Area of Law:
If you have children and are about to go through either a divorce or separation proceeding, two of the principle issues for which you will have to seek out legal aid are child support and visitation. Depending on the level of civility that exists between you and your former spouse, these issues can be resolved with varying degrees of ease.
Child support can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce or separation proceeding. A certain level of trust is required from the supporting party that the supported party is actually using the money that is being sent to directly benefit the child. So, if you and your ex are comfortable with each other in that regard, you will be able to allow the court to decide a fair amount of support, and the supporting party will be able to make the payments with a minimal amount of conflict.
The child support order generally mandates both the frequency of payments and the amount that the supporting parent must pay the supported parent to help care for the child. Since there is no streamlined way of establishing child support, most states have their own formulas for determining how much child support is to be paid. Although, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act does lay out certain guidelines for the states to follow.
In Washington, the courts follow Washington Code Title 20, Section 20 as a basic layout of the rules for determining the amount of support that is to be paid. Washington uses the Income Shares method to determine child support, which means that the level of support is determined by the income of both parents.
Here is an online worksheet that can help you estimate how much the supporting spouse will be mandated to pay based on the factors that are outlined in the Washington Child Support Statutes. Just be aware, however, that due to the specific nature of anything having to do with the best interests of the child, the courts have broad discretion to consider any extraneous factors that they deem relevant.
One last thing to keep in mind is that in spite of the divorce, you and your former spouse are still in a partnership with regard to raising your child, and you have to learn to work together, or the child will be the one who suffers. Always consider your child’s needs and interests, treat your former spouse with respect – think of him or her as a business partner if necessary, and make sure that you consult with him or her before making any large purchases on behalf of the child. After all, you are still sharing that financial responsibility even if you are not still together as a couple.
Visitation can be even more contentious than child support if there is bad blood between former spouses. The situation that can arise from a hostile relationship is generally not to anyone's advantage - including the child - because what often ensues is the custodial parent will use the child as a pawn to agitate the non-custodial parent. The courts heavily frown upon this type of behavior because it is almost always in the child’s best interest to have an amicable relationship exist between the parents regardless of their marital status. As is the case with anything to do with family law, visitation laws vary from state to state, but the National Conference of Commissioners has laid out suggested state guidelines in the Interstate Child Visitation Act.
Child visitation guidelines are usually hashed out between former spouses through mediation. If, however, you and your ex cannot come to a mutual agreement as to when the non-custodial parent will be allowed to visit the child, the court will decide this matter for you in order to meet the needs of the child. In Washington, if the non-custodial spouse violates the visitation order, you may file an order to hold him or her in contempt of the court.
*To learn more about how child support works, watch this YouTube video on Free Legal Aid.