Washington Appeals Court Upholds Deviation from Standard Child Support Calculation

Washington child support is determined based on the Washington State Child Support Schedule.  A trial court may deviate from the standard child support calculation when it would be inequitable not to do so.  The trial court must specify its reasons for deviation or for denying a request for deviation in its findings of fact.  RCW 26.19.075 sets forth a non-exclusive list of reasons for deviation.  A husband recently challenged a child support deviation, arguing the trial court should instead have characterized that amount as spousal maintenance.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties had three children together during their fourteen-year marriage.  The trial court found the wife was voluntarily underemployed and imputed a monthly net income of $2,048 to her, but she actually earned about $800 from her part-time job.  The husband had a net monthly income of $7,374.

The trial court determined the wife needed $3017.27 per month for her basic needs and expenses. The court determined she would receive that amount in combined spousal and child support.  Pursuant to the child support guidelines, the husband’s adjusted child support would be $1,566. The trial court acknowledged that spousal maintenance would change the income of the parties for determining child support.  To get to the intended total, the trial court adjusted the child support amount and ordered the husband to pay $2,017.27 in monthly child support and $1,000 in monthly spousal maintenance for a year.  The court indicated child support would be recalculated based on the parties’ income without spousal support after the spousal support ended in a year.

The trial court provided two reasons for the deviation: the wife’s living costs and “child support and needs ceiling.”

The husband challenged the characterization of the additional $450.33 as a child support deviation instead of spousal maintenance.

The appeals court noted there was substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings.  The judge stated the wife was only making $800 per month.  There was evidence she was working toward an education to increase her earning capacity.  The husband had the children every other weekend and on Mondays on alternate weeks.  This schedule accommodated his work schedule, but made it difficult for the wife to have full-time employment.  The appeals court concluded there was substantial evidence supporting a finding that the child support needed to be adjusted to meet the wife’s needs.

The trial court found the wife needed a set amount for a limited period.  Increasing spousal support would have reduced the child support.  The trial court deviated from the standard child support amount to resolve that issue.  The appeals court pointed out that the husband did not challenge the total amount of the transfer, only the characterization of the amount above the standard child support calculation.

The husband also argued there should not have been an upward deviation of child support when the wife was voluntarily under-employed.   He did not, however, cite any authority for this argument.  The appeals court noted there was nothing in the statute prohibiting an upward deviation in these circumstances.  The trial court complied with the statutory requirement to include the reasons for deviation and written findings supporting them.  Additionally, although RCW 26.19.075 includes a list of reasons for deviating from the standard, the list is non-exclusive.

The appeals court concluded there was substantial evidence supporting a finding a deviation was needed to meet the wife’s needs.  The trial court did not abuse its discretion with the upward deviation.

Furthermore, the appeals court agreed with the wife that the husband’s appeal was frivolous and awarded her attorney fees.

In this case, the appeals court affirmed the upward deviation from the standard calculation.  Whether a deviation is appropriate is dependent upon the facts of the case.  If you are a parent facing divorce, a skilled Washington child support attorney can advise you about the standard child support calculation and the potential for a deviation.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 set up a consultation.


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