Child support, like a final parenting plan, is always subject to change/review by the court. In fact the statutes that address changing a final child support order almost encourage a review every two years (if one, or both parents so desire). While the laws allow for a review every two years, they also allow for a court review if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances” at any time. Of course just exactly what is a substantial change in circumstances is not defined in RCW 26.09.170. Any the reason for that is based on the fact that there are so many variables, in any case, that the state congress felt it would be best to let a judge look at any given situation to determine if it should review the child support.
Today, more so than years ago, there is less of a likelihood that a person will keep working for the same company the rest of his/her life. Loyalty by a company to it’s employees is much lower today than in the past. All of these facts point to a greater possibility that one will change employment several times during their work career. Since child support is a function of each parents work income, should there be a change in one of the parents income, there may be a need to review how it will affect the child support. While not specifically mentioned in the statute, it would be safe to say that many “involuntary” changes in ones work income will meet the definition of a substantial change in circumstances. I use the term involuntary because of the fact that a parent would not be able to just quit his/her job and try to get the child support changed based on that fact. Also note that the statute does state that the parent receiving the child support can not use a wage or salary increase as a substantial change in circumstances.
Should you find yourself with a sudden job change, under any circumstances, I would suggest talking to a family law attorney as soon as possible. The attorney can review your situation with you and determine if there is an ability to modify the child support. But also keep in mind that even if one is terminated from a job, a parents obligation to support a child does not go away. Any if a parent is not working, the court will impute income to that parent, so one issue that you and the attorney will want to consider is what is your future employment prospects. If you will be able to get a similar paying job, in short order, then it may not make sense to try and change the support obligation.
Another important reason to talk with an attorney right away is based on the fact that child support (with only a very few situations) can not be changed retroactively (i.e. changed back to the time you lost your job). So if the situation justifies changing the child support downward (and you are going to pay less) the court normally can only go back to the date that you file the petition to modify the child support. It can be unwise to not change the child support and do some sort of “informal” agreement with the other parent and then have that parent (perhaps years later) say you own the full amount – this can and does happen.
This blog article is not intended to convey legal advice, but only address some of the general rules. Most legal issues, in family law cases, depend on the specific facts. Should you wish to discuss your particular situation with the Law Office of Thomas A. Chillquist, please call or email my office. I am a family law lawyer (divorce attorney) and I represent parties in family law, and divorce, matters in King and Pierce County, Washington, including Kent, Federal Way, Covington, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Orting, Tacoma and Mercer Island. Copyright Thomas A. Chillquist