Aside from child custody, child support can be one of the most contentious issues in any case before the Family Court in the District of Columbia. However, this does not mean the parties will not ultimately reach an agreement. There are various points throughout the process where the parties can meet and discuss the issue. On the other hand, the court can simply use the child support guidelines and set the amount.
How does a child support case work in Washington, DC?
This first thing that happens when one party wants the other to pay child support is that the requesting party will file a petition with the DC Superior Court. The court will then set an initial hearing before a magistrate judge. A magistrate judge is hired by the court and handles what are generally considered matters of lower importance. All other matters, including divorce and child custody cases, are handled by associate judges of the DC Superior Court, who are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of Congress. While this is not as political as we see with the appointments of other federal judges, in recent years, there has been more involvement from members of Congress.
If there is not a custody dispute, then this decision by the magistrate judge can be final. In this magistrate’s hearing, the court will typically ask the parties a series of questions and use that to calculate the amount the noncustodial spouse should pay. However, if the parties reach and agreement outside the guidelines, the court will generally go along with the agreement so long as everyone understands they are departing from the guidelines.
After the temporary figure is set, there will likely be a second hearing, but in many cases, the case will be transferred to the associate judge who is handling the child custody case. The reason the court will do this is because of the “one family, one judge rule” that allows a single judge to make all decisions regarding the family for the purposes of consistency and judicial economy. As for the guidelines themselves, while there are various calculators, the actual method of determination can be found in the DC Code. While every case is different, as the facts are never the same, the court will typically look at the income of both parents, the parents’ reasonable expenses, any special needs of the parties involved, and other facts the court believes are reasonable in light of the situation.
One thing to keep in mind, as you can discuss with an experienced Washington, DC child support attorney, is that if the parties have joint custody, there will not likely be a requirement to pay each other child support. The actual threshold is 35 percent, but this is not always an exact science. As is the case with a lot of other decisions the family court judge can make, it is possible to depart from presumptions and guidelines if such departure is deemed in the best interest of the child or children involved in the case.
If you need assistance with a child support case or any other family law matter in the District of Columbia or Maryland, please contact the Law Offices of Daniel A. Gross for a consultation.