Can Child Support Be Modified in Washington State?

April 16, 2023


Are you hoping to find a way to modify your child support order in Washington? You might be wondering if it’s possible to do so and if it is an option, how you can get started. The good news is that the basic question can be easily answered. Washington State does allow people to modify custody orders.

However, just because it exists as an option doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. It also can be a complicated process, which means most would recommend you have an experienced Washington family lawyer at your side throughout the process. This person can help determine if professional custody modification is the right answer and can answer questions about the ways it may be done.

If it has been at least two years since the original orders went into effect, child support can be modified in the right set of circumstances. This is often the case if you have circumstances that have changed, such as income or work-related daycare. If you’re considering the idea of modified child support, keep reading to learn all the details that will help you through the process.

Can Child Support Be Modified in Washington State?

It is possible to modify child support in Washington, but there are some requirements that you will need to meet with any support order. While it is possible to alter the order, that doesn’t mean it’s simple enough for someone to do it on their own. It can take quite a bit of time and it’s best to have an expert attorney available to guide you.

Child support is designed to help cover all of the expenses associated with raising a child. This includes all of the basic costs related to a child’s needs, such as education, medical care, food, and shelter. When deciding on the amount of child support, the court considers a variety of factors. Some of the most common include:

  •       How much time a parent spends with the child
  •       The level of need of the child
  •       The income of each parent

If you are concerned about paying more in child support than you can afford, it’s a good idea to make sure the right number is found the first time. However, since modifications are possible, the amount of child support can be altered after the order is in play.

Those who are currently involved in divorce and have concerns about the amount of required support should make a dispute before the ruling is official. This is an easier process and doesn’t have as many requirements as a future modification. Instead, argue at the time about why you should receive more or pay less. The process will be much easier than if you wait until after the order is official.

The Two Methods to Enact Child Support Modification

To change a Washington child support order, there are two options available. The first is to file a Motion for Adjustment of Child Support. The second is to submit a Petition to Modify Child Support. While both can accomplish the same thing, they each have their own requirements. The choice of whether to file one or the other will depend on your specific circumstances.

When you have a Washington family lawyer to count on, this person can give you insight into which method is the better one based on your circumstances. While one method tends to be quicker and easier, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. There might be a good reason to choose the other way to modify the support order.

Motion for Adjustment of Child Support

For those that meet the requirements, a motion for adjustment of child support tends to be easier and can be done more quickly. There is less paperwork to fill out and you may be able to settle the entire process in a single hearing. The issue with choosing this method is that not every person is going to qualify.

So, what are the requirements? If your original order has been in effect for at least two years and either you or your ex’s income has changed, you qualify. There is a second way to qualify for a motion for adjustment. In this case, the order must have been in effect for at least one year and the child must have turned 12 and moved into a different age category.

Petition to Modify Child Support Order

If it turns out that you cannot file the motion above, there is a second option. Assuming the child support order has been in place for at least one year, you can petition to modify a child support order. This can be done if there has been a major change to your economic situation, your child has turned 18 but hasn’t completed high school, or the payments are causing severe financial hardship to the child or yourself.

When Can Child Support Be Modified?

Either of the parents of the child is allowed to file to modify the child support order. However, these payments are considered very crucial. Because of that, most child support modifications require the parent who is filing to show a major change in their circumstances. Some of the scenarios where this might come into play include:

  •       For the parent who is making payments, this may involve a decrease in income, often based on losing a job.
  •       Custodial parents can ask for an increase in support; this is often because the other parent has received a large promotion or raise.
  •       Changes can be made if the parenting time is significantly altered.
  •       A parent who has a child with a new spouse may also ask for a change.
  •       If the child has a change in needs, such as requiring more medical attention, needing regular child care, or having new education costs. If this is related to postsecondary education, the child must be under 18 when the modification is sought.

Can Child Support Be Modified Without a Change in Circumstances?

It depends on your situation. Has it been less than a year since the court determined your support order? If this is the situation, a change in economic circumstances is required to change the child support order.

On the other hand, if it has been over a year since the order was made, it’s possible to modify the order without showing circumstance changes. That doesn’t mean you can choose to move forward without any reason, though. Several criteria will need to be met, including:

  •       If the payments act as an undue burden financially on the child or parent
  •       If the child has aged up and no longer sits in the category that was used for the original calculations
  •       If the child is 18 or older but needs additional support to complete high school

If your child support order was passed at least one year ago and you fit one of the situations above, you are allowed to ask for a child support modification. Keep in mind that this can be a complicated process and there is no guarantee that the court will alter the order. Even if you meet all requirements, the court can be strict about whether to grant or deny the change.

What to Do After Filing to Modify Child Support in Washington?

After you’ve gone through the process of filing for a child support modification, the other parent will need to be served. This means a summons should be delivered. A copy of the petition or motion and any additional documents will be provided to the other parent of the child.

There are a few ways to serve the other parents, but using a professional process server is typically considered the best option. If you already have a Washington family attorney, they can help you get the process started and ensure the other parent is aware you are asking for a child support order modification.

Assuming the other parent is served within Washington, they have 20 days to respond to the petition. For a parent who is outside of the state, this is increased to 60 days for a response. If no response is made, you could receive a default judgment. This means that the order is issued by the court without the other parent making an appearance.

After the papers have been served and the other parent responds, either of you can schedule a hearing. At this point, both of you will go in and make your case and provide any arguments you have for your side. After both of you have stated your claim and all evidence is turned in, the court will rule on whether the child support should be altered.

Modifying child support is a complicated process. There are many boxes to check and there is no guarantee that things will turn out the way you wish. Many courts try to avoid changing existing orders unless it is clear that it’s the best way forward. Because of this, it’s essential to do things right and make sure you have a strong argument.

Work with an Expert Attorney for Your Child Support Needs

Washington State allows either parent of a child to start the process to modify a child support order. However, this can be a complicated set of steps and it’s important to ensure you choose the right method to modify the order. Working with an experienced Washington family lawyer is a great way to ensure everything is done right.

The Aberdeen Law Firm is available in Bellevue, WA, to help with child support order modifications. We also work in arbitration, child custody, divorce, and legal separation situations. If you’re ready to learn more and get the process started, get in contact with us for a free consultation.

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