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WashingtonLawHelp.orgWashington LawHelp

Do You Owe Child Support?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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General information about how child support is set and your obligation to pay child support. #3810EN


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Should I read this?

Yes, if you may owe child support.

Read these for other issues:

How is child support set?

It is based on both of these:

  • each parent’s take-home pay

  • how many children need support

Each parent fills out worksheets with info about your finances and the children’s needs. This info gets applied to a child support schedule. The schedule sets the support amount based on the parents’ income and number of children.

Where can I get a support schedule?

How do I pay child support?

You can send payments to the Washington State Support Registry, P.O. Box 45868, Olympia, WA 98504-5868. This way you will get proper credit for payments. You may not get credit if you pay the other parent directly.

If you pay the other parent directly, or have some other arrange­ment, you must have a written record of payments or an arrange­ment with DCS to get credit for payments.

How can I make sure the correct support amount is set?

A. Court Cases

A Superior Court judge sets the monthly amount. When you are involved in a court case, you must be served with papers.  The papers say how to respond to the court and other party (spouse, parent, or state). You must properly respond to the papers.

You will get notices of important court dates where the judge decides on support and other issues. You must show up and be ready to take part.

*If you do not go to court or meet a deadline, the judge may give the other party whatever they want, with no input from you.

If you do not respond to a parentage action, the court could name you the child’s legal parent.  The court may order you to pay for:

  • the costs of birth, court, and/or blood tests

  • past and current support

  • child’s medical expenses

B. Administrative Cases (DCS/ALJ)

IIf there is no court order, the Division of Child Support (DCS) can set support. DCS may send you a Notice and Finding of Financial Responsibility (NFFR). (If you signed an affidavit acknowledging parentage, you may get a different notice. See the parentage section, below.) An NFFR says how much monthly support plus any back support you owe. DCS also sends a support schedule and worksheets. You need these if you disagree with the NFFR. (See next section.) You must respond in time when you get notice of an appeal deadline or hearing date.

What if I disagree with how much DCS says I should pay?

1. Send in your objection/ and/or hearing request for a hearing on time.

If you disagree with what the NFFR says you owe, ask for a hearing. DCS calls it an “adjudicative proceeding”.

There should be an “Objection – Request for Blood Test or Adjudicative Proceeding” form with the papers you got.”  In the space on that form, put why you are appealing. Deliver or mail it back to the DCS office that sent it. The address should be on the form.  If not, send your appeal to:    

DSHS Board of Appeals
P.O. Box 45803
Olympia, WA 98204-5803

You have twenty days from the day you get the NFFR to send in your appeal. (If the twentieth day falls on a weekend or holiday, you have until the next regular business day.) 

If you appeal within the twenty days, DCS cannot collect support from you until the appeal is over.  If you file an appeal after the twenty-day period, DCS can start collecting support from you. If you wait more than a year to ask for a hearing, you must have had good cause for the delay.

*Keep a copy of anything you send DCS.

2. Try to settle your dispute before the hearing.

A Claims Officer will repre­sent DCS. The claims officer might agree to a resolution that works for everyone without needing a hearing. If your income is different than DCS says, show the Claims Officer your support worksheets with your actual income and expenses. Have proof of your income handy.

3. Go to the hearing if you cannot agree.

An administrative law judge (ALJ) conducts the hearing. It is less formal than court. A phone hearing has the same legal effect as in-person. The ALJ decides your child support amount after listening to you, the other parent, and the Claims Officer.

Take at least two copies of any documents you want the ALJ to see.  If DCS says your income is higher than it actually is, bring copies of your income tax return, W-2 statement, wage stubs, and bank statements. The ALJ can also consider any support you have already paid. You should also bring receipts for clothing, medical bills, or other expenses you have paid for the child. You can bring a witness who has helpful info about your ability to pay support.

The ALJ also uses the support schedule to set support. The ALJ might set it higher or lower (called “deviation”) than the basic amount. The Definitions and Standards section of the schedule explains when the ALJ can do that. Example: You are responsible for children from another relationship.

