Articles Tagged with income

The most important decision in most child support and spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) conflicts is the determination of how much income each spouse is earning. In some cases, this is not a difficult or elongated task. If the earning party (or parties) receive a paycheck from an employer on a regular basis and for the same amount, and if there are no extenuating circumstances, income can be determined and child support and spousal maintenance issues can be made easier.

However, in many cases, income determination is not that easy, and is one of the most hard-fought and important issues in a family law case. Many people are paid on commission or commission/base structures. Some people are paid varying amounts throughout the year. In some cases, a party has obtained a new job or lost an old one and his or her income is going to change dramatically as a result.

All of the foregoing circumstances can make income determination more complicated, but perhaps the most challenging cases regarding determination of income are when one (or both) party owns a business. In these cases, income is often not as simple as looking at the business owner’s salary. The discovery process (the process by which bank account, investment account, and business liability information can be obtained) is of special importance. Depending on the business, it can also be necessary and worthwhile to bring in financial experts including business valuation experts and appraisers to determine how much income the business-owning-spouse is (or is not) making.

When faced with the unenviable position of being both unemployed, and ordered to pay child support, people often have questions about what type of relief they can receive from their child support obligations. The answer to that question (and so many others in the world of law) is: it depends. As with all issues discussed on this blog, the more thorough response that follows is not personalized, and it is advisable to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances.

In general, if an obligor (paying parent) is unemployed at the time child support is set, the court will consider this in setting child support. Often, the court will order that the obligor pay a lower amount while unemployed, but may require that as soon as the obligor obtains employment, the child support amount be modified. In other circumstances (for example if the court believes that you are under employed or unemployed intentionally to reduce your child support amount), the court will not take your unemployment into consideration and will order child support to be paid at an amount based on your earning potential, not your actual income.

If the obligor become unemployed (or the income is otherwise significantly reduced) after child support is set, it is likely that the obligor will want to advise the court of this change and ask that the court give him or her some relief. This is done by petitioning the court to modify your order of child support. (It is often important to petition the court as soon as a change occurs; the change in child support may only date back to the date of the petition, not the day your income changed.) If the obligor is only unemployed for a month or so, and then returns to work earning a similar income, it may not be worth the time and resources to ask the court to change the support order; however, if the obligor anticipates having a harder time earning the same income or finding a job at all, it is more likely to be worth the time and resources to request a modification.

Child support is meant to provide support for minor children based on the economic circumstances of that child’s parents. Sometimes after an order of child support is entered a child changes age brackets, gets close to graduating from high school , or other significant enough changes in circumstances occur, that it is necessary to modify the order of child support to reflect current circumstances.

RCW 26.09.175 sets for the procedure for modification of an order of child support. It requires that modification proceedings begin by the filing of a summons and petition. These documents must be served on the other party (service requirements vary depending on where order was entered). (There is also a process for adjustment of child support that has separate procedure that is not covered here. That said, while it offers more limited remedies, it can be a quicker and less expensive process and should be considered prior to filing a modification action.) Prior to filing an action for modification, a cost-benefit analysis must be done to ensure that the modification will be worth the resources.

An order of child support may be modified at any time based on a substantial change of circumstances. RCW 26.09.170(5)(a). Whether there is a substantial change of circumstances is fact-specific, and can be a difficult to prove. In some cases, it may be advisable to wait for time to pass before filing for a modification. After one year has passed, an order may be modified without a showing of a substantial change or circumstances if the order in practice works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child; if a party requests and adjustment based on the change of age category of the child; if a child is still in high school, upon a finding that the child will need financial support beyond graduation; or to add an automatic adjustment provision.  RCW 26.09.170(5)(b-d). This information does not provide for some of the other exceptions and requirements of modifying child support. Furthermore, adjustments and modifications may be permitted due to language in the original court order.

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