“Underemployment” and Washington Child Support

New parents face difficult decisions regarding health care.  Sometimes, the best option for the family is for one parent to limit his or her work schedule to care for the child.  Washington child support attorneys know, however, that when a couple divorces, this issue can become contentious.  The court must decide how much income to impute to the spouse who is not working full-time.  A Washington appeals court faced this issue in a recent case, which was further complicated by the fact that one of the children has special needs.

The couple had three children under the age of five when they separated.  The wife works part-time and nets less than $2,200 per month.  Her husband nets more than twice as much.  The court found she would net around $3,500 if she worked full-time.

Working part-time allows the mother to care for the youngest child.  The child has a genetic disorder that causes a number of medical conditions, and the court noted his special needs will increase over time.

The trial court found it just and equitable to impute the mother’s income based on her part-time wages, due to the child’s special needs.  The order, however, provided that she would be able to return to full-time work when the child’s doctor cleared overnight visits with his father, and her wages would then be imputed based on a full-time schedule.

The father requested a deviation in child support, based on his shared residential time with the children.  The trial court postponed the deviation until the mother was able to work full-time to assure adequate income in the mother’s home.  The father appealed.

In Washington, a court must impute income to an underemployed parent.  The court looks at previous work history, education, health, age, and other relevant factors to determine if a person is voluntarily underemployed.  The appeals court found the facts supported the trial court’s finding that the mother’s underemployment was not voluntary.  The appeals court noted that she “could not reasonably be expected to work full-time,” due to the child’s special needs.  The court further found that she could not delegate child care duties because the child needed breastfeeding, due to a difficulty in eating caused by the genetic disorder.  Additionally, the child required frequent health care visits.  The appeals court found the trial court was within its discretion in imputing the mother’s income based on the part-time wages she received.

The appeals court also found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s postponement of the residential deviation.  Courts may not deviate from the standard child support calculation based on shared residential time if doing so would lead to income insufficient for the child’s basic needs.  The trial court found that the deviation would result in the mother’s household having insufficient funds to meet the children’s basic needs.  The appeals court found the trial court’s denial of the request proper and affirmed the trial court’s decisions.

This case illustrates how a court determines if underemployment is voluntary.  Here, the child’s medical condition required breastfeeding, so only the mother was able to provide the needed care.  The court also mentioned the frequent medical appointments, suggesting that also could be a factor.

If you are facing a divorce, the child support attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC can assist you.  Call us at (206) 622-6562 or contact us online to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Parenting Plans and Substantial Changes in Circumstances

Waiver of Enforcement Limitations on Washington Child Support Orders


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