Sometimes in a Washington child support case, a parent may seek credit for expenses during their residential time or a modification of the custody arrangement in an effort to reduce child support payments. However, the parent must show adequate cause to modify the parenting plan to change the custody arrangement. A Washington appeals court recently considered a husband’s efforts to reduce his child support obligation.
The parties divorced after approximately 11 years of marriage. The agreed parenting plan allowed equal residential time with the two children, and other agreed orders required the husband to pay $1,700 in child support and $900 in maintenance each month.
In 2012, the husband moved to adjust child support due to the child care expenses he paid while he had the kids. The court denied the motion, noting a residential credit could not be considered in a motion for adjustment but should instead be raised in a petition to modify. A couple of months later, the husband filed a petition to modify the child support. The court found he failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and denied the petition. It also awarded the wife attorney’s fees and costs.
The husband filed another petition in 2014. He sought a deviation from the standard calculation for the expenses incurred during his residential time. The court denied the petition, finding no legal basis for the modification. The court did not award fees to the wife but warned the husband it would do so if he sought a modification again without a sufficient legal basis.
In 2017, the husband petitioned to make a “minor” modification to the parenting plan. He requested an increase in his residential time and a decrease in child support from $1,781 to $800. In his proposed motion, he stated the children would be ineligible for financial aid. He proposed the modification of the residential schedule and an adjustment to the child support order to “free up” funds to be set aside for the kids’ education. He proposed recalculation of support as either a fixed amount, full residential credit, or anything between the two.
The wife moved to dismiss the petition, arguing the husband had not shown a substantial change in circumstances to justify the major modification. She moved to adjust child support, due to the change in age brackets for her son since the last order. The husband argued the wife would still be able to meet the budget, and he would be able to set aside money for the children’s education if the court granted his petition.
The commissioner pointed out the husband had petitioned to modify the parenting plan, instead of the child support order. The commissioner denied the petition to modify the parenting plan and noted there was no petition to modify child support before it. The commissioner then granted the wife’s motion to adjust the support and awarded her attorney’s fees.
Later in 2017, the husband moved to revise the commissioners’ ruling. He stated he was not seeking a deviation based on a residential credit. Instead, he was seeking a deviation under RCW 26.19075(1)(C), based on debt and high expenses. The court denied his motion and awarded attorney’s fees to the wife. The husband appealed.
The appeals court found the husband had abandoned the issue of residential credit, and that issue was therefore not before the court. The husband argued the court erred by awarding more than the standard calculation without entering findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court noted that the payment was the standard calculation, but the husband argued it deviated upward due to the child-related expenses he incurred during his residential time that should be included in the calculation. The appeals court found, however, that the statute clearly provides that this type of expense is not included in the standard calculation. It may be considered in the court’s discretion in deciding on a requested deviation. The court found, however, there was no deviation. The appeals court awarded the wife attorney’s fees and costs and affirmed the court’s decision.
The trial court denied the husband’s motion for residential credit due to a lack of substantial change. The Commissioner indicated the husband’s subsequent efforts to modify the parenting plan were “about money and nothing else.…” The husband’s repeated efforts to reduce his child support obligation worked against him when he sought to modify the parenting plan.
If you are facing a divorce or custody issue, a skilled Washington family law attorney can assist you with your case. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC at (206) 622-6562 or contact us online to discuss your case.
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