In Arizona, child support can be ordered in any action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or a child support matter between parents, married or unmarried. Arizona has adopted Child Support Guidelines that assist parties in establishing child support amounts that are based upon factors primarily based upon the parties’ incomes and the number of children in the household. The shared income approach adopted by Arizona attempts to approximate what the parents would spend on their children if they were still living together as one family. The Guidelines provide consistency and predictability in monthly child support amounts. One of the main purposes of the Guidelines is so that child support orders will be consistent for families in similar circumstances. Because of this, in order to determine the appropriate amount of child support, we first look at the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.
The purpose of these Guidelines is to determine an amount of child support that is calculated to meet the reasonable monthly needs of the family’s children. While the Family Law court may deviate from the amount determined under the Guidelines when necessary to avoid an inappropriate or unjust result, such deviations are relatively uncommon. As well, parties are free to agree to an amount of child support to an amount agreed upon by the parties, as long as the deviation is accepted and adopted by court order.
The lawyers at Scottsdale Family Law can help you understand these complex Guidelines. Let us put our experience to work for you. To speak to one of our child support attorneys, just call 602-279-1900 to schedule an appointment.
A child support calculation under the Guidelines starts by determining the parties’ respective gross monthly incomes. Both parties are required to exchange Affidavits of Financial Information, where each party lists their monthly income, expenses, and other expenses associated with child support.
Income is generally defined to include income from any source. According to the Guidelines, if a parent’s “earnings are reduced as a matter of choice and not for reasonable cause, the court may attribute income to a parent up to his or her earning capacity.” This means that if a parent is unemployed or under-employed, the court may attribute income to that parent for purposes of calculating child support under the Guidelines, up to that parent’s earning capacity. However, under Arizona law, the court may consider certain factors to determine whether to reduce a parent’s income for calculating child support when that parent voluntarily quits their job, such as to attend school. The court will utilize a balancing test of the best interests of the children in receiving support versus the increased income a parent may be able to make after completing school.
Generally speaking, the court will not attribute income that is greater than what would have been earned from full-time employment, because each parent should have the choice of working additional hours through overtime or at a second job without increasing the child support amount. However, the court may consider income actually earned that is greater than would have been earned by full-time employment if that parent has historically earned from a regular schedule, and that overtime or second job is anticipated to continue into the future. Also, the court may not attribute to a parent the income of their new spouse when calculating child support. A court is required to at least attribute an income of minimum wage based upon full-time employment, if a parent is not employed.
If a parent is self-employed, and analysis may need to be done of that parent’s business financial statements, including business tax returns and the business’ Profit and Loss statement and Balance Sheet. Reasonable business deductions may be taken into consideration, but often a parent will have personal expenses paid by the business and deducted as a business expense, which is not permitted when calculating income for child support. Certain deductions, such as depreciation, may be permitted under IRS rules and regulations, but may not be allowed when calculating income for child support purposes.
It is important to understand that the income amount used to determine the basic child support obligation is capped at a parents’ combined adjusted monthly gross income of $20,000.00. In cases where the parties’ combined incomes is greater than $20,000.00 per month, in order to increase the child support amount above the amount set forth by the Guidelines, there will need to be an upwards deviation, either by court order or agreement of the parents.
The child support amount determined under the Guidelines does not include all of the expenses that parents pay for children. The child support amount will include the cost of medical, dental, and vision insurance premiums, child care expenses, and certain extraordinary educational costs. However, the child support amount does not include children’s extracurricular activity expenses, clothes, food, etc. Although relatively uncommon, there may be cases where the court could include in the child support calculation the costs of certain extracurricular activities due to a particular child’s extraordinary abilities. Typically, however, the court will not order additional child support because of extracurricular activities. Parents may include terms regarding how such expenses will be paid in their final agreements.
Child support orders may be modified when a parent is able to demonstrate that a significant and material change of circumstances has occurred that affects a child support calculation. Such changes could include that a parent’s income has changed substantially, the cost of providing health insurance has changed, or parenting time has changed. Arizona law provides that a substantial and continuing change in circumstances exists when there is at least a 15% change in the child support calculation under the child support Guidelines, even if no other factors have changed.
In order to modify child support, a new child support order must be entered. Informal agreements between parents to reduce or terminate child support are not binding. Child support may not be modified retroactively, but rather can only be modified prospectively. Thus, if you think your child support order should be modified, it would be a good idea to file the Petition for Modification as soon as possible, because a court order that modifies child support can only be effective the first day of the month following the date the Petition for Modification is served on the other parent, unless the judge finds good cause to make the modification effective at a later date. Child support cannot be modified for an effective date prior to the date the Petition for Modification was filed, without agreement of the parties.
In Arizona, an obligation to pay child support is presumed to terminate on the last day of the month that includes the youngest child’s 18th birthday. If the child support order covers more than one child, when an older child emancipates the child support order does not automatically modify to a smaller amount, and parents should understand that in order for child support to reduce, they will need to file for a modification of child support. If a child has not graduated from high school when they turn 18 years old, child support will continue until the last day of the month that they graduate from high school, or the month they turn 19 years old, whichever occurs first.
It is possible for child support to continue past the age of majority if an adult child has a significant mental or physical disability that prevents the child from living independently. For this to apply, the child’s disability must have begun before the child reached the age of majority. This support could be ordered to be paid to the adult child directly, or to the parent who is providing care for that child.
Establishing or modifying child support under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines can be a difficult process to navigate, but you do not have to go through it alone. Let the Scottsdale family law team help you through the process. To schedule an appointment, just give us a call at 602-279-1900 or fill out the contact form on this site.