Washington Father to Pay Standard Child Support Despite Providing Child Care

When a court enters a Washington child support order, it begins by determining the standard calculation according to RCW 26.19.020.  The standard calculation is the presumptive amount owed.  The court then allocates the child support between the parent’s based on their respective share of the combined monthly net income. The trial court may deviate from the standard calculation based on various factors, including income, expenses and debt, and the residential schedule.  In a recent case, a father challenged a court order, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in denying his request for deviation.

The mother had been a stay-at-home mother during the marriage but got a job after the separation.  The father’s gross monthly income was about $9,353.37 and the mother’s was about $3,120.

The mother petitioned for divorce. The parties subsequently signed a CR 2A agreement including a parenting plan that gave the parents equal residential time.  The father would be responsible for childcare while the mother was at work during her residential time.  Remaining issues would be decided by trial by affidavit.

The wife sought spousal maintenance for two years, child support, and attorneys fees.  The father argued against spousal maintenance and asked for a deviation under the standard child support calculations because he would probably be spending more time with the children.

The trial court awarded the mother child support under the standard calculations and $1,250 in monthly spousal maintenance for the first year after the divorce and $750 in the second year. The mother was also awarded $10,000 in attorney fees.

The father appealed, arguing the trial court erred in not deviating from the standard child support calculations when he would have more time with the children.  He also argued the trial court erred by not entering written findings to support its denial of his request for a deviation.

The mother argued at trial that her monthly expenses exceeded her income and a deviation from the standard calculation would leave her with insufficient funds for her household expenses.  The trial court agreed.

The Washington Supreme Court has held that the standard calculation applies when the parents share equal residential time.  The father argued that, although the parenting plan provided for equal residential time, he would have the child for more than 50% of the time due to the child care arrangement.  The appeals court noted the father did not provide authority supporting his argument that the standard schedules were not appropriate under these circumstances.

Additionally, the record supported the mother’s argument she would have insufficient funds if the father’s child support deviated below the standard calculations.  The appeals court found no error in the trial court’s finding a deviation would leave her with insufficient funds for her household expenses.

The father also argued the trial court erred by not entering findings supporting its denial of a deviation.  RCW 26.19.075(3) requires the court to enter findings specifying the reasons for any deviation or denial of a request for a deviation from the standard calculation.  If a trial court does not make specific written findings, however, the appeals court may consider its oral rulings to determine the basis for its decision.

The appeals court concluded the trial court “clearly articulated its reasoning” in denying the deviation and provided sufficient explanation in its oral ruling.  The trial court stated a deviation would leave the mother with insufficient funds.  There was, therefore, no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial.

The father also argued the award of spousal maintenance was inequitable. The appeals court acknowledged the award resulted in an income disparity in favor of the wife for the first year, but concluded it was not an abuse of discretion.

Pursuant to RCW 26.09.090(1), a trial court may award spousal maintenance in the amount and for the period of time it deems just. The statute sets out a number of factors the court must consider, including the financial resources of the party requesting maintenance, the time the party will need to obtain sufficient education or training to find appropriate employment, the standard of living established during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the age, condition and financial obligations of the party seeking maintenance, and the ability of the spouse to meet their own needs and those of the spouse seeking the maintenance.

The trial court found there was a significant difference in the parties’ income, that the mother needed spousal maintenance, and that the father was able to pay it while she re-established herself in the workforce.  The trial court considered the difference in the parties’ incomes and earning potential.  The wife earned about $36,000 and the husband about $112,000 per year at the time of trial. The trial court also pointed out the mother’s income was limited because she had not been in the workforce during the marriage.   The trial court also specifically stated it considered the mother’s need and the father’s ability. The court noted the mother had a graphic design degree that was about 15 years old and likely did not have the experience to get a job in that field.

The trial court’s finding the mother had a financial need for the maintenance was supported by the record.  Her income and child support combined was insufficient to meet her monthly expenses.

The appeals court noted that, based on the identified monthly expenses and income of the parties, both would have income less than their monthly expenses if the father paid $1,250 in spousal maintenance.  The appeals court concluded the award placed them in approximately the same position, with each having monthly expenses “slightly exceeding” their income.  There was also evidence the father had a line of credit that could cover part of the spousal maintenance.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court placing a higher financial burden on the father during the mother’s transition back into the workforce. This higher burden would last only for a transitional period of the first year.  The maintenance payment would be reduced in the second year, leaving the father with a much smaller deficit that the mother.

The father also argued the trial court failed to consider the financial resources and obligations of the parties, but the appeals court disagreed.  He argued the trial court failed to consider the funds the mother received as a gift from her family and held in a checking account, the $2,000 equalization payment, and the father’s debts.  There was discussion regarding the mother’s bank accounts and the father’s student loans.  The record showed the trial court considered those factors.  It did not abuse its discretion by failing to specifically address each asset and debt.  The appeals court also noted that the trial court is not required to make specific findings for each factor.

The appeals court concluded the trial court had appropriately considered all of the relevant factors pursuant to RCW 26.09.090 and did not abuse its discretion.

The appeals court concluded the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees to the mother.  The trial court acknowledged the mother had resources to pay her attorney fees and the record did not support the finding the father had the ability to pay the awarded fees.  The trial court stated it based the award on the income discrepancy, but a discrepancy in income alone is not sufficient to show a spouse has a financial need for an award of attorney fees.  The appeals court concluded the attorney fee award was an abuse of discretion.

The appeals court affirmed the denial of the father’s request for a deviation form the standard child support calculation, but reversed the attorney fee award.

If there is a significant disparity in income between you and your spouse, you need a skilled Washington family law attorney fighting for you.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.




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