Child Support

Child Support Law in Washington

Often child support calculations in Washington are a simple manner. However, sometimes child support calculations depend on highly technical inputs coupled with a large amount of discretion. It takes a highly experienced family law attorney to know what a court is likely to do and to guide you efficiently through the process. All parents have an obligation to support their children. In special circumstances, such as a divorce, the State of Washington prescribes how much that support should be. The issue of child support arises nearly whenever there are children involved including: divorces, parenting plan modifications, paternity cases, third party custody actions and in relocation cases.

Child Support Formula

Child support in Washington is largely determined by formulas created by the legislature. However, as with any formula, if you put “junk” into the formula, your answer will be junk too. There are lots of opportunities to put incorrect information into the formula and some of the information called for by the formula is debatable, or in the discretion of the court, so predicting exactly how the court will set the child support is more difficult than it first appears. Parents often make the incorrect assumption that they can simply agree on what the child support should be. You can access the Washington State Child Support Calculator here.

Child Support Complexities

Some of the information that goes into the child support formula is more important or influential on the final outcome than other information. One of the more important pieces of information is the amount of each parent’s income. The court will be concerned about each parent’s current income; however, how one measures “current” income is often debatable or subject to what information is available. Sometimes it is fairly simple to determine current income and sometimes it requires extensive discovery and even the use of financial experts. Parents in business sometimes assume that all of the deductions allowed by the Internal Revenue Service should be deducted from their gross business income and often that is not the case. There is significant room for argument and interpretation regarding whether overtime is included, whether income should be “imputed” or assumed to exist, and what deductions are appropriately subtracted from gross income for child support calculation purposes.


After the “standard calculation” is established, the court may increase or decrease the support by deviating up or down from the standard calculation. Deviations are limited to appropriate circumstances. There is virtually no limit to the facts that can underlie the court’s basis for a deviation and so it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to determine the strength of your deviation argument. Some of the factors the court can consider when deviating are: a) income of other spouses b) non-reoccurring overtime c) involuntarily incurred debt d) the amount of time the children spend with the paying parent and e) support paid to support children from other relationships. Parents cannot simply agree what a deviation should be – the court must make findings why a deviation from the standard calculation is appropriate.

Special Formulas

Courts and attorneys have developed special formulas for different situations. When a couple have more than one child together, and one parent has one child and the other parent has the other child or children, a calculation developed in a case known as Arvey is appropriate. There are several different formulas to calculate support when the children spend a significant amount of time in both households to capture a “residential credit,” but they are not controlling on the court.

Tax Exemptions

One of the more contentious debates between parents is often who will claim the dependent child tax exemption(s). Sometimes accountants will advise a parent that he or she is eligible to take the exemption according to the Tax Code but fail to consider whether a court order has divided the exemption. The court has wide discretion to decide who gets the exemption. Usually, if incomes are close, the exemption(s) are alternated so they are shared evenly, but courts often consider the other financial arrangements between the parents when making this decision and the court is not required to divide the exemption(s) evenly. If you believe the other parent is going to be uncooperative in reimbursing you for extraordinary expenses, or will be late in making a transfer payment, it might be wise to condition the right to claim the exemption on all payments being current. Also, it often beneficial to both parents to give the higher income parent the right to purchase the tax exemption from the other parent.

Day Care, Education, Long Distance and Other Extraordinary Child Rearing Expenses

Day care required for work and school is nearly always provided for and ordered to be paid in proportion of the parent’s incomes. Complications regarding day care may concern debates regarding who is providing the care and whether the provider is actually being paid, particularly when the day care provider is a relative. Private school education costs may be ordered particularly if the parents attended private school or the private school provides an education opportunity not available in a public school or is otherwise beneficial. It is possible to have special education or tutoring ordered. When parents relocate long distances, transportation costs are usually shared in proportion of incomes. Exactly what constitutes “long distance” and what is included in transportation is debatable. The court has discretion to award the sharing of additional expenses such as summer camp, piano lessons, Little League, etc.

Health Insurance

Courts like to see the children covered by health insurance. The health insurance section of the current child support order form is daunting even to judges and experienced family law attorneys. Payment of health insurance premiums effects the child support calculation. It is important to determine the extra amount paid to cover the children, beyond what it costs to cover the parent.


It usually is to the benefit of the parent receiving the child support to ask the Washington State Department of Child Support to collect and help enforce the child support order. However, as the Department of Child Support has its resources cut and its workload increased, private enforcement of payment often may be preferable. There are numerous steps that can be taken to enforce child support orders, including finding the paying parent in contempt of court and garnishing that parent’s bank accounts. Glenn Tanner has negotiated or litigated numerous back child support awards or defended against such judgments. Glenn Tanner also has experience in defending parents against actions brought by the State of Washington through the Department of Child Support or a local prosecutor to establish or collect child support.

Securing the Payment of Support

Caution should be taken to provide for life insurance or other security to provide for the support of the children in case of the paying parent’s death. Special precautions should be taken to assure that the receiving parent is able to verify the security is in place and is adequately funded.

Termination of Support

Child support often terminates when a child reaches 18 or graduates from high school but it can be ordered to terminate earlier or later in appropriate circumstances. If a child is disabled and dependent, it is often possible to have the support ordered well beyond age 18. If the child is self-supporting or emancipated or gets married, the court may terminate support earlier than age 18.

Post Secondary Support

The court can order the parents to support the child in obtaining college education or vocational training. There is no formula for the amount of each parent’s contribution but there are some general guidelines, such as the child enrolling in an accredited school, being in good standing, making available academic records, and not extending support past age 23. Often support is limited to the cost of in-state tuition at Washington State University or the University of Washington, but support can be ordered at private schools in some situations.

Glenn Tanner is Very Experienced Regarding Child Support

Glenn Tanner has worked consistently on child support cases since 1990 and has represented many clients in calculating, changing (modifying), and enforcing child support. He has extensive experience in the nuances involved in obtaining accurate income information so that child support is set properly even if a parent is self-employed, underemployed or hiding income in complicated business records or investments. If you need child support set correctly, contact Glenn Tanner to schedule an appointment.

Summary Regarding Child Support

It can be confusing and frustrating that attorneys, mediators, and judges can all look at the same parents and calculate child support differently. Experienced family law attorneys like Glenn Tanner have special child support calculation software that help keep the multitude of information used in the calculations organized and helps to make it affordable to look at different assumptions. Regardless of your situation, it is important to consult with your attorney as soon as possible so you do not accidentally lose rights. Child support in Washington is largely based on statutes created by your elected legislature and some of those statutes are found on the menu at right.