Common Questions Regarding Child Support
Making important decisions about your family's future can be difficult -- and learning about the legal avenues that can make those changes happen can also be hard. These frequently asked questions are here to help those who are learning about filing for child support in Seattle.
Do you have a question that isn't addressed below? Contact us today to talk to an experienced Seattle child support attorney.
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How can I prove financial hardship to change my child support payments?
As a condition of your divorce in the state of Washington, you may be required to pay child support to your ex-spouse. Typically, this is a monthly payment that is intended to help pay for basic needs, including food, clothing, housing, healthcare, daycare, and educational expenses for your child. Child support isn’t intended to be a punitive measure or to leave one parent destitute, especially in the face of sudden, unexpected financial hardship such as a layoff. If certain conditions are met, your child support can be adjusted or modified if your financial situation takes a turn for the worse.
Child Support Adjustment in Washington
There are two different processes through which child support payment amounts can be changed in Washington: adjustment, and modification. The process of adjustment must typically wait at least 24 months (two years) since the last child support order or adjustment was made. Although the two-year time restriction is lengthy, the actual process can be relatively fast, as it doesn’t need to go to trial. Your attorney will file a motion before the family court showing that your income has changed, and a family law commissioner will review the situation, often within a matter of weeks. However, the adjustment is limited. It can only alter the monthly amount that you pay, so if you’re looking for deeper changes to the agreement, you’ll have to go through the process of modification instead.
Child Support Modification Process
Unlike an adjustment, the modification process may be engaged at any time; however, it will take considerably more time, and it requires a trial. If you live in King County, it will be trial by affidavit, meaning all evidence must be in writing, and oral arguments will be made by the attorneys. Forms will need to be completed, and documents will be served to your ex-spouse, as well. Modification is best when the income of one parent has significantly increased or decreased—for example, by a substantial pay raise or a sudden layoff. It can take months to make a modification ruling, but the ruling will likely also be rendered retroactive to the date of filing. You will also be required to show a “substantial change of circumstances” in order for the court to consider your request.
It’s important to note that there are certain situations for which the court is not willing to adjust your child support transfer payment, including the following:
- Voluntary unemployment. If have lost your job due to a layoff or other unforeseen circumstance, you’ll be required to show evidence that you are looking for work, or you will be considered “voluntarily unemployed” and ineligible for a change.
- Stay-at-home parenting. Unless there are special circumstances, such as a child with extraordinary care needs that require you to stay home, remaining unemployed as a homemaker is considered voluntary unemployment.
- Going back to school. Unless you can demonstrate that furthering your education is critical to obtaining work, the court will generally demand that your first obligation is to earn money to pay for your financial obligation to your child. There may be exceptions to this rule such as a Workfirst diploma program or an English as a Second Language program.
- Part-time work. Unless there is a specific (and usually court-ordered) reason, part-time work is considered voluntary underemployment. Your child support payments will likely still be calculated as though you were working full-time.
- Changing positions solely to avoid child support. The court will not consider it a valid reason to lower your payments, and you may end up in a lot of trouble.
If your child support obligation would put you below federal poverty guidelines, there are options, and the court will take this into consideration. However, you may be required to pay a minimum of $50 per month, unless even this can be shown to be a hardship. If you are in prison, disabled, or on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other public assistance, the court may instead order a deviation from the state’s Child Support Schedule, lowering your payment to $0.
Get Help From a Child Support Attorney
If you’ve recently lost your job or suffered a severe financial setback and are having trouble with your child support payments, don’t despair. A qualified lawyer can help you decide whether adjustment or modification is the right process for you. To speak to an experienced family law attorney today, call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny to arrange a private consultation in our Bellevue law office.
Can low-income parents get help paying child support?
It’s possible, but you will have to act quickly. Once the court has your basic support obligation, you will have a much harder time getting the court to lower your payments based on your financial situation. If you are able to show that your financial circumstances do not allow for the basic amount of child support, your payments may be set at a rate that you are able to afford.