The ALJ writes an Initial Decision after the hearing. If you disagree with that decision, you can appeal to superior court.

What if we are not sure who the child's father is?

Superior Court can resolve that in a parentage case. The court can also address custody, visitation and support.

Can we establish parentage without going to court?

Yes. A father can sign an acknowledgment of paternity and file it with the state Department of Health. Then DCS can set a child support obligation against the alleged father without filing a court case.

I signed a parentage acknowledgment. I found out later that I am probably not the father. What can I do?

It depends. You can formally withdraw it within 60 days from the date of filing. If you withdraw your acknowledgment in time, only a superior court can establish parentage.

Once 60 days have passed from the date of filing, the acknowledgment becomes legally binding. At that point, you might be able to challenge it in court based on fraud, duress or material mistake of fact.

It is hard to win this kind of court challenge. Sign a parentage acknowledgment only if you are certain you are the parent. Otherwise, let the court decide. This may put you in a better position to resolve custody, visitation and support issues.  

What if I have a low income?

If your monthly net income is less than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, you will pay a minimum monthly amount of $50 per child. Judges and DCS who decide it would be unjust to order that amount can “deviate” (change) the amount.

How much of my pay can go to support?

DCS can take up to 50% of your monthly take-home pay for current support and arrears (unpaid back support). If your current support obligation is more than 50% of your net income, DCS can only collect 50%. If you get need-based government benefits, such as unemployment benefits, Social Security Disability or Workers Comp, DCS can take up to 50% of that monthly payment.  

If you get VA veterans’ benefits or disability benefits from Social Security or L & I, these agencies should pay your children support. DCS should apply this support to a current support obligation. Talk with the DCS Support Enforcement Officer (SEO) handling your case. Find out how to get credit for those benefits payments, or how to get them started if they are not already happening.

Can DCS garnish my welfare benefits to pay for support?

No.  DCS cannot collect support from SSI or welfare benefits (TANF, Refugee Assistance). However, your back support grows each month that you do not pay support.

If you get SSI or welfare and your support payment is based on a much higher income, consider a modification action to change the support amount. You may also able to lower or get rid of any back support you owe.  (See next section and read Change Your Child Support Court Order.)

Can I change my child support obligation?

Maybe.  Ask DCS to review the support order. If your case meets their criteria, the prosecuting attorney can file to modify it. Read Asking DCS to Review Your Child Support Case for Modification.

You can also change try to file a “Petition for Modification” on your own. This does not affect any back support you owe.

If a court order set your support obligation: You must go back to court to change support. Use File a Petition to Modify Your Child Support Order. You can also use DCS’ How to Obtain or Modify a Child Support Order on Your Own.

If DCS or an ALJ decision set support:  You can ask DCS to review your current order OR you can file a “Petition for Modification” with DCS. DCS’ website explains how to do both.   

To change a support order, you must tell the judge what has changed since the judge first set the support obligation. Some examples:

  • a long period of unemployment

  • becoming responsible for more children

  • you now have a disability

  • starting 7/28/19, you are in jail or prison

*DCS must help you change the child support amount if things have changed.

Your support payment may go up if your income does. DCS or the other parent can ask for more support if your income goes up.

Can I lower the amount DCS collects?

Maybe. DCS can take less support from you if collecting 50% of your monthly income causes you hardship.  DCS can also take less each month for back support you owe the state. You must prove collecting 50% of your monthly income causes hardship for you or your family. You can prove this by showing the money left over after paying support does not cover basic needs.

What if I am in WorkFirst?

You must sign a waiver of (you are giving up) the Statute of Limitations to have back support payments lowered. Read on for more about the Statute of Limitations.

You can also limit back support if you are currently caring for your children. You can also ask the state to waive (cancel) or lower some of the back support you owe the state. Read on for more about the Conference Board. 

What is the Statute of Limitations?

It is a legal time limit.

