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.