A Summary Of The Child Support Guidelines In Arizona
By William D. Bishop, Arizona Divorce and Family Law Attorney
* Certified Family Law Specialist, Arizona Board Of Legal Specialization
Bishop, Del Vecchio & Beeks Law Office
SUMMARY OF ARIZONA CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES
Child Support in Arizona is determined pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. The Child Support Guidelines have been recently modified and updated as of January 1, 2022. If you are under a prior child support order, you may be entitled to a modified (different) amount of child support based upon your circumstances.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, one parent generally does not pay all of the support for the children. Rather child support is based upon an income-based pro-rated calculation. The language of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines summarizes this concept as follows:
“The Arizona Child Support Guidelines follow the Income Shares Model, which considers the income of both parents. Under the model, the total child support amount approximates the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together. Each parent contributes his or her proportionate share of the total child support amount.”
As part of the overall child support amount, certain ongoing costs are calculated as part of the overall division. This generally includes the child’s share of health insurance, child care costs during work hours (if any), and required extra educational costs for the child. Once the parties’ incomes, parenting time and above described child costs are confirmed, the Court and/or the parties can determine the “presumed” child support obligation by utilizing the Child Support Calculator. Court’s sometimes deviate from the presumed amount of child support depending upon the circumstances. The parties can generally stipulate (agree) to a different amount than what is provided by the Arizona Child Support Guidelines based upon their individual circumstances.
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines can be somewhat complex in an application where various factors are in dispute. The following is a basic description of how the Child Support Guidelines work for the reader’s ease of understanding.
In general, the Arizona Child Support Guidelines is based upon national studies of a children’s basic needs and overall expected expenses based in part on an expected standard of living. The amount is calculated based upon both of the parents’ combined incomes (i.e. the higher the incomes, the more the combined child support obligation), and certain basic expenses including the child’s health care insurance and child care costs if applicable. In order to determine child support pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, you first insert both parties’ incomes, which results in a basic child support obligation attributed to both parties, and add in the child’s health care insurance, child care and necessary educational expenses if applicable. The child support obligation is divided between the parties pursuant to percentage of their respective income. Where the parties’ combined incomes exceed $30,000 per month, the basic child support obligation no longer increases under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. In such instance, it would be up to the child support recipient to prove that an upward deviation in the amount of child support is appropriate under the circumstances.
By paying child support, this does not mean you are paying all of the support for the children. Rather, based upon both parents’ incomes, respective parenting time, and the child’s expenses for health insurance, child care costs, and education costs, the child support payor is paying a proportionate share to the other parent so that the end result is each party is paying a percentage of the overall base costs for the child proportionate to his and her income.
As a simplified example, if Mother earns $7,500.00 per month, and Father earns $2,500.00 per month, the percentage is 75% Mother and 25% Father. This does not mean that Mother owes Father a child support obligation. If Mother is the primary residential parent, Father may owe Mother 25% of the child support obligation while Mother “assumes” 75% of the obligation through her normal financial support of the children while they are in her primary care.
If one of the parties for example pays the child’s health insurance costs, this is taken into consideration in the child support worksheet so that the other parent pays his or her proportionate share prior to the final calculated amount. Under the above example, if Father is paying the child’s health insurance costs each month, Mother ultimately pays her share of these costs as an offset before the final child support amount is calculated.
If the parties have equal income and equal parenting time, there may not be a base child support amount, but rather only a pro-rata division of the health insurance and other described costs. If one party is the primary residential parent, the other party will generally have to pay child support (but not always depending upon the circumstances).
The more children the parties have, the higher the child support obligation (up to six children). However, such is not a direct correlation (i.e. having two children does not result in a child support that is double that realized if the parties only have one child). Rather, the Child Support Guidelines recognize an economy of scale (i.e. that it does not cost two times more to raise two children rather than one).
As noted above, the parent paying support often does not realize the parent receiving child support also has an inherent child support obligation. Such is realized pursuant to the assumption that the cost of providing support for the children exceeds the amount received in monthly child support. Thus, the paying parent is paying his or her portion of the overall assumed cost in proportion to the comparative incomes of the parties. The overall calculations also realize that the paying parent also has his or her own expenses involved with his or her own parenting time.
The cost of raising children as determined by the Arizona Child Support Guidelines is not limited to out of pocket costs for health care, meals and clothes. Rather, the Child Support Guidelines take into account national average costs (adjusted by state) for many inherent costs such as the home, utilities and various other costs.
Sometimes a parent will ask the other parent for an accounting to prove what he or she is using his or her child support payment for. Except for additional costs added to the child support worksheet (health insurance costs, child care costs, educational costs), a parent receiving child support generally does not have to prove what he or she is spending for the child. Rather, it is assumed that each parent is providing the basic needs for the children, including housing, utilities, food, clothing etc.
Sometimes a parent will refuse to pay for clothing etc. for the child based upon his or her belief that is what child support is supposed to cover. Again, this would be a misunderstanding as the Arizona Child Support Guidelines are based upon both parties purchasing the necessities for the children while in his or her care.
