Parental support is essential for the well-being of every child. Usually, in a family unit, both parents provide some form of support for their child and the quality of life is generally acceptable. However, when families split or the parents are unmarried, the responsibility may fall on just one of the parents. Washington state has child support laws that have been established to help create a balance of the responsibilities of both parents. This ensures that they share some of the responsibility of caring for their child and no one shies away from their obligations.
Child Support Process
The Division of Child Support (DCS), a part of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services offers child support services to custodial parents who require such. Parents who wish to apply for child support can print a form from the DCS website at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/14-057%20%26%2018-078.pdf or they can fill out a request at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/child-support-application to have a copy of the form mailed to their address.
As part of the child support application, parents need to provide certain important information about themselves, the noncustodial parent, and the child. This includes name, date of birth, sex, social security number, etc. Some details of the noncustodial parent are particularly crucial, such as employer’s information, last known address, phone number, and physical description. These details can be used to help locate the parent after the application so that a physical notice of child support can be served. Until this notice is served, the case cannot progress. To help locate noncustodial parents, the DCS may make use of state and federal locator services to crosscheck the available details against a database or ask for assistance from other states to locate the parent.
After the custodial parent has been located and served with a notice, there may be a need to establish parentage of the child. If the parents were married when the child was born, the mother’s husband is legally presumed to be the father of the child. However, if the parents were/are not married they can sign an acknowledgment form at the hospital immediately after the child’s birth. They can also sign the form much later at the local county health department. Signing the form within five days of the child’s birth is free, but a signing fee is charged after this time frame. Parentage may also be established through a court order. In this case, the court usually orders genetic testing to determine if the man is the child’s biological father. If the tests come back positive, the court order is issued, and the man’s name can be added to the birth certificate of the child. For more information on establishing parentage, visit https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/division-child-support/faq-parents.
Once parentage has been established, the process of determining the exact amount to be paid as child support commences. The DCS charges an annual fee of $35 per child support case after $550 has been disbursed within the fiscal year. This fee, however, does not apply to families that have received public financial assistance.
How Do You Receive Child Support?
Custodial parents receiving child support in Washington can have the funds paid directly into their bank account. This is made possible by a Direct Deposit arrangement. Direct Deposit is a form of electronic funds transfer that allows the DCS to disburse child support payments directly into the savings or checking account of the custodial parent. The authorization form needed to enroll for Direct Deposit can be found in the child support application form at https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/ESA/dcs/documents/14-057%20%26%2018-078.pdf.
Parents who do not authorize Direct Deposits into their account will be issued a DCS debit card. This is a Visa debit card that has the child support payments loaded into it as they become available. The card can be used like a regular debit card at any location where VISA is accepted.
Amount Receivable as Child Support
While establishing child support orders, the DCS tries to calculate a reasonable amount that will cover the cost of caring for the child and will be affordable for the noncustodial parent. When calculating the amount to be paid monthly, several factors are considered. These include healthcare costs, daycare expenses, the income of both parents, cost of education, number of children, other child support obligations of the parents, etc. Income figures may be imputed for a parent if the exact income is not known, or if the parent purposely stays unemployed or underemployed. Washington state has a full set of guidelines for determining child support payments which can be found at https://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/documents/WSCSS_Schedule_2020%2006.pdf. The state also offers an online child support calculator which gives an estimate of what may be expected in the child support order. This calculator can be accessed at https://fortress.wa.gov/dshs/dcs/SSGen/Home/QuickEstimator.
Enforcement of Child Support
Sometimes, noncustodial parents delay or default on their child support payments. In such situations, the DCS can take certain actions to enforce the payment of child support. Actions such as income withholding are usually implemented once the child support order has been issued. Other actions include:
- Withholding wages,
- Withholding unemployment compensation,
- Withholding pensions not protected by federal law,
- Intercepting insurance payouts,
- Freezing bank accounts
- Suspension of driver’s license
- Filing liens against property of the parent
- Refusing passport renewals,
- Intercepting income tax refunds
- Seizing personal property, etc.
Some of the actions above are taken automatically, while others are initiated once certain criteria for enforcement have been met. For more details, visit https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/faq?field_topic_value=childenforce.