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What law in Washington State defines custodial/non-custodial parent and why is the NCP obligated to make the transfer payment?

Seattle, WA |

I am trying to find which RCW in Washington State defines custodial and non-custodial parent roles, why the NCP is obligated to make the transfer payment for child support (especially in joint-custody arrangements) and why court orders in Washington State do not allow for joint-custody language?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Best answer

    Non-custodial parent is a term that is not defined. You will find it nowhere in RCW 26.09.004 (definitions) or RCW 26.19.011 (definitions). The non-custodial parent is usually the person with fewer overnights than the other parent, and by extension that parent is considered the obligor parent for child support purposes with the obligation to remit the transfer payment. In joint custody arrangements, a lot depends on how the parenting plan under the provision titled custodial designation is worded. The custodial designation by itself does not impact parenting rights or obligations, but is there for the sole purpose of state and federal statutes that require that a designation be made clear. Federal and state agencies do not want to be left guessing. The most notable of these is the IRS for tax purposes. In many 50-50 parenting plans language is drafted that states that the child(ren) resides with the parents equally, and that for purposes of federal and state statutes the mother shall be considered the custodian in even-numbered years, and the father shall be considered the custodian in odd-numbered years. I suppose by extension one could reasonable argue that a court could apply this alternating feature to the child support order, but I have never seen this done and doing so could tend to create more of a nightmare for Division of Child Support or for the courts or even for the parties than it is worth, especially when an obligor parent might receive a credit thereby reducing the standard calculation of child support they would otherwise have to pay in light of the significant amount of time the child(ren) reside with that parent. Sometimes there is still an amount to be paid by the obligor parent (usually on account of income disparities), sometimes it is a wash where no transfer payment is exchanged, and sometimes the credit when applied would indicate a dollar amount actually owing to the obligor parent unless that parent waives it. Until the legislature states otherwise, the approach taken within the support orders will continue.

    Karen C. Skantze practices in the State of Washington. The response is limited to her understanding of law in the jurisdiction in which she practices and not to any other jurisdiction. No response to any posted inquiry shall constitute legal advice, nor the existence of an attorney/client relationship.

  2. "Custody" doesn't mean squat under Washington law. Your obligations towards your children are spelled out in a parenting plan. Theoretically, either parent could pay the other parent child support, but the payor is nearly always the parent with less than 50% time. If the parenting plan grants the paying parent more than approximately one-third time, that is often a basis for deviaing the support from the presumed amount. You're not going to re-write legislation. Get a lawyer and deal with the stuff you can within the parameters of the law. You don't have the energy, time, money it takes to change the law.

  3. The answer is simple -- because the legislature chose not to define those terms and adopt a joint custody language.

    The information is for general information purposes only. Nothing stated above should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation.

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