How Low-Income Parents in Washington Can Lower Their Child Support Payments
By law, the court must order a support amount that is less than the basic support obligation if a parent is considered “very low income.” Here are a few examples of when your support should be lowered:
- If paying a basic support payment would reduce your income below the federal poverty line. If a basic support order would put you below the poverty line, you may only be asked to pay up to $50 per month per child.
- If your calculated child support amount is more than 45 percent of your income. The law requires that your total support payments be less than 45 percent of your after-tax income.
Non-custodial parents should note: under Washington law, if you and your ex-spouse’s combined income is over $12,000, you may not be able to use the basic support obligation.
How Can I Tell If I Qualify for These Exceptions?
There are many ways to get help with your child support schedule. The child support worksheets offered by the Division of Child Support (DCS) can help you determine which situations apply to you. You can click the contact link on this page to ask us a question about your estimated payments and you can also order a copy of our free divorce guide, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Divorce in Washington.
What if I am having trouble with child support from someone other than my ex-spouse?
Many custodial parents find that child support problems extend much further than their ex-spouses. Parents who cannot get payments for past support may have difficulties dealing with their ex-spouse’s employers, business partners, or other agencies who have been instructed to forward payments.
What Types of Actions Can Be Considered Child Support Non-Compliance in WA?
If a person, business, or other agent has been instructed to remit payment, or provide support for your child, but has not done so, he or she may be guilty of non-compliance. Non-compliance is a failure to take any action that has been requested by a subpoena, income-withholding demand, or even an initial inquiry that has been issued by the state child support enforcement agency.
Some examples of noncompliance include:
- Failure to respond to an inquiry from a child support enforcement agency
- Failure to comply to the requests of a subpoena issued by a child support enforcement agency
- Failure to return an answer to an income-withholding demand
- Failure to withhold support despite being served a lien
- Failure to deliver withheld support funds to the child support enforcement agency
- Failure to enroll qualified children in an available medical plan
What Can DCS Do About Non-Compliance?
If you suspect that someone has purposely not responded to a child support enforcement demand, you should notify the Division of Child Support (DCS) right away. DCS has the authority to fine the non-compliant entity in order to get them to pay more quickly. You may also wish to have the circumstances investigated by an attorney to see if there is any criminal wrong-doing contributing to non-payment. If you want to get to the bottom of your child support problems, click the link on this page to ask us a question about your case.
What can I do if too much child support money is being withheld from my paycheck?
It is not uncommon for non-custodial parents in Seattle to fall on hard times and be unable to both support themselves and make court-ordered payments for the care of their children. Fortunately, the Division of Child Support (DCS) will often work with parents to tweak the current payment plan until the full amount is paid.
If you live in Washington State and you believe you are paying too much in child support, you can:
- Contact your Support Enforcement Officer (SEO) – You may be able to negotiate the amount of your payments, and discuss relief measures if you are suffering financial hardship.
- Complete a Resource Statement – In the process of negotiating your child support payment, your SEO may ask you to complete a form that outlines your monthly bills, assets, and expenses to discover where money will be best appropriated.
- Ask about the Escalation Clause – DCS may allow you to pay less toward back child support in the coming months and increase the amount later, allowing you to pay more support after you have paid your current bills.
- Consider a Waiver – DCS may agree to a lesser payment for back support if you sign a Waiver of the Statute of Limitations. However, you should read the terms of the Waiver carefully or have your attorney look it over to see if it is the right choice for you.
- Request a Conference Board – If you and your SEO cannot come to a repayment agreement, you will have to file a request for a DCS Conference Board to meet and offer a decision on how to move forward.
It is important to remember that DCS is supposed to work with you, but while they will consider your needs, they must give more weight to the needs of your child. To find out more about modifying your monthly child support payments, click the related links on this page or download our FREE book, The Thinking Man's Guide to Divorce in Washington.
How can I make sure I get child support payments if my ex is in a different country?
