Washington Child Support and Abdication of Visitation

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When a parent does not exercise his or her visitation time, the child is obviously affected, but so is the other parent.  In addition to any scheduling issues that may result, there are also financial effects on the other parent.  A parent who completely stops visitation may reduce his or her own child-related expenses while increasing those of the other parent.  A Washington appeals court recently held that, in a Washington family law case, a court may deviate from the standard calculation to put a greater child support obligation on a parent who abdicates visitation.

Facts and History of the Case

In this case, the parties had been divorced since 2004. Under a modified parenting plan, the father had residential time with the two children on Wednesday evenings, every other weekend, and half of holidays, school vacations, and other special occasions. The mother sought an increase in child support above the standard calculation in 2013.  She argued she had an increased financial burden because the father had abdicated his residential time with the children.  The trial court found the father had voluntarily stopped having contact with the children in late 2010.  The trial court found it was not authorized to deviate from the standard calculation due to the father’s lack of residential time because the combined monthly income of the parties was less than $12,000.  On appeal, the appeals court found the trial court did have the authority to deviate from the standard calculation where a parent lessens his or her financial responsibility by abdicating visitation.  The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to make appropriate findings and determine the appropriate deviation.

The trial court then made findings regarding the father’s abdication of residential time.  The court found the mother lacked adequate income to meet the children’s needs absent a deviation.  The court increased the child support to more than $400 above the standard calculation and ordered the increase be retroactive to the date after the mother filed her petition to modify the child support.

Washington Appeals Court Decision

The father appealed.  He argued the court erred in increasing the child support above the standard calculation because he had not abdicated his residential time.  He referenced a dictionary definition of “abdication” which stated it meant “failure to fulfill a responsibility or duty.” He argued the parties had agreed that visitation with him was not in the children’s best interest so he had not failed to fulfill a responsibility.  The appeals court found it did not matter if the parties agreed he should not have visitation.  The change added to the mother’s expenses while decreasing the father’s expenses.  The appeals court therefore found no error in the deviation.

The father also challenged the retroactive application of the increase.  He argued it was inequitable due to the trial court’s error in originally finding it could not deviate from the standard calculation.  The appeals court noted the father had contributed to that error by arguing the court could not deviate above the standard calculation.  The appeals court then found the equities supported the retroactive date.  The father had stopped visitation in late 2010.  The mother’s expenses had been increased and the father’s expenses had been decreased since that time.  Even with the retroactivity, the mother was not fully compensated for more than two years after the father stopped his visitation.

The appeals court therefore affirmed the trial court’s modification of the child support order. This decision suggests that it does not matter if a parent chooses to stop visitation unilaterally or if the parents agree to stop visitation.  If one parent voluntarily stops visitation and it increases the other parent’s expenses, the court may deviate from the standard calculation to account for that change.

Hire an Experienced Seattle Attorney

If you are facing a custody issue, you need the assistance of a skilled Washington family law attorney.  The attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, work with our clients to help them through the process and achieve the best possible result.  Call us at (206) 622-6562 to schedule a consultation.

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