Shared Residential Time Versus Split Residential Time and Washington Child Support

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.

The father found employment within a few months, and the mother filed a motion to reinstate child support and then another to adjust the child support order.  The commissioner found the standard calculation required a monthly payment of $1,217.11.  The commissioner set the payment at $900, finding a deviation from the standard calculation appropriate due to shared custody.  The commissioner also ordered the father to pay back child support to the month of the suspension.

The father moved for reconsideration.  The commissioner changed the back support to start in the month the father gained employment, but otherwise denied the motion.  The father appealed.

The father argued the commissioner failed to consider the income of the mother’s live-in partner.  Pursuant to RCW 26.19.075, “all income and resources of the parties…or new domestic partner” is to be disclosed and considered.  The mother argued her partner’s income had been disclosed and considered by the commissioner.  Although the commissioner’s written findings and conclusions did not describe how the partner’s income was considered, the appeals court found there was no abuse of discretion.  The statute only requires that the partner’s income is disclosed and considered.  It authorizes the trial court to use its discretion in weighing the factors it considers.

The commissioner described the reasons for the reward.  The father had not displayed an attempt to reduce monthly expenses.  The father had not shown sharing residential time substantially increased his costs to support the children.  Furthermore, the commissioner reduced the support from the standard calculation.  The appeals court also noted that the mother bore the full cost of supporting the children for the three month’s from the time of the suspension until the father found employment.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion.

The appeals court rejected the father’s argument that the commissioner’s ruling was influenced by implicit gender bias.  The appeals court found no evidence of such a bias, and again noted that the ruling made the mother responsible for 100% of the children’s expenses for three months.

The father also argued the court erred by failing to apportion the support obligation between both parents.  He argued the commissioner should have reduced his basic obligation by the amount of the mother’s basic obligation.  The appeals court found the father was trying to apply the rule for calculating split residential child support to shared residential child support.

A Split residential schedule occurs when one parent had the primary residential placement of one child and the other parent has primary residential placement of another child.  In such cases, the court must first calculate the total child support obligation of both parents.  Then the court multiplies each parent’s proportional share of income by the total child support obligation to determine each parent’s basic support obligation.  The court then adjusts for split custody by multiplying the parent’s basic child support obligation by the number of children that parent has primary custody of.  The difference, if any, between the parents’ adjusted obligation is the split custody child support obligation.

The Washington Supreme Court has held, however, that the split residential formula is not applicable to shared residential arrangements.  The Court found that parents in split residential situations have different burdens than those in shared residential situations.  Additionally, the trial court has the discretion to deviate from the standard calculation based on residential time.

The appeals court noted that the court was required to consider the standard calculation and determine if a deviation was appropriate.  In doing so, the court was to consider whether the father’s expenses increased or the mother’s expenses decreased as a result of the children spending more time with the father.  It was also required to consider whether there would be sufficient support for the children’s basic needs in each household in light of the deviation.  The appeals court found the findings and conclusions showed that the commissioner had appropriately considered these factors.

The appeals court affirmed the commissioners ruling.

As this case shows, shared custody does not necessarily mean that the parents will have an equal child support obligation.  If you are facing custody or child support issues, the skilled Washington family law attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, can help you.  Call us at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.

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