Who has a duty of support?

Both parents have an obligation to support their child/children.

How is support established?

Child support can be established by the superior court or through an administrative process. To establish a support obligation judicially, a lawsuit must be filed in superior court. This is usually done by filing a summons and petition either under the Dissolution of Marriage Act Chapter 26.09 RCW, the Uniform Parentage Act Chapter 26.26 RCW or the Family Expense Statute RCW 26.16.205.

How is the support amount determined?

The Washington State legislature has established a child support schedule based upon the incomes of the parents and the needs of the child(ren). All support orders entered in this state must be based on the support schedule. RCW 26.19.035(1).

The schedule consists of four components: (1) standards for determination of child support; (2) an economic table, which is the child support table for the basic support obligation; (3) the worksheet used in determining the amount of support; and (4) instructions.

How long must I pay child support?

Under the Dissolution of Marriage Act, the obligation to pay child support is based on dependency, not minority. However, the general rule is, unless otherwise agreed to in writing or expressly provided for in the support order, the obligation of support terminates upon the emancipation of the child.

A child is considered emancipated when he/she reaches the age of 18 or by emancipation in fact, whichever occurs sooner. Examples of emancipation in fact include marriage, service in the armed forces, or attaining economic sufficiency. Generally, support is paid until the child reaches 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Parties can agree to additional support such as Post Secondary Educational Support (college support).

When may an order of child support be modified?

At any time upon a showing of substantial change in circumstances.

What constitutes a substantial change in circumstances?

A substantial change in circumstances would be circumstances not anticipated at the time of divorce. Examples would be one parent being laid off or fired from a job, a material change in income of a parent, or the child changing residences (with any accompanying change in the parenting plan). Examples of circumstances that are not considered substantial changes are voluntary unemployment or underemployment, voluntarily incurred debt, remarriage, and circumstances that were considered at the time of the entry of the divorce decree such as retirement.

Can an order of child support be modified without a showing of substantial change in circumstances?

Yes. Generally, an order of child support may be modified one year or more after it has been entered without a showing of substantial change in circumstances if:
(a) the order works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child;

(b) the child is no longer in the age category on which the current support amount was based; and

(c) a child is still in high school and there is a finding that there is a need to extend support beyond the eighteenth birthday to complete high school.
An Order of Child Support also can be modified every two (2) years without establishing a substantial change of circumstances or other factors.