Support orders signed by a judge or set by DCS on or after July 23, 1989: the statute of limitations gives DCS ten years from the date the youngest child in the order turns eighteen to collect unpaid support. DCS cannot go after any back support not collected by the time the youngest child turns twenty-eight.

Support orders entered before July 23, 1989: the statute of limitations is six years after the amount became due for orders entered in 1980 or before, and ten years for orders entered after 1980.

Should I waive the Statute of Limitations?

DCS can ask parents who owe child support to sign a Waiver of Defense/Statute of Limitations form. This lets DCS collect unpaid support indefinitely. If you have a low income and owe a lot of back support, consider signing the waiver form. In exchange, you may get lower monthly payments. That will give you current relief from collection and more time to pay back support.

Each case is different. Make sure you know exactly what DCS is agreeing to before signing the waiver. Do not sign before negotiating with DCS.

A DCS worker who wants you to sign the waiver before talking about lowering the amount DCS is withholding is violating DCS policy. Ask to talk to a supervisor.

What is a Conference Board?

If you have a support problem or grievance with DCS, you can petition for a Conference Board. Read DCS’ Child Support Conference Boards.  (It is mainly for if you have lost your job.) 

DCS employees sit on the Conference Board. You can appear before a Conference Board and ask for relief. Their decision is not a hearing decision. You cannot appeal it.

The Conference Board can accept a partial lump-sum payment instead of collecting all back support you owe the state. You may not have to pay back support you owe the state if it would cause you or the children living with you hardship. If you ask for a “substantial hardship waiver,” DCS should look at:

  • How much you have already paid

  • Your present debts and assets

  • Your income

  • If you are unable to work

  • If continued collection of unpaid support would cause severe hardship


What is a Notice of Support Debt (NSD)?

DCS may send you this Notice. It may claim you owe accumulated support under a court order that sets a monthly support amount.

If you disagree with an NSD, you can ask for a Conference Board, or a modification. (See above.) Going to court is probably better. DCS may give you credit for payments you can prove you paid. DCS cannot ignore or change the court-ordered support amount. DCS can decide not to collect court-ordered support.

What is a Notice of Support Owed (NOSO)?

DCS uses an NOSO to set a monthly child support obligation when a court orders support without setting an amount.

If you disagree with the suggested amount in a NOSO, you should ask for an administrative hearing OR set up a court hearing and notify DCS within twenty days. Try to settle the amount first with your Support Enforcement Officer (SEO). Send the SEO your documents and support worksheets showing the correct amount owed. At the hearing, you must show why DCS’ figures are wrong.

What if my employer withholds support from my wages but does not send it to DCS? 

Ask your SEO to take action against your employer. DCS can demand that the employer withhold wages from you to pay support and send them to DCS.

If your SEO will not help, make a written request to DCS for them to try to collect this money. If that does not work, write to or ask to speak with the SEO’s supervisor. Send a copy of your wage stubs showing the amount withheld. Keep a copy of the stubs you send in.

How can I get in touch with DCS? 

There is a statewide toll-free line:  1-800-442-KIDS. Your local office may not be handling your case. The KIDS line will help find which office to call. They can transfer your call.

What rights do I have for interpretation and translation services? 

You have a right to an interpreter if you cannot understand or speak English. You have this right in any legal proceeding started by DCS, a prosecuting attorney, or other government body. In other legal proceedings, you may have to pay for an interpreter yourself.

You should not have to pay for an interpreter if you need one due to disability. If you or your witness cannot easily understand or talk because of a hearing or speech impairment, you have the right to an interpreter. The court appoints and pays for interpreters in civil and criminal proceedings.

*If you feel the interpreter is not doing a good job, you can ask for a new one.

DCS must provide an interpreter if you cannot communicate very well in English. Ask for an interpreter every time you talk to DCS. Ask to have all forms translated, too. DCS must provide an interpreter as soon as possible. Do not sign a form or agreement unless they have translated it into your language. Do not sign any form or make a written agreement unless you understand it.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of July 2019.

© 2019 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Jun 04, 2019