Changing Child Support Orders

May 2020 | Family Law

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Prior to January 1, 2019, child support was calculated based upon the number of children, the parent’s income, and the age of the children – with increased support for children over the age of twelve. However, beginning January 1, 2019, Washington implemented a change in the Child Support Schedule. Under the new laws, only the number of children and the parent’s income impact the child support calculation – the age of the children is now irrelevant. Previously, children above the age of twelve received more funds than those under age twelve.

So how does the new rule affect the ability to change a child support order? And when can a party modify or adjust their order?

Adjustment vs. Modification

Before asking the court to change child support, it is important to understand the difference between an adjustment and a modification. An adjustment is a change to the amount of the transfer payment and each parents’ percentage responsibility for such things as medical expenses and daycare. An adjustment leaves the remainder of the child support order the same. A modification may change multiple provisions of the child support order in addition to changing the amount of the transfer payment and each parent’s percentage responsibility for expenses. Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, however, if you know their meanings you will be more likely to understand which process will work better for your situation.

Modification

A modification may be available due to a substantial change in circumstances or, even without a change in circumstances, if the child support order has been in place for at least one year and causes severe economic hardship.

Substantial Change in Circumstances

A party may petition for a modification of their child support order based upon a substantial change in circumstances at any time. RCW 26.09.170(5)(a). Examples of a substantial change in circumstance could mean a substantial increase or decrease in the income of one or both parents or where a child has unanticipated expenses, such as for select sports that did not exist at the time of the previous order. However, if a party is voluntarily underemployed or voluntarily unemployed that is not a basis for modification. RCW 26.09.170(5)(b). When a parent reduces his or her income on his or her own accord, the court will not consider it a substantial change in circumstances or a basis for modification unless the parent has a good faith reason for doing so. Mattson v. Mattson, 95 Wn. App. 592, 604, 976 P.2d 157, 164 (1999).

One Year or More and Economic Hardship

Even without a substantial change in circumstances, a party can request a modification of a child support order that has been in place for at least one year if the order causes severe economic hardship on either party or on the child. RCW 26.09.170(6)(a). An automatic adjustment provision may also be added to a child support order if there is a severe economic hardship. RCW 26.09.170(6)(c). A party may also file for modification if a child is in high school and will require support beyond the age of 18 to complete his or her education. RCW 26.09.170(6)(b).

Adjustment

A party does not need to show a substantial change in circumstances to adjust child support if two years have passed from the date of the last entry of the order or there have been changes in the economic table. RCW 26.09.170(7)(a)(i-ii). Either parent may initiate an adjustment by filing a motion with child support worksheets. RCW 26.09.170(7)(b).

Whether support is modified or adjusted, if the change is greater than thirty percent of the transfer payment and causes a significant hardship to a parent, the court may make the modification in two equal parts. RCW 26.09.170(7)(c). The first increase occurs at the time the order is entered and the second increase occurs six months after entry. RCW 26.09.170(7)(c). A party may motion the court for an adjustment two years after the second increase. RCW 26.09.170(7)(c).

If you are considering modifying or adjusting your child support order, it is recommended to consult with an attorney to discuss the potential outcomes. Please contact our family law department to assist with your family law needs.