When two people have a child but decide not to stay together as a couple, things can get complicated quickly. Whether married or not, when couples split up, the welfare of their child or children is of great concern. Someone must make fair and enforceable child support decisions that protect the best interests of the children. But who makes those decisions?
The truth is that a couple can work together to come up with fair and reasonable child support agreements. But there are some things you should be aware of when a child support agreement is made outside of court.
Why Not Just Take the Matter to Court?
Quite often, a divorcing couple will find it difficult to agree on much of anything. That is not always the case, but it is often the case. So you may find yourself wondering why you should even try to reach an agreement with your ex regarding child support. It takes effort to reach an agreement, so why not just let a judge decide? Well, here are a few reasons why reaching your own agreement may be preferable.
Whether or not you allow a judge to make this decision for you, you will need an attorney to advise you along the way. Of course, in either case, you can try to “go it alone” without an attorney, but that route is fraught with pitfalls. For instance, without guidance, you will likely transgress some legal requirements in drafting your agreement. And a judge will not sign off on an agreement that does not meet legal standards.
If you decide to let a judge determine child support but go to court without an attorney, many things can go wrong. First off, before going to court, you will have to figure discovery out for yourself. You won’t know what information to provide, and the risks of disclosing too much or too little are high when you have no professional guidance. When standing in front of the judge at the court hearing, you won’t know what information is legally significant. There is a high likelihood that you will waste your precious time in court arguing points that may emotionally matter to you but are of no legal interest to the judge. This can result in unfair or unreasonable rulings that can be costly and difficult to fix later on.
So the bottom line is this: You need a lawyer to guide you in child support matters. But you can greatly lower lawyer fees if you and your ex can reach an amicable agreement outside of court. Agreeing often requires less lawyer assistance, results in a more fair outcome, and saves you a great deal of money.
Child support agreements made outside of court create less stress for everyone involved. Generally speaking, getting together at home or in mediation is far less anxiety-producing than arguing your case before a judge or administrative officer. Yes, you still have to get a judge to sign off on your agreement. But that too is far less stressful than actually arguing your case in court.
When you and your ex create the agreement with guidance from an attorney, you can tailor the terms to your unique situation better than any judge ever could. While your agreement must fall within the child support guidelines, some tweaks to match your specific situation are completely within your control when agreeing outside of court. Conversely, allowing a judge who does not know you or your situation to make these determinations may result in unsatisfactory rulings that can negatively affect you and your kids for years to come.
Child Support Agreement Guidelines
Before jumping in and trying to carve out a support plan, take a moment to review the laws that govern such agreements in Washington State. You can find the official guidelines for child support by looking at Washington Revised Code: Chapter 26.19. You and your ex should read through these guidelines and ask your legal practitioner any questions you have before attempting to work out an agreement. Please understand how important these rules are. A judge will ultimately refuse to sign off on any agreement that does not adhere to legal standards. So do your best to read and understand these rules before sitting down to negotiate.
Basically, child support is calculated based on each parent’s net income. Net income is the amount left after subtracting deductions from your gross income. Typical allowable deductions include:
- Federal income tax;
- State income tax;
- Federal insurance contributions or deductions;
- Mandatory union dues;
- Mandatory professional dues;
- Mandatory pension contributions; and
- Normal business and self-employment expenses for self-employed persons.
Again, consult a lawyer if you have any questions as to what you can deduct from gross pay to arrive at either parent’s net income. It is important to know that purposely lowering your income with the intention of decreasing your support obligations is not tolerated. If a judge finds that either party is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, they may impute income to that party as per Washington Revised Code: Chapter 26.19.071(6).
The attorneys at Blado Kiger Bolan, P.S., know the child support laws of Washington State. We can guide you through the process of agreeing on support issues while keeping you in compliance with the law. We can represent you in mediation and in court if your attempts to agree fail. We know when and how to get a judge to sign off on your agreement to make it legally enforceable and can assist you in petitioning the court for modifications should there ever be a significant change in circumstances. Allow us to make your life easier by putting our knowledge and experience to use for you. Call us directly or contact us online today to set up your initial consultation with one of our lawyers. We look forward to serving you.