SELF-HELP CALCULATION OF CHILD SUPPORT
The Supreme Court of Arizona provides a child support calculator online which is free of charge. You can merely log on to the calculator and insert both parties’ incomes and adjustments as described in the Child Support Guidelines in order to calculate child support. Because not all factors are not always known, you can insert numerous scenarios (i.e. changes in incomes, anticipated changes in parenting time, termination of child care expenses, etc.) in order to assess various situations.
With regard to determining the child support amount pursuant to the child support worksheet, the parties first insert their respective incomes. After inserting each parties’ incomes, you will insert costs associated with the children’s health insurance, child care costs and other information that will provide for various adjustments to the child support amount as described below:
- If one parent pays spousal maintenance to the other parent, the paying parent’s income is decreased and the recipient parent’s income is increased by the amount of such spousal maintenance award (the Court has the discretion to tax effect such payments). This changes the percentages of the parties’ respective Child Support Incomes, which in turn changes the amount of the Child Support Obligation.
- If a party has other children (i.e. children from prior or subsequent relationships), such party generally receives a downward adjustment to their income in the amount of their child support obligation (or presumed inherent child support obligation pursuant to the guidelines). This does not apply to step-children.
- The party who pays the health care insurance for the children is credited with the amount of such payments so that each party pays a percentage of such obligation pursuant to the final child support calculation.
- In the same regard, the party who pays the child care costs for the children is credited with the amount of such payments so that each party pays a percentage of such obligation pursuant to the final child support calculation.
- If one or more children are twelve years old or older, such will result in a 10% increase to the base support obligation for that child (if one of two children is 12 years or older, this would result in a 5% increase).
- Child support is also adjusted pursuant to the parenting time that the paying party exercises. The more the parenting time, the higher the adjustment. If the parents share equal parenting time, the largest adjustment applies. In such event, there is merely an equalization of the child support obligations between the two parties based upon their incomes which generally results in an even lower child support obligation (or no child support obligation if the parties’ incomes and child expenses are substantially equal).
MORE IN DEPTH DISCUSSION REGARDING THE DIFFERENT SECTIONS OF THE ARIZONA CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES
Below is a more in-depth summary of each section of the Child Support Guidelines provided by our Phoenix child support attorneys. Such descriptions have been drafted for the ease of reading and understanding. Not all sections and provisions of the Child Support Guidelines are addressed herein. For a review of the full text of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, click here.
Background: The Arizona Child Support Guidelines Follow the “Income Shares Model.” Such is based upon extensive research regarding the approximate amounts which would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together. Each parent contributes his / her proportionate share of the total child support amount as described previously.
Author’s Note: The Child Support Guidelines are not perfect for the reason that every situation is different. The guidelines are intended to provide some uniformity, however. The Guidelines allow for deviations to the guidelines child support amount in some circumstances; however, different judges are often not always consistent with one another regarding the circumstances that they feel warrant a deviation. Deviation cases are discussed in more detail later .
SECTION 1. GENERAL INFORMATION
A. Executive Summary.
This section describes the background and principles of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines as described above, and further describes the computer based calculator available to calculate the appropriate child support amount. This Section explains that the amount shown through the Child Support Calculator is the amount that should be ordered unless the court finds that the amount is “unfair or unjust.” This Section goes on to go through each of the steps taken on the child support calculator to calculate the amount of child support.
Author’s Note: If the parties agree that the information in the worksheet is correct, they can take steps to have this turned into a Court order. If the parties disagree regarding the information input into the Child Support Calculator, then it would be up to the Court to make such determinations. Most disagreements that could lead to different child support amounts center on the amount of parenting time for each parent and whether their stated incomes are accurate.
This section of the Child Support Guidelines explains the overall purpose of the Guidelines consistent with that described above. The Arizona Child Support Guidelines attempt to establish “a standard of support for children consistent with their reasonable needs and the parents’ ability to pay.” The Guidelines attempt to provide a model for consistent child support orders in light of all parents in similar circumstances and to comply with federal laws regarding child support.
Amongst other things, this Section explains that Child Support obligations have priority over all other financial obligations. The existence of other financial commitments and debts is not a defense to failure to pay child support.
Author’s Note: If your income changes or the other party’s income changes, or if other circumstances change, you will need to file a modification proceeding. We recommend contacting a child support modification lawyer for counsel. You cannot just reduce your child support without a Court order. For example, if one of the children graduates, that does not mean that you can reduce your child support without a court order. Even if the other party agrees to a reduction, such should be confirmed in writing and stipulated to pursuant to a formal court order. Otherwise, you may have a very unpleasant shock later when the other parent asks for substantial child support arrears that you thought you did not have to pay.
This section explains that the Arizona Child Support Guidelines apply to all child support actions brought in this state regardless of whether the parents were married, and whether the parties are seeking an initial child support order or seeking to modify a prior order.
It is presumed that the child support guidelines calculated amount is the sum to be ordered. Thus, general arguments that the other parent is not spending the child support amounts on the children will likely fail. As explained above, the parent receiving child support has no obligation to show the paying party what he or she is spending the child support funds on.
