Articles Posted in Child Support, Parenting Plans

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.

The 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.

A 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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Washington child custody rules do not favor modifying parenting plans to decrease visitation.  A court may, however, modify a parenting plan if it finds, based on information that occurred after the decree or that was unknown to the court at the time, that there has been a substantial change that makes a modification necessary to serve the child’s best interests.  RCW 26.09.260.  Additionally, restrictions or limitations may be appropriate when certain circumstances are present.  A court may, for example, preclude or limit a provision in the parenting plan if the parent’s involvement is not in the child’s best interest, and one or more specified factors are present.  Those factors include neglect, long-term impairment, and withholding access to the child from the other parent.  Additionally, one of the listed factors is essentially any other factor the court finds to be adverse to the child’s best interests.  RCW 26.09.194.  Even when a court does place limitations or restrictions on visitation, it may put something in place to allow the parent to work toward resuming regular visitation.  This process may include working with a counselor or therapist to ensure that resumption of the visitation is in the child’s best interest.

A mother recently challenged a court’s restriction on her visitation on a number of grounds, including the engagement of a counselor to make recommendations on reinstating visitation.  The previous parenting plan ordered the daughter to reside with her father and visit her mother every other weekend.

The mother petitioned for increased visitation when she married several years later.  The father petitioned to decrease her visitation, alleging physical and emotional abuse of the daughter, domestic violence in the mother’s home, and abusive use of conflict.  The trial court granted the father’s petition and suspended the mother’s visitation for 45 days.

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A judgment or judgment lien for accrued child support in Washington remains in force for 10 years after the youngest child named in the order turns 18, pursuant to RCW 4.56.210.  The statute therefore generally makes a child support judgment unenforceable after the youngest child turns 28.  Washington courts have referred to this statute as a “nonclaim statute.”

RCW 74.20A.220 allows a parent to extend or waive “any statute which may bar or impair the collection of the debt….”  A father recently challenged the applicability of his waiver to RCW 4.56.210 on the ground that it is a nonclaim statute rather than a statute of limitations.

The father was ordered to pay monthly child support when his marriage was dissolved.  He made the first child support payment nine years after the order was entered.  He subsequently signed a waiver eliminating the time limit for collecting the approximately $50,000 he owed in unpaid child support.  The “Waiver of the Statute of Limitations Defense” stated it applied to “[a]ny statute of limitations defense created by RCW 4.16.020, RCW 4.56.210, or RCW 6.17.020” and any other statute “that limits the time DCS can collect [the defendant’s] support debt.”  The waiver further stated it allowed DCS to collect until the defendant had paid the support debt in full.

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Courts should remain impartial regarding religious beliefs and sexual orientation when considering custody arrangements and parenting plans.  When a court relies on and adopts the opinions and recommendations of witnesses who express biases based on these issues, the entire parenting plan may be called into question.  Such was the situation in a case recently decided by the Washington Supreme Court.

The couple had been married for nearly 20 years at the time of their divorce.  They had three sons, whom they raised in a conservative Christian church and sent to Christian schools.  The wife had been the primary caretaker of the children, and the husband had been the primary wage earner for most of their marriage.

In 2011, the wife told the husband she thought she might be gay.  She stopped going to the family church and began a romantic relationship with a woman.

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Health care can be very expensive, especially if the treatment is not covered by insurance.  A child support order will generally set out how uninsured medical expenses are allocated, but what happens when one parent seeks treatment for a child who is not covered by insurance?  The Washington Supreme Court considered this issue in a recent case.

The child developed a kidney stone.  The condition grew worse while she was visiting her aunt, and she had a temporary stent installed at a hospital in the Cincinnati area.  She was also referred to a group in the area for lithotripsy, which would break open the stone by ultrasonic waves.

The child was covered by her father’s insurance, which was not available in the Cincinnati area where her aunt lived. The nearest facility covered by the insurer was in the Cleveland area.  The wife contacted the husband, who said the aunt should either drive the child to the in-network facility or wait to see if the insurer would approve an out-of-network provider.  The wife felt the daughter needed immediate treatment.  The aunt took the child to the physician group in Cincinnati, and they treated the stone with lithotripsy.  The medical expenses totaled about $13,000.  The insurer determined that the treatment was non-emergent and out-of-network and denied payment.

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Under Washington law, courts may order postsecondary support for children in some circumstances, but as a recent case reminds us, it is not automatic. Parents must be sure they understand the child support order and follow any deadlines for filing the petition for postsecondary support.  It is important that parents consult with their attorneys before the child turns 18 or graduates from high school.  The child support order may require the parent to petition for postsecondary educational support before the child’s high school graduation.

In this case, the child support order stated that support would continue until each child reached the age of 18 or graduated from high school, whichever was later, but not after a child reached the age of 19, except as provided in the paragraph on postsecondary educational support.  That paragraph provided that the right to petition for postsecondary support was reserved as long as it was exercised before the child turned 18.

The child had already turned 18 at the time the father filed for postsecondary educational support, but they were still in high school.  The court dismissed the petition as untimely, and the father appealed.

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Washington family law provides for child support to include post-secondary education in some circumstances.  Before awarding this type of support, the court must first determine if the child is dependent on the parents for his or her reasonable necessities.  The court has discretion in determining how long to award the support, based on a number of factors.  The statute requires the child to be enrolled in an accredited institution, pursuing studies commensurate with his or her vocational goals, and to be in good academic standing.  The statute requires an automatic suspension if the child fails to comply with these requirements. RCW 26.19.090.

If a court does award post-secondary education support, it must determine the consequences of the child’s failure to comply with the conditions in the order.  A Washington appeals court recently considered this issue in an unpublished opinion.

The trial court had modified the child support order to include post-secondary education for one of the couple’s daughters in 2014.  The order included a condition that the daughter “enroll in and attend school full-time.”  The daughter was not a full-time student during the spring term of 2015, due to medical issues.  A court commissioner granted the father’s motion to terminate support for the daughter.  The superior court then denied the mother’s motion for revision and entered a judgment against the mother for the tuition the husband had paid and attorney fees.  The court also denied the mother’s motion for reconsideration, and she appealed.

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Matters related to children are often the most contentious aspects of a divorce.  Ideally, parents will work together to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement regarding custody, decision-making, and support.  When the parties cannot agree, however, the court may have to decide these issues based on factual findings and statutory requirements.

A Washington appeals court recently considered several issues related to parenting in a recent case. A temporary order granted equal residential time, appointed a guardian ad litem, and authorized joint decision-making.  A subsequent stipulated order stated the parties agreed to update each other on the child’s health and follow the recommendations of his health care providers.  Following the trial, however, the trial court entered an order limiting the father’s residential time based on findings of abusive use of conflict, neglect, and not acting in the child’s best interest.

The trial court determined the father’s net monthly income was more than $15,000, while the mother’s was less than $400, making the combined income greater than the top support schedule tier.  RCW 26.19.020.  The trial court ordered a transfer payment of $3,000 per month, which was greater than the amount provided in the statute.  The husband appealed the child support order and the parenting plan.

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Everyone can relate to the experience of walking into the grocery store without a shopping list and leaving the store without what you went in for, having spent lots of money on things you didn’t need.  Notes aren’t only important for grocery shopping.  They can help keep meetings on task, organized, and efficient.  That is why we recommend that people bring notes into their first meeting with a family law attorney.  One sheet of paper is probably enough for your first meeting.  The paper should include the following: Continue reading