Articles Posted in Child Support, Parenting Plans

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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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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