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Articles Posted in Child Support, Parenting Plans

A Washington child support order may be modified in certain circumstances.  A court may order modification of child support if there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the current order was entered. A court may also order a modification at least one year after the current order was entered without a finding of a substantial change in circumstances if it finds the existing order results in an economic hardship on either parent or on the child.  Additionally, after two years from entry of the existing order, adjustment, or modification, the court may adjust the order based on changes in the parents’ income without a finding of a substantial change in circumstances.  RCW 26.09.170.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification of his child support obligation. The parents divorced in 2016.  The court ordered the father to pay $1,167 in child support each month based on $10,000 per month in imputed income.  The trial court found he had provided insufficient information regarding his income.  At the time of the divorce, the father traveled internationally, lived in Dubai, and gave expensive gifts.  The appeals court noted the child support order reflected a conclusion by the trial court that the father was hiding assets.

The father petitioned for modification after nearly three years.  He claimed his income had decreased significantly and the child support was now a hardship.

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Washington family law includes a strong presumption in favor of continuity and against modification of a parenting plan.  RCW 26.09.260.  A parent seeking modification of a residential schedule must show there is adequate cause before a full hearing.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a denial of adequate cause to modify the residential schedule following her move to the town where her children lived with their father.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the mother “fled” to Alabama with her two daughters and “hid them from” their father when they separated.  The father filed for divorce, was awarded custody, and ultimately brought the children back to Washington. The mother moved to Spokane.

The parenting plan from 2013 indicated the children’s primary residence was in Moses Lake with their father.  The mother had the children on alternating weekends, with some additional time in the summer, plus certain holidays and school breaks.

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The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has the authority to enforce a Washington child support obligation.  If there is no child support order, DSHS may serve a notice and a finding of financial responsibility (“NFFR”) on the responsible parent.  If the parent objects, the parent’s past liability and responsibility is determined at a hearing.  RCW 74.20A.055.

A mother recently challenged an Administrative Law Judge’s denial of her request for child support.  The father was ordered to pay $1,794.24 in past due child support when the parents divorced.  An amended parenting plan in 2010 awarded custody of both children to the father and gave the mother limited visitation.  The court found the mother “may have an adverse effect on the child’s best interests…”

The mother moved for review and adjustment of visitation rights.  The court allowed expanded visits and calls, but kept the supervision requirement.  In a review in January 2011, the court found she remained “a danger to her children’s safety, health, and welfare.”

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Courts handling Washington child custody cases should base their determinations regarding parental responsibilities on the best interests of the child.  The court has broad discretion in determining the parenting plan.  However, the court must place restrictions on a parent’s decision-making if it finds he or she has a history of domestic violence.

A Washington appeals court recently reversed a parenting plan that allowed joint decision-making despite a history of domestic violence.  The parents divorced in 2014.  The final parenting plan required the father to meet with a doctor to address domestic violence issues before his summer residential time with the children.  The parenting plan also required him to get a certified evaluation regarding domestic violence and follow any treatment recommendations.

The plan also awarded the mother sole decision-making until the court heard from the domestic violence counselor or evaluator.  The order provided that there would be joint decision-making after the father met the requirements regarding domestic violence.

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Parents are expected to comply with the parenting plans that set forth custody and visitation arrangements for their children.  If a parent fails, in bad faith, to comply with a court order in a Washington custody case, the court may find that parent in contempt of court.

A mother recently challenged a contempt order against her.  The court found her in contempt after she failed to transfer her daughter to the girl’s father in accordance with the parenting plan.  There were two additional contempt orders, a writ of habeas corpus and a warrant.  The mother appealed.

According to the appeal court’s opinion, the daughter had special needs.  The psychologist found the she was estranged from her father for “completely irrational” reasons that were the result of her anxiety and OCD.

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The rules of evidence can be important in any court case, even in a Washington custody case.  A mother recently challenged a custody modification that gave the father primary residential custody on the grounds certain evidence should have been excluded at trial.

The children had been living with their mother and her husband in Germany.  While they were in Washington for several weeks visiting their father, he petitioned to become the custodial parent.  He alleged abuse in the mother’s home was harmful to the children’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

According to the court’s opinion, the father took the children to the doctor after they told him about abuse, and they were referred to a counselor.  The counselor testified the children told her about several incidents of abuse and violence at their mother’s home.  She said those statements helped her diagnose and treat them.  She diagnosed all three children with adjustment disorder with anxiety and dysthymia, and one of them with depression.

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Custody issues can get complicated when one parent wants to move.  There is a presumption that relocation by the custodial parent will be permitted, but the non-custodial parent has the right to object.  Things are not so straightforward, however, when the parents share custody equally.

A father recently appealed a court’s denial of relocation where the parents shared custody.  The couple divorced in 2012.  The child resided with the mother the majority of the time until 2016.  In 2016, the court approved an agreed-upon parenting plan that split residential time equally on a 50/50 basis.  The designated both parents as having “equal rights and responsibilities…”

The plan also provided that either parent who planned to move would give notice to anyone entitled to court ordered time with the child.  The father filed a notice in April, 2017, stating his intent to move with the child.  His current wife was entering a five-year residency in emergency medicine and pediatrics in Baltimore, and he planned to join her there.

Child support can be a very contentious issue.  When parents share residential time equally, one parent may feel that he or she should not be responsible for child support.  Under Washington family law, however, a court does not have to offset one parent’s basic child support obligation against the other parent’s basic child support obligation when they share residential time equally.

The father in a recent case appealed a child support order, arguing the court had failed to apportion the child support between both parents.  The parties had previously been married and had two minor children together.  They shared equal residential time. The original child support order required the father to pay $1,449.36 monthly.

The father petitioned to modify the child support after his company went out of business.  The parties entered a written stipulation to suspend the child support payments, but the mother reserved the right to seek back support from the time of the suspension.

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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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Photo Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

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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