no longer contains this term. They include:
- Health care costs (premiums and out-of-pocket costs),
- Daycare (usually limited to work-related daycare),
- Transportation costs between the parties homes when the parties live long-distances from each other, and
- Other special child rearing expenses (this is a vague category, but often includes camps and extracurricular activities).
Extraordinary expenses can be listed in the worksheets on lines 10 and 11 therein, in which case the expenses become part of the monthly child support payment. But usually parties only include healthcare premiums on the worksheets, since the premiums tend to be the only extraordinary expenses that remain constant month after month.
Put simply, list the cost of the children’s health insurance on line 10 of the worksheets, but leave the rest of lines 10 and 11 blank.
For the other extraordinary expenses, which vary month to month, the parties pay their proportionate shares if and when the expenses arise. That way they are not part of the standard transfer payment, which is supposed to be a fixed amount every month.
5) Post-Secondary Support. Post-secondary support essentially means support for adult age children. We have a separate article specifically on this subject of post-secondary support for college.
To locate our other free legal articles and videos, visit our website’s resources section. Or call our firm at 866-631-0028 to speak with one of our Washington family law attorneys.