How to Get Child Support in Washington State

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by Chris Torrone

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07.21.2021

When assessing your family situation to determine child support, the court’s main concern is ensuring that your child will have their needs met. You and your ex have the legal obligation to provide your child with safe shelter, clothing, food, education, and medical care. In some circumstances additional child support may be granted for things like mental health counseling, if that is deemed a necessity in order to address challenges that have arisen due to the divorce. While both parents are responsible for providing what the child needs overall, in most cases the non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent. If you are in the process of or have finalized a divorce and you are the custodial parent, here are some things you will need to know about getting child support in Washington State.

How the Child Support Amount is Determined

Child support is paid monthly and the Washington State Support Schedule is used to determine the details and schedule of court-ordered child support cases. A basic estimator is used to determine the child support amount needed, taking both parents’ net income into consideration. Other details may factor in and affect the final amount, based on the specifics of your case. Applicable deductions to income include taxes, Social Security, Medicare, union dues, pension contributions, and self-employment taxes if applicable. The court will take your entire situation into account when deciding the final number owed per month.

The Washington State DSHS website has a quick estimator to help you get an idea of how much child support you should receive to support your child. This is just an estimate but it can be helpful in setting reasonable expectations for you and your ex, in addition to being a starting point for negotiations.

How to Get Child Support

In order to get child support as the custodial parent, you will have to print, fill out, and sign enrollment paperwork available on the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services resource page for child support services.

This page includes other helpful resources that you can use to find answers to basic questions, access contact numbers if you need further assistance, and find the fax number if you wish to submit the paperwork electronically rather than in person. 

Receiving child support can also be a matter of securing a signed court order. Work with your attorney to insure successful completion of this process. 

Mother & daughter spending time together following successful child support

How to Enforce Child Support

If you are in a position where your ex is behind on payments or has not paid child support at all, then you will have to take measures to enforce child support. The Division of Child Support Services is a division of DSHS and they can help you take action to collect the money you are owed for your child. 

There are many different steps that DCS can take to help you obtain your child support. They can file a lien against property and vehicles or even seize them. They can suspend drivers’ and professional licences. They can report the delinquency to the credit bureau. They can also assist in garnishing wages, take possession of unemployment benefits, and even intercept tax returns to ensure that your child is provided for financially.

The important thing to remember, though, is that DCS is working with thousands of families at any given time. While they are available to help you through the process of enforcing child support, using them as your only resource is likely going to be a lengthy process. Working with a family law attorney can smooth the path ahead because you will have an advocate who is on  your side, committed to serving your needs, one that will fight for you and your children to receive the compensation you deserve. They will work with both DCS and the court system on your behalf.

How to Modify Child Support

If you feel that you or your spouse’s financial situation has changed significantly, you can also request to modify child support. This is a good option if you lose your job, lose a significant amount of work hours, or you are aware that your ex’s income has increased and you want to ensure this is taken into consideration for your child support amount. This is another area where DCS can make administrative decisions; but it is also a process that you can initiate on your own with the support of a lawyer.

You have two options for doing so: a Motion for Adjustment of Child Support, and Petition to Modify Child Support. The specifics of your case will determine which filing process is most appropriate. 

The motion is typically a quicker, easier process that involves minimal paperwork and can usually be determined in a single hearing. You can file a motion if it has been two years since the initial order and you or your ex’s income has changed.

The petition can be used if it has been a year since the initial order and the amount of payments has caused significant financial hardship for you or your child, if there has been a detrimental change in your financial circumstances, or if your child has turned eighteen but is still in high school.

For both of these options, you are required to serve your ex with a summons, a copy of the motion or petition, and any other pertinent information. Your ex will have 20 days to respond, though this time frame can be extended to 60 days if they are out of state. A hearing will take place so that you and your ex can both make cases and present your respective arguments for whether or not the modification should be accepted. If your ex does not respond, it is possible for you to receive a default judgement. 

Know that child support modification is a complex and often lengthy process and many courts are hesitant to change existing orders. To give yourself the best possible chance of having your child support increased, work with a family law attorney and give yourself enough time to compile everything you need to set up the strongest possible argument in favor of modification.

At Torrone Law, our lawyers are experienced in navigating the nuances and roadblocks that can come up when pursuing child support. Let us advocate for you to ensure that your child’s needs are met. Schedule a free consultation with us today.

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