How Does Joint Custody Affect Child Support in Bellevue, WA?

February 1, 2022

Among the issues you worry about when divorcing, none are probably so important as those that affect the well-being of your children. Courts in the state of Washington share your concern and view the welfare of any children involved in a divorce as a primary issue in the dissolution of the marriage. If you and your spouse get along and can work together to establish custody and child support plans, that is ideal. Contentious divorces are harder on everyone, though sometimes they are unavoidable.

Particularly vulnerable to the stress of parents in conflict are your children. This is part of the reason why courts concern themselves with the well-being of those involuntary participants in your divorce.

Protecting Your Children in Washington

The most important thing you can do to lessen the negative emotional impacts of divorce on children is to minimize their exposure to the inherent conflict that may exist between their parents. Work to provide structure, stability, and compassionate care for your child as best you can when you, yourself, are likely emotionally spent.

Another way you can protect your child from the negative impact of your divorce is to ensure they are financially cared for in the financial plans made by you and your spouse for once the marriage is dissolved. In this way, you can be certain they will be able to maintain the lifestyle they have become accustomed to, and disruption can be minimized.

Your Children Have Two Parents

In the view of the state of Washington, both parents should share the responsibilities of raising their children. This is true even in cases of divorce. Normally the kids will live with one parent most of the time. Other times they will live with each parent for equal amounts of time.

Washington law requires that the parenting arrangements developed in the divorce process help each parent maintain a stable, nurturing relationship with their children. These arrangements should take into consideration the children’s individual development level and the social and economic circumstances of the family.

If you and your spouse agree on the parenting and custody arrangements for your kids, the court will often approve your agreement. If you and your spouse cannot agree, the court will make the decision based on the standard of what is in the best interest of the child.

Joint Custody is Ideal in Washington

Because a relationship with both parents is crucial to the development of children, providing a way in which they can have meaningful and substantial interactions with each parent is the best option. Joint custody can create a scenario that makes the best out of a difficult situation. Though joint custody can have an impact on the way child support is calculated, it may not make as much difference as you might think.

Child Support Orders Are Required by Law in Washington

It is significant to know that, even if parents appear in divorce court in total agreement about the financial support of their children, the court will still issue a child support order. This is because legislated law in Washington state requires this. The court may agree with your arrangement provided it doesn’t deviate too much from the Washington State Child Support Schedule (WSCSS), but, even so, a court order will be issued.

How Child Support Is Calculated in Washington

Your child support award will depend on your custody arrangement and the income of each parent. Normally, the parent who does not have primary custody will pay child support to the custodial parent. The custodial parent does have a responsibility for child support as well, but the court assumes that the parent with primary custody is spending money directly on the child.

The State of Washington has published a schedule that works much like tax tables for figuring taxes. Based on these child support guidelines, the court determines the basic child support amounts. The court has discretion when finalizing child support amounts based on factors not included in the WSCSS.

Although a child support order is intended to cover the basic needs of each child in your marriage, there are other expenses both parents are expected to share. These include money for your children’s education or medical care. Additionally, both parents are expected to share the cost of travel for visitations.

Deviations in Child Support Amounts

In certain circumstances, the court can deviate from the child support requirements outlined in the WSCSS. One example of this is when the income of your household is greater than the $12,000 maximum formula in the state guide. In these cases, the income is considered, and the court can grant an extrapolation that extends the table and figures a more appropriate child support amount based on the higher income.

Another instance in which a deviation might be granted is when parents maintain a joint custody arrangement that is considered “equal custody.” In other words, when the kids spend half their time with one parent and half their time with another, the court may take a slightly different approach when determining an appropriate child support amount.

One way a court might do this is to look at the total net income of both parents combined and figure the percentage each parent contributes to the total. Then the court can apply that percentage to the basic child support amount from the guide. So if Parent A makes 40% of the net total income and Parent B makes 60%, then Parent A would be responsible for 40% of the child support amount while Parent B would be responsible for 60%.

From the perspective of the court, this is the fairest way of addressing equal custody child support issues. Child support law in Washington doesn’t offer any guidelines for these situations, so this is one of two ways courts have decided this issue.

Expenses Beyond the Basic Child Support Amount

In the state of Washington, the base child support formula is intended to cover housing, food, and clothing. Beyond these minimum expenses are three broad categories not covered by the base formula amount. These are:

  • Health care costs – including medical, dental, prescriptions, and other costs for children with special needs
  • Daycare or school costs – including tuition and travel costs to and from daycare
  • Extra-curricular activities – including sports, camps, music lessons, etc.

Courts generally split these costs based on each parent’s income. When the parents make equal amounts of money, these costs can be split 50/50. Where the father makes twice as much money as the mother does, he will pay 2/3 of these costs.

Does Child Support End in Washington?

Child support orders normally end when a child turns 18 or when they graduate high school, whichever event happens later. There are occasions when child support has been ordered to extend beyond this time, such as when a child has special needs and is found to be dependent. Other times, support can be extended when college or vocational school expenses have been ordered.

Can a Child Support Order be Changed in Washington?

Even in cases where you and your spouse have agreed to certain financial support arrangements for your children, changes in circumstances can occur that would lead you or your spouse to consider modifying the child support order.

If the order is less than a year old, a significant change in circumstances must be demonstrated. This could include the loss of a job or a major medical emergency. Whatever the justification for the request for the change, it must be considered valid in the eyes of the court.

If the order has been in place for more than a year, a major change in financial circumstances does not need to be illustrated. Instead, a court can increase or decrease support if meeting the terms of the support order has somehow created a drastic financial hardship on either parent or on the children.

Child Support and Taxes

Paying child support does not qualify as a tax break and parents who are receiving the support on their children’s behalf do not have to report it as income. Custodial parents typically claim a dependent deduction or child tax credit for each child. Sometimes, in joint custody situations, parents may share the deduction. One parent can claim the deduction in even years, and the other parent claims it during odd years.

The Goal of Child Support in Washington

The overall goal of child support is to create a scenario in which kids are cared for in a way that protects their well-being. The design of the child support guide for Washington is to ensure that both parents are sharing the responsibilities of raising their children physically, emotionally, and financially. The idea is to do this in a way that is fair and just, however, this does not always mean it is equal.

You love your children, and you want the best for them. If you’re considering joint custody, it’s an indicator that you are willing to work with your spouse to raise your children together in a way that benefits them in the long term. So, it’s only natural that you and your spouse consider together a financial arrangement that can be a benefit to all involved, especially your kids.

An Experienced Family Law Attorney Can Assist You in Washington

Although you and your spouse are working together for the good of your children, there may be issues that arise where the help from a seasoned family law attorney could be of benefit to you. Child support guidelines may seem straightforward but can become complex depending on each family’s financial situation. The Aberdeen Law Firm would be happy to provide you with a no-obligation consultation with one of our attorneys to see if we can help you. Contact us today.

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