Author’s Note: Other arguments, such as the other party is not working to full capacity, is voluntarily underemployed, that a deviation should be entered, and other issues are still fair game and should be presented to the Court.
SECTION II. DETERMINING INCOME
A. Determining The Parents’ Incomes For Purposes of Calculating Child Support.
- What is included in Child Support Income?
One of the most litigated issues in child support proceedings is what income to attribute to one or both of the parties. This can be very complicated when dealing with parties that are self-employed and pay personal expenses through the business or do not include all of their income (i.e., cash or under the table income).
This section explains that income for tax purposes is not necessarily the same as income for child support purposes. Thus, the Arizona Child Support Guidelines has adopted the term “Child Support Income” in order to avoid any ambiguity and so that parents understand that even though they may correctly report their incomes for tax purposes, that may not be the income amount used to determine child support. For example, a parent may be able to use certain tax laws to his or her advantage, or may receive employment benefits that do not count as taxable income but which reduce their personal living expenses.
Under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, “Child Support Income” includes income (and some benefits received) from “any” source. Such includes but is not limited to salaries, commissions, bonuses, employment benefits that reduce personal expenses, investment income, severance pay, pensions, capital gains, interest, trust income, social security benefits for the parent, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, disability benefits, recurring gifts from employers or others, prizes, and spousal maintenance etc. Seasonal or fluctuating income is to be annualized (i.e. you take the yearly amount and divide it by 12 to come up with an average monthly amount).
Certain employment benefits such as a company providing an employee a car for personal use may be counted as additional income.
Income from self employment means gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce such income. Thus, the Court can add back certain types of write offs such as equipment and automobile depreciation, personal car expenses run through the business, and other more personal type of expenses – even if such are legitimate tax write-offs. The issue is whether such expenses “are significant” and “reduce personal living expenses”. If so, such may be added to a person’s income.
Author’s Note: The determination of a party’s “Child Support Income” can be one of the most controversial issues in a child support case. When one of the parties is self employed, receives cash, writes off business expenses through the company, etc., it can be difficult to determine a fair amount of income to attribute to such person. You can always ask the Court to appoint a tax professional to provide an analysis of such person’s true child support income. We and/or the tax professional often find ourselves reviewing bank statement deposits, credit card statements and other financial documents of the other party to establish that a party is earning more income than they claim.
2. What is not included in Child Support Income.
This section also covers what is “not included” in Child Support Income. This includes sums a parent receives from child support, certain public assistance benefits, certain public assistance received for the benefit of a mInor child, including adoption subsidies and Supplemental Security Income.
Child support received pursuant to another child is not included as income. If a parent receives military disability payments, different rules may apply.
Property (assets) themselves are not considered in determining child support except to the extent that such generates income to a parent.
Additionally, a parent’s spouse’s income is not included in determining Child Support Income.
Author’s note: Although such is not included in that parent’s income, his or her spouse’s contributions to the standard of living and other factors may have relevance to whether a child support deviation is appropriate or attorney fee issues.
3. When is overtime included in Child Support Income.
If overtime or second job income is not recurring or continuing, the Court has the discretion not to include it. Courts generally do not include overtime or income from second jobs unless such income is consistent and regular and expected to continue in the future (in which case it is discretionary with the Court whether to include). This section explains that parents should not be forced to work extreme hours, and that it may be reasonable to cut back one’s hours to full time (instead of working overtime) even though a parent worked lots of overtime when the parties were together.
4. When is Child Support Income attributed even if not actually being earned?
If a person is unemployed or working below full earning capacity, the Court may attribute additional income depending upon the circumstances. It depends upon whether such is a voluntary choice and not for reasonable cause. If such unemployment or reduction of income is not for a good reason, the Court may attribute additional income up to a party’s earning capacity. Generally a party is attributed at least minimum wage on a 40 hour per week basis. If a parent has historically earned more income and has no objective reason not to be continuing to make similar income, the Court may find that the parent is intentionally avoiding making a higher income and/or is otherwise voluntarily working less than his or her ability. If income is attributed however, appropriate child care costs may also be attributed (i.e., a parent who is staying home with a child, thus avoiding child care costs, should not be attributed full income without also assessing child care costs). Reasonable cause for unemployment or underemployment may include such things as a parent’s physical or mental disabilities, whether a parent is engaged in reasonable career or occupational training or education, or has a child with unusual needs that limit a parent’s ability to work. Even if a party has a reasonable cause for unemployment or underemployment (such as going back to school), the Court may still attribute a normal income to such parent if the Court concludes that such is in the children’s best interests.
A parent’s new spouse’s income is not treated as income under the guidelines. However, if a spouse is not employed because he or she is relying upon her spouse’s income, the Court should still attribute income to the non-working spouse (if physically and mentally able to work) as the decision not to work would be voluntary.
Author’s Note: A parent’s spouse’s income may provide a legitimate basis for a child support deviation as addressed in Section IX below.
5. When is income not attributed for purposes of calculating Child Support Income?
This subsection states that a court shall not attribute Child Support Income to a parent that is incarcerated, but may still order such a parent to pay child support pursuant to his or her actual ability to pay.
