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What factors do Washington courts use in setting child support?

When a couple with minor children seek a divorce in Washington state, one of their earliest questions concerns child support. Who will pay? How much? How frequently? The specific answers depend upon the financial circumstances of the divorcing couple.

One obvious question may be whether the couple can decide between themselves not to pay child support. Unfortunately for such couples, Washington law requires the court to issue an order providing for child support as part of a divorce, legal separation or parentage action. Thus, the court must order one of the parents to make payments of child support to the other parent. Even if the couple was not married before the child was born, the court must order one of the parents to pay child support.

The "how much" question is usually answered by reference to the state Child Support Schedule. The Schedule includes factors such as the income of each parent, the age of the children, their necessary expenses for clothing, food and medical care. The amount of support is determined by combined family income after taxes and the special circumstances of the family. One or both spouses can request a modification to the Child Support Schedule, but any deviation must be approved by the court. Child support ends on the later of the child reaching the age of 18 or graduating from high school.

If the financial circumstances of either parent changes after the divorce and issuance of a child support order, either parent can file a motion with the court to change the amount of support. For example, if the non-custodial parent's financial circumstances improve, the custodial parent may seek to increase the amount of child support.

Anyone who is considering a divorce that will involve minor children may wish to consult an experienced family lawyer for advice on child custody or child support. A knowledgeable attorney can provide much helpful information, including the likely amount of child support.