Articles Posted in Child Support, Parenting Plans

Tax issues can be a significant hindrance in Washington divorce cases.  Couples may fight over who claims the tax exemption for the children, who declares the children as dependents, and the effect of any tax credits related to the children.  In a recent case, a husband challenged the child support order due to several tax issues.  He also challenged the asset distribution.

According to the court’s opinion, the couple had four children together.  They separated in March 2015 and the wife obtained a domestic violence protection order. The husband moved out of the home.  The husband stopped paying the mortgage in August and the home went into foreclosure.  The wife learned that the husband arranged a short sale.  After the wife and children moved out, the husband took the house off the market and moved back in.

The trial court awarded the house to both spouses “as tenants in common for sale” and ordered them to list the house for sale within 90 days.  The trial court set the child support payment at $723.46.  The trial court found the husband did not have sufficient means to pay spousal support and meet his own needs.  The court also ordered the husband to pay half the wife’s attorney fees.  The husband appealed.

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child support

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When a parent does not exercise his or her visitation time, the child is obviously affected, but so is the other parent.  In addition to any scheduling issues that may result, there are also financial effects on the other parent.  A parent who completely stops visitation may reduce his or her own child-related expenses while increasing those of the other parent.  A Washington appeals court recently held that, in a Washington family law case, a court may deviate from the standard calculation to put a greater child support obligation on a parent who abdicates visitation.

Facts and History of the Case

In this case, the parties had been divorced since 2004. Under a modified parenting plan, the father had residential time with the two children on Wednesday evenings, every other weekend, and half of holidays, school vacations, and other special occasions. The mother sought an increase in child support above the standard calculation in 2013.  She argued she had an increased financial burden because the father had abdicated his residential time with the children.  The trial court found the father had voluntarily stopped having contact with the children in late 2010.  The trial court found it was not authorized to deviate from the standard calculation due to the father’s lack of residential time because the combined monthly income of the parties was less than $12,000.  On appeal, the appeals court found the trial court did have the authority to deviate from the standard calculation where a parent lessens his or her financial responsibility by abdicating visitation.  The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to make appropriate findings and determine the appropriate deviation.

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educational cost

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Courts 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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When 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.

In 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.

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.

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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.

In 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.

The 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.

A 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.

The 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.