The Court also has the discretion not to attribute Child Support Income to a parent that is physically or mentally disabled and unable to work. As noted above, the Court has the discretion to attribute income or not to attribute income if a person is pursuing their education to establish basic skills or enhance their earning capabilities. A Court also has the discretion not to attribute income to a parent who is caring for the parties’ child who has special needs that requires the parent’s ongoing presence in the home. Finally, the Court has the discretion not to attribute income to one of the parents of the parties’ young child who is the primary care provider and the cost of childcare is prohibitive (for example, where child care is almost as much as what the care providing parent would otherwise earn).
Author’s note: As the reader can see from these various sections, the Court has a great deal of discretion to make decisions that can significantly affect the amount of child support you may receive or may have to pay. Thus, in cases involving substantial potential differences in the amount of child support it may be wise to hire an attorney to represent you in Court. At the very least, you should consult with a good Arizona child support attorney to understand your risk factors and potential alternatives.
B. Adjustments To Child Support Income Based Upon Spousal Maintenance and Support of Other Children (from other Relationships).
Once you agree to or the Court determines the amount of each parent’s Child Support Income, there may be further adjustments to such income.
Adjustments to income include spousal maintenance, i.e, if you are paying spousal maintenance (alimony) to the other parent, your income is reduced and the other parent’s income is increased by such amount. As noted previously, the Court has the discretion to tax effect this since spousal maintenance can no longer be written off on your taxes and is not included as income on the other party’s taxes.
If you have other children that are not part of the child support award (for example, children with your new spouse or another relationship), your income is reduced as well by the amount you are paying in child support or by your portion of the overall child support in the applicable child support calculation. Keep in mind that there is no adjustment for step children. Rather, you must be the biological or adoptive parent for an adjustment for other children to apply.
C. Determining Combined Adjusted Child Support Income.
Upon working through the Child Support Worksheet, you will see that the worksheet combines both parents’ adjusted Child Support Incomes together after the adjustments described above. This combined number is what is used to determine the base child support amount attributable to both of you (i.e., before further costs are added as described below, before parenting time adjustments, and before the child support obligation is pro-rated between you based upon the overall percentages of your adjusted Child Support Incomes).
SECTION III. DETERMINING THE C OMBINED CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION
In this section, it explains that the Child Support Guidelines stop at the combined gross income of $30,000.00 per month between the two parents. If the parents’ combined incomes exceed this, such excess income is relevant only to the final percentages. The base child support amount stops at the combined gross income of $30,000.00. Such also stops at six children, so if there are more than six children, there is no increase in child support absent a deviation. A party can always attempt to argue a higher child support obligation than this, but has the burden to prove that a higher amount is reasonable and supported by the evidence (See Section 20 regarding deviations to the guidelines child support amount). Courts cannot provide for significant deviations from the guidelines without specific reasons for doing so.
A. Determining The Basic Child Support Obligation.
As set forth above, the Basic Child Support Obligation for both parents is determined pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines before adjustments are made and before the obligation is divided between the parents by percentage of each parents’ Child Support Income.
When you are inputting information into the Child Support Calculator, it will calculate the Basic Child Support amount for you. However, you can also look at the Child Support Guidelines themselves to see the chart (similar to an Excel spreadsheet) which shows the corresponding Basic Child Support amount based upon varying degrees of income and the number of children. As set forth above, the Child Support Guidelines chart stops at $30,000 per month combined Child Support Incomes for both parties. The Child Support Guidelines also stops at 6 children based upon the assumption that it does not cost significantly more if parties have more than six children. However, if you do have more than 6 minor children, or the other party earns significantly more income, you may want to consider requesting an upward deviation if you can show you need more money to provide the children with a similar standard of living as the other parent or the standard of living the children would have with both parents in an intact household.
B. Determining The Combined Child Support Obligation (i.e., Adjustments).
This section sets forth the adjustments to child support after determining the Basic Child Support Obligation.
Older Child Adjustment
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines (and the Child Support Calculator) provide for a maximum 10% upward adjustment for any children that are age 12 or older. Remember, this does not happen automatically once you have your initial child support order. Rather, you would need to file a petition to modify with the Court (or a stipulation) to realize this adjustment as the children get older. If you have younger children, the entire amount of child support is not increased by 10%, but rather only that portion associated with the child or children that have reached 12 years of age. Again, the Child Support Calculator will do this for you when you input the information.
Medical Insurance Adjustment.
This section addresses medical insurance and other health care insurance for the children. Unless the children are on AHCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System), the Court is required to order that one of the parents provide such coverage, although both parents share the cost of the insurance proportionately through the overall child support calculation. It generally makes sense for the parent who can obtain the least expensive coverage for the children to provide for such coverage (assuming that the plans at issue are similar as to deductibles, co-pays etc.). At the end of the Child Support Calculation, the amount of child support will be adjusted so each parent pays for their portion of the health insurance by adjusting the final amount of child support. For example, if you pay the children’s health insurance, you will pay less child support (or receive more child support) pursuant to the final calculations. If the insurance plan covers other persons other than the children in question (for example stepchildren), the amount of insurance payment applicable to the children at issue is generally pro-rated. Whichever parent provides the health care insurance can obtain a breakdown of costs from their employer or insurance provider. Such breakdown should show what the insurance cost is for the employee only, the employee and spouse, and the employee plus the entire family. This will provide more detailed information upon which you can calculate the amount attributable only to the children that are part of the Child Support calculations. Unless ordered by the Court, parents are not obligated to provide dental and vision coverage, but will generally receive credit if they do provide such coverage.
