You’re trying your hardest to provide for your children. You want to see them as much as possible, even offering to babysit on your days off—but you’re just not making enough money to make your child support payments while you finish your degree. Will the court understand that you are unable to pay child support until graduation?

When a Washington Court Decides That You Are “Voluntarily Unemployed”

Unfortunately, Washington State courts have strict rules for parents who are not employed and are not disabled. If you are not working and you are not currently receiving public assistance, you must prove to the court that you have a good reason for not working--and in most cases, attending school is not considered a viable reason.

You may be considered “voluntarily unemployed” if:

  • You cannot prove that you have been looking for a job. You must be able to show the court proof that you have been actively seeking employment, such as providing job search records from the unemployment office, copies of any rejection letters from jobs you have applied for, or proof of your regular consultations at an employment agency.
  • You are going to school. If you do not have a job because you are attending school, the court will usually consider you voluntarily unemployed because they believe that your first priority should be to work to support your children. Exceptions may be granted if you can prove to the court that your earning abilities rely on your finishing school first, such as a school program you entered through WorkFirst, taking English as a Second Language (ESL), or getting your high school diploma.
  • You are a stay-at-home parent. In most cases, choosing to stay at home to care for children is considered voluntary unemployment. However, the court may make an exception if you can argue that your staying at home is not "voluntary," such as if one (or more) of your children has special needs.

If you do not have any income to report to the child care officer, a Washington court may base your child support amount on what they believe you could potentially earn—whether it is a fair figure or not, you will be obligated to pay. To learn more about your rights in child support and custody cases, click the link on this page to begin reading our FREE book, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Divorce in Washington.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington