Articles Posted in Child Support, Parenting Plans

Legal News GavelCourts have broad discretion in ordering postsecondary educational support in Washington family law cases.  Washington law sets out a number of factors courts should consider, including the parent’s expectations for the child, the child’s aptitude, the nature of the education sought, and the parents’ level of education. RCW 26.19.090(2).  If the court considers the factors, it does not abuse its discretion in awarding postsecondary educational support.

A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a trial court abused its discretion in modifying an order for postsecondary educational support.  The father had obtained modification of child support through default after the mother did not appear or respond to his petition.  The modified child support order required the mother to pay for postsecondary educational support and 52% of the son’s uncovered medical expenses.  She was also required to maintain a life insurance policy.  The order allowed either parent to petition for modification as long as the son was enrolled full time in school until the age of 24.

The mother subsequently moved to reduce her child support obligation.  The husband moved to dismiss, arguing that there was not a substantial change in circumstances to justify the modification.  The appeals court noted, however, that the default order had provided for modification.  The court considered the financial evidence and how the parties expected their son’s college to be funded.  The court lowered the postsecondary support payment and eliminated the obligation to pay uncovered medical expenses and maintain life insurance.  The court also ordered all future postsecondary support payments be made to the son.  The father appealed.

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Legal News GavelWhen one parent seeks a protection order against the other parent, they often ask that the order also be applied to the children.  However, when a court issues a domestic violence protection order, any provisions addressing the residential arrangement of minor children must be made in accordance with Washington child custody laws.  The court must make findings as to the relevant factors justifying the modification.  In a recent case, a Washington appeals court considered whether a protection order that included the child was an improper modification of the parenting plan.

The couple divorced in 2015 and the parenting plan gave each parent 50% residential time with their child.  In 2017, the ex-wife petitioned for a protection order, alleging her ex-husband had given her a threatening letter.  In the letter, he stated he had two things to live for:  “redemption by taking revenge on [his ex-wife]…” and protecting his son.  The wife also provided a post on a website purportedly made by the ex-husband in 2015, stating he “contemplated murder and considered violence” but that his “son was too young to be separated from his mother permanently.

Following a hearing, the commissioner issued a protection order restraining the ex-husband from contact with the ex-wife or the child except for his supervised visits.

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In a Washington divorce, parents generally cannot escape child support obligations by being voluntarily underemployed.  If the court finds the parent is underemployed for the purpose of reducing the child support obligation, the court can calculate child support based on imputed income.  A Washington court recently considered whether a father was subject to imputed income because he stopped working overtime after the separation.

Legal News GavelIn her motion for child support, the wife alleged the husband was voluntarily underemployed.  The trial court entered a child support order, imputing income to the husband based on past earnings.  The husband appealed.

The husband argued the court erred in finding him voluntarily underemployed and in imputing his income. The husband owns and operates a commercial harvest diving business. He previously owned and operated as many as four commercial dive boats and worked as boat captain and diver until about six months before the separation.  He stated he had previously worked over 80 hours per week and worked out of town for weeks at a time.  He claimed he had been able to work so much during the marriage because the wife had been a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.  He argued he was unable to maintain that schedule and care for his children on the shared schedule.  His salary dropped from $146,884 in 2015 to $93,094 in 2016.

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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.

Legal News GavelThe 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.

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Under Washington child custody law, there is a rebuttable presumption in favor of granting a parent’s request for relocation.  To deny a relocation, the trial court must find that its detrimental effect would outweigh the benefits to the child and the parent seeking relocation.  RCW 26.09.520 sets forth 11 factors to be considered by the court.

Legal News GavelIn a recent case, a mother appealed a trial court’s denial of her request to relocate and its modification naming the father as the primary residential parent.  The agreed parenting plan had named the mother as the primary residential parent and allowed the father residential time on Wednesday evenings and every other weekend.  The parents lived within 7.6 miles of each other.

The mother subsequently filed a Child Relocation Act petition.  The husband responded by seeking primary residential placement.  The trial court granted the mother a temporary relocation order, and the mother and children moved about 30 miles away from the father.

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Courts sometimes make mistakes in parenting plans.  A court’s ability to modify a parenting plan is limited, but its ability to clarify an existing plan is broader.  Washington child custody attorneys know that whether an order changing a parenting plan is considered a modification or a clarification may be the determining factor in whether the change is valid, as seen in a recent case.

Legal News GavelThe case involved a father with a history of mental health issues, marijuana use, and erratic behavior.  This behavior included what the appeals court described as “obsessing” over his daughter being sexually abused.  The trial court included in the parenting plan a provision that allowed the mother to temporarily suspend the father’s visitation right in the event he began acting erratically, or if there was “objective evidence of decompensation or elevated paranoia.”  She could request that he seek a mental health evaluation.  The father’s residential time was to resume when the doctor approved him to have overnight time with the child.  The provision required the mother to file an affidavit/declaration within three business days of the incident.

The mother invoked this provision a week after the entry of the parenting plan.  The father underwent a psychological examination, but the mother did not believe it was sufficient and did not allow visitation to resume. Continue reading

Tax exemptions can be a contentious issue in custody cases.  Washington child custody attorneys know that the allocation of tax exemptions can have a significant financial impact on the parties.

Legal News GavelA recent Washington appeals court decision addressed a case in which the mother claimed the tax exemption for her younger child in two years despite the court’s order allocating the exemption to her former husband in those years.  The order in effect at the time split the exemptions for the two children between the parents as long as the exemption existed for the older child.  When there was no longer an exemption for the older child, the exemption for the younger child would alternate.

Under the order, the father had the right to the exemption in 2012, but both parties claimed it.  Consequently, the father was audited and had to pay the IRS more than $2,000.  He moved to have the mother held in contempt and asked the court to require the mother to sign a dependency exemption waiver for 2012 and 2014.  The mother argued she claimed the exemption because the father had not paid his share of the child’s medical expenses.

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New parents face difficult decisions regarding health care.  Sometimes, the best option for the family is for one parent to limit his or her work schedule to care for the child.  Washington child support attorneys know, however, that when a couple divorces, this issue can become contentious.  The court must decide how much income to impute to the spouse who is not working full-time.  A Washington appeals court faced this issue in a recent case, which was further complicated by the fact that one of the children has special needs.

Legal News GavelThe couple had three children under the age of five when they separated.  The wife works part-time and nets less than $2,200 per month.  Her husband nets more than twice as much.  The court found she would net around $3,500 if she worked full-time.

Working part-time allows the mother to care for the youngest child.  The child has a genetic disorder that causes a number of medical conditions, and the court noted his special needs will increase over time.

Child care is often a contentious issue in Washington family law cases.  A parent may object to the child care arrangements made by the other parent, not want a specific person to watch the child, or want the opportunity to take the child when the other parent is unavailable.  Sometimes, a parenting plan addresses this issue by including a right of first refusal.  The right of first refusal requires that the other parent be given the opportunity to care for the child when the parent with residential time is unavailable.  A right of first refusal is generally only used when the parents have been cooperative and shown an ability to co-parent.  As a recent case shows, the parenting plan should provide some parameters and details about how the right works.

Legal News GavelThe child in this case was born after a brief dating relationship between the mother and the father.  The mother received no assistance from the father during her pregnancy or the first 15 months of the child’s life.

When a temporary parenting plan was entered in 2009, the court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) noted that some of the father’s behavior was consistent with that shown by perpetrators of domestic violence.  The GAL noted there were no allegations of physical aggression toward the mother or child, but they expressed concern that the father’s behavior may have a negative effect on the child’s emotional well-being or even escalate to physical violence.

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The modification of a Washington parenting plan over the other parent’s objection can be difficult.  In fact, there is a presumption against it.  Washington child custody attorneys know that Washington courts have recognized that children have a strong interest in finality in their living arrangements.  Courts will not disturb the residential arrangements in a parenting plan over a parent’s objection unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances, and the modification is in the child’s best interest.  The court must deny a motion to modify unless it finds adequate cause to hear the motion.

Legal News GavelA recent case explored the issue of adequate cause.  The father petitioned to modify the parenting plan.  He and his former wife had two children together.  In the parenting plan, the mother was designated as the residential parent, and the father was given residential time with the kids on alternating weekends, winter breaks, mid-winter breaks, and spring breaks.  He was also given residential time during half of the holidays.

The parents cooperated on parenting after the divorce, spending holidays together.  The mother began a relationship with another man in 2012, and the father remarried.

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