The courts also assign each parent a percentage he or she is required to pay toward reasonable and necessary uncovered health care expenses. Such is based again on the final percentage of the Child Support Incomes of each parent. This is addressed further below.
Necessary and reasonable child care expenses are usually included in the overall Child Support calculations. Similar to the cost of medical insurance, these are included as a child expense in the Child Support calculations and thus divided proportionately before coming up with the final child support amount. If both parents pay for child care, both parties’ expenses are generally included in the Child Support Calculator. This only includes childcare costs during normal working hours, not babysitting so you or the other parent can engage in social activities etc.
If child care costs vary throughout the year, they are annualized for purposes of the child support calculations (i.e. you take the total amount divided by 12 to get the average monthly amount for the Child Support Worksheet.
As noted in the initial section of this article, child care costs are shared proportionate to adjusted income / child support contribution. One party is generally assigned the overall cost, but then the other parent pays their portion through the final child support calculation. Tax credits for child care costs are included in the final calculations so that both parties share such benefits even if only one party can claim it on his or her tax returns for any specific child and year.
In some cases, our attorneys suggest omitting child care costs in the child support calculations if such costs are anticipated to fluctuate in the near future (for example, one or more of the children will soon be starting regular school). In such case, we will include language that each parent will pay their proportionate share directly to the child care provider and include language that if one parent pays the whole thing, the other parent must reimburse the paying parent his or her share.
Education expenses include those that are reasonable and necessary for attending private or special schools or other necessary expenses for the child’s educational needs. Sometimes these are included in the child support calculations, and sometimes parents agree to divide these by some percentage separately and outside of the calculations.
This can be a hotly contested issue if both parties do not want their children in private school for example. Sometimes a parent can only obtain the other parents agreement if the parent that wants private school is willing to pay all or the vast majority of the tuition. Of course, both parents can chip in by obtaining tax deductible contributions by third parties toward their child’s tuition.
Again, like everything else, if these expenses are not included in the initial Child Support Order, you will need to come to a stipulation or file a petition to modify with the Court in order to include such costs in the future.
Extraordinary Child Expenses.
This section is not used often, but may be applicable to gifted or special needs of a child.
Tutoring for a non-special needs child would generally be included under the above section (Educational Expenses). However, special needs assistance would normally fall under this section.
Annualizing Monthly Expenses.
As set forth above, if the monthly expenses (such as child care costs) change during the year, you add the total amount and divide it by 12 for purposes of the monthly expense to be included in child support calculations.
SECTION IV. DETERMINING EACH PARENT’S PROPORTIONATE SHARE OF THE COMBINED CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION
Similar to all of the other sections, this determination is done through the Child Support Calculator (usually through the on-line computer Child Support Worksheet calculator, but can be done by hand). As described above, the calculator calculates the percentage of each parties’ overall percentage child support obligation before such is netted out in the final calculations.
SECTION V. ADJUSTMENT FOR COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH PARENTING TIME
The Child Support Guidelines attempt to further apportion the costs associated with the children pursuant to each parties’ respective parenting time. The Guidelines assume that the more parenting time one has, the more he or she spends for the benefit of the children. The Guidelines also assume that each parent provides the necessities for the children while they are in that parent’s care (food, clothing etc.).
The parenting time adjustments set forth by the Guidelines are rounded up. Such are set forth as follows:
- 12 hours or more = one day.
- 6 to 11 hours = ½ day.
- 3 to 5 hours = 1/4 day.
- Less than 3 hours may count as 1/4 day if the parent provides meals or other expenses are incurred.
Once you add the total number of parenting time days during the year, the parenting time adjustment is inserted. This may be done through the on-line child support calculator or by looking at the Child Support Guidelines for the chart that shows the percentage adjustment associated with the amount of annual days of parenting time. For example, 115 – 129 days per year requires an adjustment of .2 or 20%. See the Child Support Guidelines for the specific adjustment chart.
If the time spent with each parent is “substantially equal” (i.e., 164 days or more per parent), the child support obligation is generally impacted to the most substantial degree. A parenting time adjustment no longer applies. Rather, you take each party’s child support obligation (after including health care insurance and other child support expenses) and divide it by two so that there is merely an equalization sum paid from the higher income parent (i.e. 50% of the difference between the parties’ respective child support obligation amounts). The child support pursuant to an equal time sharing arrangement can be much less than where a party has less than equal time and receives a percentage adjustment.