In most cases, getting child support payments from a non-custodial parent is just a matter of setting up a regular bank account transfer. However, if your spouse owes back payments, or has not been making payments on time, the Washington State Division of Child Support (DCS) can intercede on your behalf.
DCS can take action against non-custodial spouses living in:
- Foreign countries – To get child support payments from a different country, DCS may be able to work with foreign officials to enforce the child support order. If the country does not have reciprocity with Washington, you may have to take legal action against your ex-spouse to collect payment.
- Other states – DCS does have the ability to enforce support if the non-custodial parent lives in a different state. Usually this will involve DCS contacting the state child support agency that has jurisdiction over your ex and request that they enforce the support order. However, once the case has been sent to another jurisdiction, you may have to deal exclusively with that other jurisdiction to take additional actions in your case.
- Indian reservations – If the non-custodial parent lives on an Indian reservation, DCS will contact the tribal government to request payment. DCS may work together with the State Tribal Relations Unit if your ex resides on a reservation, is employed in an Indian-owned business, or is otherwise living on trust land. In some cases, the order may be referred to the tribal court for enforcement.
To find out if you need an attorney on your side to help collect payment from your ex, click the link on this page to download our FREE book, The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Divorce in Washington, or fill out the short contact form on this page to ask us a question about your case.
Am I still owed child support if the father is unemployed?
Normally, if a non-custodial parent defaults on child support payments, the Division of Child Support can take action to collect, such as withholding the parent’s income. But what if the parent does not have a job, loses his job, or owes back child support?
You, and your child, are owed child support payments even if the non-custodial parent does not have a job. In order collect child support from an unemployed father (or mother), DCS will take other collection actions in lieu of wages, including:
- Unemployment benefits – DCS can take possession of up to half of a parent’s unemployment benefits and redirect the funds to the Washington State Support Registry (WSSR) for the custodial parent’s use. If half of the amount of your benefits is not enough to cover the amount due, the unemployed parent is still responsible for the difference.
- Bank balances – DCS may collect any funds held in the unemployed parent’s bank account, or property held in safety deposit boxes, as well as taking possession of any cash settlements from lawsuits that the parent has won.
- Unearned benefits – DCS may take any income provided by workers’ compensation, pensions (that are not protected by federal law), and any other non-earned funds such as cash gifts and give them to the custodial parent.
Even if DCS collects funds from the non-custodial parent on your child’s behalf, it is likely that the amount will not be enough to provide for your family. Most courts allow the custodial parent a “basic support” schedule, which is the minimum amount a non-custodial parent must pay. However, there are often additional expenses not laid out on the schedule, such as the child’s educational costs, traveling costs to visit family members, and unforeseen medical costs—getting payment for these after a schedule has been set can be tricky.
Want to know exactly how much child support you are owed, or if you can increase the amount of your current benefits? Click the link on this page to download our FREE booklet, The Savvy Woman's Guide to Divorce in Washington.
Can I Terminate My Parental Rights and Stop Paying Child Support?
Relinquishing your parental rights is a somber matter, one that cannot happen without the input and approval of a judge and the custodial parent. Even if you were to have your parental rights terminated, it would not eliminate your obligation to pay child support and other financial responsibilities unless it was in conjunction with an adoption by someone else, not necessarily a remarriage.
The bottom line: if you are wondering, "Can I terminate my parental rights?" know that although there are some limited circumstances in which you could, you cannot easily end your responsibility to pay child support.
Determining the Best Route for You
Each case is different, and every individual and family has different needs and circumstances. What works well for one family, may not be advisable in your situation.
The following cases especially need strong parental leadership.
- Chronic hardship
It’s important to know what your rights and responsibilities are so that you can make decisions that are in alignment with the law and that best suit you and your children.
If you have questions about the termination of parental rights, you are encouraged to call our office to schedule a consultation. Once we evaluate your case and understand your story, we can help you decide if and how to move forward. There may be additional options and factors that you’ve yet to consider, so avoid taking legal action until an attorney has reviewed your case.
