How Courts Calculate a Parent’s Income for Child Support
Washington State expects both parents to contribute financially to the welfare and care of their children. Child support amounts are primarily driven by the parents’ incomes and the number of children requiring support.
Calculating income is not as simple as looking at a person’s paycheck stub. There are potentially multiple sources of income that must be included and deductions that are subtracted.
Income Sources Included in Child Support Calculation
Most Washington residents receive their greatest income from a job or investments. These amounts typically make up the lion’s share, but other sources of income are included in the gross income of each parent.
Sources of income used in child support calculations include the following:
- Salaries/wages (including from second jobs)
- Self-employment income
- Deferred compensation
- Trust income
- Pension retirement benefits
- Capital gains
- Workers’ compensation
- Unemployment benefits
- Social Security benefits
Child support received from past relationships is not included in the income tally. Other exclusions include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), gifts, food stamps, and general assistance. A new spouse’s income is disclosed but not counted in gross income.
The court has the authority to impute income (determine what the parent could be earning) if it believes a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed in an attempt to lower their child support obligation.
Expenses Subtracted from Parental Income
Once all sources of income have been identified, the next step is to subtract deductions from that amount.
Certain expenses are subtracted from gross income to determine net income:
- Federal and state income taxes
- FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act)
- Mandatory pension plan payments
- Mandatory union or professional dues
- State industrial insurance premiums
- Court-ordered maintenance
- Normal business expenses and taxes related to self-employment
The law will also allow the parent to deduct up to $5,000 in voluntary retirement contributions if a pattern of such contributions is established.
Combined Net Income
The combined monthly net income and the number of children determine the monthly basic child support obligation. A child support economic table includes monthly income from $1,000 to $12,000 and one to five children.
For example, for parents with a combined income of $5,000, the obligation per child is $723 to support two children.
Parents Pay a Proportional Share
Each parent is expected to cover their proportional share of the basic support amount. If one parent’s income is $1,000 (20% of $5,000), that parent is responsible for providing 20% of the $723, or $144.60. per child.
Medical/health expenses, child-care, and special child-rearing costs are not included in the basic support amount. These costs are shared proportionally by the parents according to their income.
The court will not order a parent to pay more than 45% of their net income to child support without good cause. When the combined income is less than $1,000, the child support obligation is based on the parent’s resources and living expenses on a case-by-case basis. Minimum support is $50 per child unless otherwise allowed in law. For parents making more than $12,000, the court will also make a case-specific determination.
Residential Schedule Can Impact Support Payments
The parent who spends less than 50% of the time with the child pays their proportional share of support to the other parent. The amount one parent pays the other in child support may be reduced based on the residential schedule of the child. The court can reduce the parent’s support obligation if the child spends significant time with the parent who pays child support. Significant time usually means more than 90 overnight visits annually, but no specific time is written into law. There is no standard calculation for this deviation. Judges are given latitude in deciding what is appropriate.
Understand Your Child Support Obligations
The state expects both parents to contribute financially to the needs and welfare of their children. The obligation is the same whether parents choose to divorce or if they were never in a committed relationship.
The accomplished attorneys at McKinley Irvin fight to ensure our clients are not unfairly burdened by child support payments. We also vigorously defend the right of our clients to receive valuable support needed to meet the best interests of the child. Whether you receive or pay child support, we can help.
Discuss child support with our skilled team. Contact us onlineor call 206-397-0399 to schedule.