If one of the parents pays much less than the other for the child’s basic needs, the Court may order a deviation in the child support amount. Thus, this section makes it clear that a parent who argues that they should not have to pay for any of the child’s expenses because they pay base child support – that parent is incorrect. It is assumed that both parents pay for such items while in their care, including items that go back and forth between the households. Such costs for example include the children’s food (including school lunches), clothing, personal care items, entertainment and reading material. Accordingly, we recommend that shared items be divided between the parents equally or based upon the same percentage of adjusted Child Support Income on your Child Support Worksheet. Examples of shared expenses may include agreed upon extracurricular activities, the children’s cell phones, cell phone coverage, special clothing such as a tuxedo or suit, computers used at both homes and other larger ticket items that may be used in both homes.
The Child Support Guidelines also have provisions that explain when different children spend different amount of time between the parent’s household and how the child support amount is calculated in such event. Things get a bit more complicated where the parties have divided custody, i.e., where one parent is the primary custodial parent for one or more of the children, while the other parent is primary custodian for one or more of the other children.
Generally speaking, you would prepare a child support worksheet which calculates the child support mother owes father based upon the children in the father’s care, and another child support worksheet which calculates the child support father owes mother based upon the children in the mother’s care. You then offset the two. The party with the higher child support obligation thus owes the other party the difference.
Author’s Note: We recognize that different terms (other than mother and father) apply in same sex relationships. Such language is included for ease of understanding.
Author’s Note: All of these percentages etc. sound complicated, but the Child Support Guidelines calculator only requires that you insert the base information. The program then calculates the support obligation for you based upon the information inserted.
Author’s Note: It is generally assumed that both parents will provide clothing, shoes etc. that will be worn back and forth between the parents’ homes. Unless a particular article of clothing is special, parents should avoid trying to inventory clothing between the households or making a child only wear clothing back to the other parents’ home that was purchased by that parent. The Court will likely find that you are unreasonable if you get overly tenacious about such issues.
SECTION VI. DETERMINING THE PROPORTIONATE SHARE OF THE PRESUMPTIVE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION BY ACCOUNTING FOR OTHER COSTS.
SECTION VII. PRESUMPTIVE CHILD SUPPORT AWARD
Sections VI and VII of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines just takes you through the next step of using the Child Support calculator in coming up with the Preliminary Child Support Obligation. The result is the presumptive amount of child support before addressing whether a deviation is appropriate, etc.
SECTION VIII. APPLYING THE SELF-SUPPORT RESERVE TEST
This section applies where the payor of child support makes minimum income and is not be able to financially pay for the presumptive amount of child support and maintain at least a minimum standard of living. If you make only minimum wage, you may be entitled to pay an amount of child support that is lower than the presumptive amount under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. This section provides various calculation examples to determine if you are entitled to a reduced child support award. The ability to reduce the child support award under this section only applies to future child support amounts, not back child support arrears (i.e., amounts that you are behind on).
SECTION IX. DEVIATIONS
This is one of the most interesting and underutilized portions of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.
The amount that is produced by the Child Support Worksheet sets forth the “Presumed Child Support” that the Court should order unless the Court is convinced that such amount is not appropriate under the circumstances. The Court has the ability to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines. This means that the Court can order a higher or lower amount of child support pursuant to specific reasons and so long as such is in the children’s best interests.
The Court can deviate from the presumed child support amount if it finds that the application of the guidelines would be inappropriate in the particular case, the best interests of the children are considered, and other procedural requirements are followed. The Court can look to what the children’s standard of living would be in an intact household (i.e. where the parents and the children were all residing together), and adjust the child support amount so that the parents can provide a similar standard of living for the children in both households (it is not the parent’s standard of living that applies to this analysis, but the children’s). The Court can consider a deviation in various cases, including when the parents have a significant disparity of income, when a parent is paying a disproportionate share of the child’s expenses, when one of the parents has to incur substantial travel expenses that affects that parent’s ability to see the children, when a parent is unable to afford the additional costs of supporting the children, and when a parent would be unable to provide for their own necessary medical or mental health expenses. Deviations may also be appropriate where a child has special needs that requires a parent’s presence in the home. The Court has a great deal of discretion in providing for an upwards or downwards deviation in child support. It is often very beneficial to employ an attorney and a CPA or other financial expert when presenting a deviation case to the Court. The following are some examples where a deviation may be appropriate.
Example: One of the parents is able to take the children on expensive vacations that the other parent cannot afford, or can purchase things for the children that the other parent cannot afford. This does not mean that the children should live an excessive life-style. However, the Court can provide a deviation so that the parent who cannot afford to provide the children with a similar standard of living can at least come closer to doing so.
Example: One of the parties is remarried and as a result can provide a much higher standard of living for the children. The income of such parent by itself may not reflect the standard of living provided to the children in that household.
Thus, although the Presumptive Child Support Amount is the amount the Courts are to assume applies, the parties have the ability to try to change the judge’s mind if the Presumed Child Support amount would be unfair to one of the parties’ and contrary to the best interests of the children.