Termination of Parental Rights in Washington
Like so many other areas of child custody law, judges in Washington State base their decisions on what is best for the child in question. It rarely benefits the child to have his or her mother or father give up all contact and legal responsibility just to avoid paying child support. Even if you do manage to terminate your rights and stop future payments, you will owe past child support payments.
Before giving up your parental rights under any circumstances, it is vital to understand the lasting legal repercussions of such an act. You will not have the right to see, contact, or spend time with your children. You would also not have any input on how to raise your children. Completely relinquishing your rights to help determine the best path for you children is a dramatic, life-altering, long-term decision that is not to be taken lightly or hinged upon finances.
Do you have a legal question about the termination of parental rights or Washington State child custody laws? Speak to a Seattle family lawyer at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today by calling 425-460-0550.
If my spouse is in violation of the parenting plan, am I still required to pay child support?
Yes. In Washington state, one is still required to pay child support, even if the other parent has failed to comply with the parenting plan. You should contact a Bellevue attorney to assist you in holding the other party in contempt for violation of the parenting plan though.
What Are the Consequences of Not Paying Child Support in Washington State?
Washington State realizes how important it is that children receive the financial support that they need – and that often both parents should be responsible for contributing to that effort. However, one-fourth of those who have been ordered to pay child support in Washington don’t pay the full amount owed, while another one-fourth pay nothing at all.
So What Could Happen If I Don't Pay Child Support?
- Your wages, unemployment, or other income could be garnished.
- A lien could be filed on your personal property.
- Your personal property could be seized, such as your vehicle.
- Your credit score could be damaged.
- You may not be able to apply for or renew a passport.
- You may not be able to receive your tax refund.
- Your name could be placed on the Washington Division of Child Support Most Wanted list.
- Your driver’s license could become suspended.
- You could be held in contempt of court.
If you cannot pay child support due to a change in your income or other circumstance, it is important to inform the court immediately.
Our legal library, blog and FAQ's are full of helpful information about child support laws and address different issues you may be experiencing. If you need legal assistance with a child support payment issue, you can also speak with a Seattle child custody attorney today by calling (425) 460-0550.
What If I Cant Afford My Child Support Payments?
If you suffer a change in your life, such as a job loss, lowered income, or medical emergency, you could suddenly find yourself struggling to make your child support payments. When this takes place, it is vital for you to immediately contact the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services child support division and let them know about your situation. From there, you will likely make a motion to have your child support payments modified to reflect your current situation.
To request a child support payment modification, you must prove that your circumstances have changed since the initial agreement through paystubs, bills, doctor’s notes, and any other pertinent information. If your circumstances have not changed and you still cannot pay your child support, you may need to analyze your budget, spending, and lifestyle.
If you stop paying child support and do not attempt to modify your payments, you could be found to be in contempt of court – and you could face serious consequences.
Are you having difficulty with your child support payments because of a changed circumstance? Speak with a Mercer Island divorce attorney today and resolve your situation.
Can I Still Owe Child Support If I Never Married The Childs Mother?
You can absolutely owe child support to the mother or father of your child even if you never married her. In fact, you may even owe back child support in some cases. Although child custody and child support are often issues that are part of a divorce, they do not have to be. Child support has nothing to do with legal marriage. A parent can seek child support from the other parent as long as they can prove that the other parent is indeed the biological mother or father. For more information your individual case, speak to a child custody and support family law attorney in your area.
Can I Stop Paying Child Support If My Employment Changes?
If your income changes significantly in the years after a child support order has been issued in Washington State, you can indeed petition the court to review your case and lower the amount that you need to pay. However, can only ask for a child support case review if your pay has changed significantly (more than 10%) and if it has been over a year since the last change in your order. You absolutely cannot simply stop paying child support if you lose your job – you must contact the Division of Child Support (DCS) of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and alert them to your situation.