Last Updated: April 28, 2022

What is child support?

Child support is money that a non-custodial parent (a parent that the child does not live with most of the time) pays to the custodial parent (the parent the child lives with) to help provide for the needs of the child.

How do I know what I have to pay in child support?

What you have to pay will be set forth in a child support order from a court or the Division of Child Support (“DCS”). In most cases, the child support order states that the child support payment should be sent to the Washington State Support Registry (“WSSR”). WSSR then sends the payment to the custodial parent.

How does the child support process before DCS work?

A Support Enforcement Officer (“SEO”) of DCS will gather information about the income of the parents and use it to calculate a proposed child support amount. That calculation is sent to the parties in a “Notice and Finding of Financial Responsibility.” If nobody objects to that notice, it becomes a legally enforceable child support order. If you do not agree with the amount of child support that has been calculated, you must object by contacting the SEO by telephone or in writing. A hearing will then be set before an Administrative Law Judge who will decide the final child support amount.

How is the amount of child support I owe determined?

Monthly child support amounts are based on both parties’ incomes and the number of children to be supported using the Washington State Child Support Schedule.

What happens if I don’t pay child support?

If you don’t make your required child support payments, DCS can have your wages garnished, your driver’s license revoked and/or take your property. DCS also can refer your case to the county prosecutor, which could result in jail time.

What should I do if I am served with legal papers concerning child support?

Do not ignore them! It is very important that you open and read them as soon as possible. This will give you the most time to respond to whatever you receive. If you do not respond, a “default order” giving the other party everything it asks for may be entered. The paperwork you receive will include your deadline to respond.

Instructions and forms for responding to a petition to modify child support from Washington Law Help

Do I have a right to free legal help for my child support case?

No, you do not have a right to a free attorney to represent you in child support hearings.  If you do not have an attorney, contact a family law facilitator at your local superior court.  While they can’t give you legal advice, they can help you fill out the required forms.  Facilitators may charge a fee, but low income individuals can request that the fee be deferred or waived. 

If my child support order was modified during my incarceration, what happens once I am released?

Read your support order. Sometimes when an order is modified because the noncustodial parent is in prison, the order will say that support obligations automatically go back to the old amount once you are released. Otherwise, you should expect that the custodial parent or DCS may start a modification action.

What happens if I can’t find work after I am released?

Keep in touch with DCS. While your support obligation doesn’t go away just because you aren’t working, telling DCS that you are looking for work can help you avoid having your license suspended or your case referred to the prosecutor (and potential jail time).

Consider applying for DCS’s Alternative Solutions Program, where a case worker will help you with finding a job, lowering your monthly payments and other matters.