Outside of child custody, child support is oftentimes the most contentious aspect of a divorce. If you are a parent, you should know quite well how strong your emotions can become in any situation where the future wellbeing of your children is the topic of discussion.
Add that to an already volatile dissolution of a marriage and there is the potential for serious conflict. If the divorcing parents are unable to agree on child support, the decision will be left to the court.
Once the court has determined which parent should pay child support (the “obligor”), the court then will calculate how much the parent should pay.
The court will consider numerous factors when calculating child support payments, all of which should have the needs and best interests of the child at their core.
Below we have detailed five common factors the court will consider. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily an all-inclusive list. Neither is this blog intended as legal advice for your specific child support case. If you would like advice specific to your situation, please call the Law Office of Kenneth J. Levey today.
The court will consider the gross income of both parents. Gross income is the total amount of income you receive before any deductions are made such as for taxes, 401k plans, etc. Income is defined very broadly by the State of Washington and can include salary, pension payments, interest income, and much more.
Allowable deductions from gross income
There are certain things you can deduct from your gross income for the court’s consideration, such as federal income tax, Social Security/Medicare, voluntary 401k contributions (up to the current cap of $417/mo.), and mandatory pension contributions. Your total income after these deductions, better known as net income, will be considered by the court.
Custody and parenting plan
The parenting plan you develop will factor into the court’s calculations of child support. If the custody is closer to a 50/50 split, then chances are good that the child support payments will be lower or even nonexistent, since both parents will be spending an equal amount of time providing for the child. If the children spend much more time with one parent, then the other parent probably will pay the “standard” or close to the standard amount of support given that the other parent will be providing for all of the children’s needs all or most of the time.
Other support payments
The court will consider whether the obligor is already paying other forms of support, such as child support from a previous marriage, or alimony (called “spousal maintenance” in Washington). The court’s goal is not to bankrupt the obligor, but simply to ensure that the needs of the children are fully provided for during and following a divorce.
In cases where a parent does not submit proof of income, or the court determines that the obligor is voluntarily unemployed, the court may impute income, which means that the court commissioner or judge will determine an income figure upon which to base the child support calculations. The court generally will assume that the obligor is able to work a full time job unless the obligor demonstrates otherwise. The court will base the income figure on facts available to the court, such as historical income, full time earnings at minimum wage for the jurisdiction, or even the median income for a person of the obligor’s age and gender in the US.