SECTION X. THE CHILD SUPPORT ORDER
This section provides further clarification in determining the Presumed Child Support amount, and clarifies what needs to be included in the Child Support Order. This is important if you are representing yourself and submitting your own form to the Court for approval. You want to make sure your Child Support Order is not rejected for not including all of the necessary language etc. This section explains that it is presumed that the person receiving child support spends these funds (as well as their own contributions) on the child. However, as noted earlier, such parent does not have to prove his or her expenditures that are not included i the child support calculations to the other parent.
This section also explains that if a parent receives benefits on behalf of a child associated with the other parent’s disability, such amount may be set off against child support.
This section also addresses “Non-Covered Medical Expenses” for the minor children. These are the “out of pocket” expenses such as co-pays and insurance deductibles that the insurance carrier does not pay, but a parent ends up having to pay. These are not included in the actual child support award because they fluctuate year to year. Rather, each parent is generally ordered in the final Child Support Order to pay a percentage of these costs based upon their respective Child Support Income percentage. The parent who takes the children in for medical care usually pays the co-pay, deductible at the time of the appointment or is later billed. When the parent makes such payment, they are entitled to reimbursement from the other parent for such parent’s proportionate share.
To be subject to reimbursement requirements, such non-covered medical expenses must be “medically necessary” medical, dental or vision care. Generally, if a physician or other expert recommends such treatment, the Court will find it medically necessary. However, non-necessary items such as cosmetic procedures and the like are generally not subject to reimbursement (i.e., it is unlikely the court would require the other parent to contribute to such costs).
The parent requesting reimbursement from the other parent must make such request within 180 days of the date the cost was paid. Such parent must provide applicable insurance documents, proof of payment and what the services were for. The other parent is required to pay the other parent his or her portion within 45 days of receiving such request. Both parents are cautioned to use health care providers that are covered by the insurance policy.
In addition, the Child Support Order generally requires the parents to exchange income information (including tax returns) every 24 months so that the parents can calculate whether a modification of child support is warranted. The Child Support Order also requires both parents to keep the Court and other parent informed of their residential addresses and employers’ names and addresses until the youngest child is no longer subject of the Child Support Order (if you have a Court ordered protected address, these requirements do not specifically apply).
Certain child costs are not addressed specifically in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. However, the parties can agree to include sharing such expenses equally or in some percentage. This generally includes agreed upon extracurricular activities, tutoring costs, larger ticket items shared between the households, and other costs that are not directly addressed in the guidelines.
If you represent yourself, you can obtain forms for the Child Support Order to submit to the Court at the Court’s self-service center.
SECTION XI. TAX BENEFITS ASSOCIATED WITH MINOR CHILDREN
This section addresses how the Child Tax Credits / Child Dependency Exemptions are divided between the children. As with most child support issues, the parents can come to decisions different than what the Arizona Child Support Guidelines provide for. In the absence of such agreement between the parents, the Court generally divides the tax benefits for the children proportionate to each parent’s percentage of the Child Support Obligation. Thus, the higher earning parent generally receives more of the tax benefits since they are paying their higher percentage of the overall child support obligation.
At certain income levels, however, a parent may no longer receive very much benefit by claiming the children. In such event, we often include language in the Child Support Order that in such event the tax benefits will be transferred to the other parent for that year. Or sometimes, we include language that the lesser earning party may purchase such benefits for a given year for the amount that the parent who would normally be entitled to the tax credits would otherwise receive.
Where there is more than one child, it is easier to divide the tax benefits. For example, if Father pays 3/4ths of the overall Child Support Obligation, and their are two children, Father could claim one of the children every year and the other child every other year. Thus, Father would have 3 and Mother would have 1 of the child tax benefits during a two year period.
One must generally be current in his or her child support payments (including any scheduled arrears payments) by the end of the year in order to be able to claim such tax benefits. The Arizona Child Support Guidelines provide specific procedures that you must follow to claim such child tax benefits where the parent ordered to pay child support is behind (in arrears).
Head of household filing status is an issue that should also be addressed in any final Court orders. These are dependent upon federal tax regulations.
When issuing a Child Support Order, the Court also provides an Order of Assignment (wage assignment). This Order is provided by the Court to the paying party’s employer so that child support payments are made directly by the employer as a deduction from the paying party’s paychecks.
SECTION XII. SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
If the parents reside in different states (or over 100 miles apart), the Court may allocate travel costs for the child associated with parenting time. Travel costs can be very expensive, especially when the children are young and cannot fly alone. The Courts will generally consider the parents’ respective incomes in determining the allocation of travel costs, as well as the reason for the parents residing in different states (i.e. did a parent voluntarily move to the different state, thus creating the situation?). The Court also considers whether travel expenses may make it preclusive for a parent to see the children, and should thus take such into account. The Court has broad discretion in determining how such travel expenses are divided or whether one of the parents should pay the entire amount of the children’s travel expenses to see the other parent.
Some parents believe that by purchasing things for the children they should receive an offset against the child support amount. The Arizona Child Support Guidelines make it clear that this is not the case. Child Support must be paid in full and in money.
Keeping Track of Your Child Support Payments
If you pay your child support through the Arizona Child Support Clearinghouse, they keep track of your child support payments. Regardless, you should keep track of them as well. Because banks often do not keep records beyond 7 years (some banks only 5 years), you will want to make sure you keep sufficient records to prove your child support payments if an enforcement action is ever filed against you. As such, you should never make cash payments for child support to the other parent unless you receive a written receipt.
Third Party Caregivers
If the child lives with a third party under a court order, the third party is entitled to receive child support from the parents. The Child Support Guidelines provide further guidance on this under Section XII. Thus, if you are paying child support to the other parent who no longer has the child in the home, you will want to look into this further.
SECTION XIII. STATE INVOLVEMENT IN CHILD SUPPORT CASES
Title IV-D Child Support Program
The Arizona Division of Child Support Services provides services free of charge to establish child support, modify child support and enforce child support. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be on public assistance to receive help from Child Support Services. The link to further information regarding these services can be found at https://des.az.gov/dcss . If you do receive public support, there is a possible assignment of your child support rights back to the State.
SECTION XIV. MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT
Filing for Modification or Responding to a Petition to Modify.
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines refer to the Arizona Revised Statute sections that deal with child support modifications. These are set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes Sections 25-327 and 25-503. The Arizona Revised Statutes are often abbreviated as “A.R.S.”. The Arizona Child Support Guidelines also refer to the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure Rules 91 and 91.1 regarding procedural requirements to modify child support.
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines provide an explanation of these statutes and rules, which is helpful because parents previously had to look up the statutes and rules themselves, which can be confusing and not necessarily reader friendly.
In order to seek a modification of child support, one must establish a “substantial and continuing change of circumstances” that took place subsequent to the last child support order. This means that this change of circumstances is likely to continue in the future. If you have changed circumstances that would result in at least a 15% increase or decrease in the overall Child Support Obligation, it is presumed that you are eligible for a modification.
The 2022 changes to the Child Support Guidelines have built in increases due to inflation and extended the guidelines to higher amounts for higher income parents. Thus, just these changes alone may account for a reason to request an increase in child support. Changes in health insurance policies or costs can provide a basis to modify even if it would not change child support by 15% or more.
You can obtain forms to modify child support at the self service center website provided by the Arizona Supreme Court – hppts://www.azcourts.gov/selfservicecenter/Forms . If you have complicated facts or a parent is self-employed, it is always a good idea to at least consult with an Arizona Child Support Attorney. When you file for a modification, you must submit a Child Support Worksheet, an Affidavit of Financial Information and Child Support Order. If you are the parent who is responding to a request for a modification of child support and you dispute the amount the other parent is requesting, you must file these same documents plus a Request for Hearing within twenty days of being served (30 days if you are served out of state).
See the section of our website regarding child support modifications in Arizona by clicking here.
Effect of Children Reaching 18 or Graduation from High School
As noted in other parts of our website, if more than one child is covered by the child support order the child support amount is not automatically modified when the older children turn the age of majority (i.e. 18 years old) or graduate from high school (or turn 19 whichever is later). Rather, the parties must either submit a stipulation to modify child support (signed by both parties) or you will need to file to modify the child support order.
What if I have more parenting time or the child now lives with me instead of the other parent?
Again, these changes in circumstances do not automatically change the child support order. You will need to either stipulate (and get a Court order) changing child support or file a request to modify child support with the Court.
SECTION XV. DURATION AND TERMINATION OF CHILD SUPPORT IN ARIZONA
The presumptive duration for child support is until the youngest child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later (but in no event later than 19 years old). There are some exceptions regarding special needs children which may lead to a child support obligation past 19 years old and in some situations for life.
Author’s Note: If your wages are being assigned, you should check with your HR department 60 days before this termination date to make sure that child support will stop being assigned by your employer. Otherwise, you should always request that the court stop any order of assignment at least 60 days in advance of the presumptive termination of the child support order to avoid being over-garnished.
SECTION XVI. CHILD SUPPORT ARREARS IN ARIZONA
When a parent does not pay some of the Court order child support, the amount that has not been paid is called “arrears.” Arrears accrue interest at the rate of 10% per annum.
Child Support is considered sacred. In other words, always pay your child support before other debts. There are many consequences to not paying your child support, including the suspension of our driver’s license, the possibility of arrest and incarceration. Plus, if the other parent uses an attorney to try to collect child support arrears, you may have to pay the other parent’s attorney fees and costs.
If you lose your job and can no longer afford the child support amount you should immediately look into filing a petition to modify the child support amount. If you get a new job in the meantime, then you can just ask that the child support be modified for the period you were unemployed. Sometimes you will have to take a job that pays less than you want just to keep the judge happy and not have to pay arrears.
Although a party’s base child support obligation is pretty much standard in many respects, the Court has substantial discretion regarding some of the sub-issues, such as determining what income should be attributed to a party, what child support expenses are included in the child support calculations, and whether a child support deviation is appropriate.
Differences of opinion between parents regarding the child support amount can be substantial over time. Our attorneys at Bishop, Del Vecchio & Beeks will be happy to discuss your options with you. Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Arizona Child Support Attorneys.