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Family Law Research Guide: Child Support

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How does the court decide how much child support is paid?

In divorce and legal separation actions, the court can order parents to pay reasonable and necessary child support. A.R.S. § 25-320(A). While the parties may agree on a child support amount, the court is not required to enter the agreement of the parties. A.R.S. § 25-317(B).

In determining an amount reasonable and necessary for child support, the court is required by statute to consider all relevant factors including:

  1. The financial resources and needs of the child,
  2. The financial resources and needs of the custodial parent,
  3. The standard of living that the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not be dissolved,
  4. The physical and emotional condition of the child, and his educational needs,
  5. The financial resources and needs of the non-custodial parent,
  6. Excessive or abnormal expenditures, destruction, concealment or fraudulent disposition of community, joint tenancy or other property held in common.
  7. The duration of parenting time and related expenses. A.R.S. § 25-320(D).

Arizona uses federally mandated child support guidelines to determine the amount of child support. The court may award a different amount than set forth in the guidelines. However, if so, the court must state the reasons why the guidelines were not followed and why it would be inequitable to follow the guidelines in that particular case. A.R.S. § 25-320(D).

The child support guidelines are based on the gross income of the parties. Gross income includes money received from anywhere except public assistance. If a party is self-employed, then necessary expenses may be deducted from the gross income. If an employee receives certain reimbursements or benefits in his or her employment, the court may consider these as income as well.

When a parent is unemployed or working below full earning capacity, the court may consider the reasons. If the court finds that the income is reduced as a matter of choice, then the court may disregard the reduction in setting gross income. When determining gross income, the court may deduct prior ordered spousal maintenance and child support actually paid and the cost of any court-ordered medical insurance coverage for the children.

The allowable deductions are subtracted from each parent's total income, thus establishing the adjusted gross income of each parent. The adjusted gross income of each parent is totaled to locate the proper child support obligation in the child support amount schedule. The non-custodial parent then receives an adjustment for costs associated with visitation. Each parent also receives a certain amount that is retained by them for personal living expenses called the self support reserve.

When the scheduled amount has been determined, then the following obligations may be added to that scheduled support obligation:

  1. Child care costs,
  2. Necessary educational expenses such as private school or special school, and
  3. A ten percent increase for a child over twelve years of age.

The total child support obligation to be paid by both parents is the scheduled amount plus any of the amounts set forth above. The total child support obligation is divided between the parents in proportion to their ability to pay. The non-custodial parent would then pay his or her amount to the custodial parent. The custodial parent shall be presumed to spend his or her share on the child or children. If a non-custodial parent has a child for an extended period of time and is providing for the child's needs, the court can allow a reduction of child support to be paid to the custodial parent during that time.

An order for child support must state which parent shall be responsible for providing medical insurance for the children and the court should further specify the percentage that each parent shall pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance. A.R.S. § 25-320.

What can I look at to find out what my child support obligation would be?

The following links will help you determine what you would pay or receive in child support:

How is child support paid to the other party?

The court usually requires that the child support payments be made directly to the support payment clearinghouse. A.R.S. § 25-322(A). This is in the best interests of both parties as it provides an independent third party to track child support payments.

What can I do if I need child support as soon as possible?

If an agreement cannot be reached between the parties concerning child support, it may be necessary to obtain temporary orders from the court. See Temporary and Emergency Orders page for more information.

When is there no obligation to pay child support?

A stepparent has no legal obligation to support stepchildren. Magma Copper Co. v. Aldrete, 70 Ariz. 48, 216 P.2d 392 (1950).

There is no duty to support a child who has reached majority, or age eighteen, or is otherwise emancipated, except for disabled children and children who are age eighteen but still attending high school. A.R.S. § 25-320.

A custodial parent can waive child support in exchange for surrender of visitation rights, but such an agreement does not bind the court and it will be enforced only so long as the interests of the child are not adversely affected. Albins v. Elovitz, 164 Ariz. 99, 791 P.2d 366 (Ariz. App. 1990). In other words, a parent may not form a valid and enforceable contract that releases the other parent from all obligation to support his or her minor child. Smith v. Saxon, 186 Ariz. 70, 918 P.2d 1088 (Ariz. App. 1996).

How do I collect my child support?

Child support is most often collected by wage assignment. The person who wants the assignment makes a request for an ex parte order of assignment for support or spousal maintenance to the clerk of the superior court. The clerk will then issue the order and notify the person obligated to pay support. The order is served on the employer or other payor and is effective immediately. The person or agency to whom support or maintenance has been ordered shall notify the court clerk of any address change. A.R.S. § 25-504.

However, child support can also be collected through the other methods listed in the above section regarding enforcement of the decree in general.

Can I get child support through a complaint of paternity?

After a finding of paternity is made the court shall determine the amount of past support owed. See Establishing Paternity.

If the other party does not pay child support, can I prevent him or her from seeing our children?

No. Failure of one party to comply with a provision of a decree or order does not suspend payments for support or maintenance or visitation rights. A.R.S. § 25-326(A).

Are there any non-monetary penalties that can be imposed for failure to pay child support?

The failure to pay child support may result in the suspension of a professional, occupational, recreational or driver's license of the person ordered to pay support. A.R.S. § 25-518(E)(4). This can occur when the person is at least two months in arrears and has willfully failed to pay child support after notice and hearing.

In addition, a child support arrest warrant may be issued if a person failed to appear after being ordered to do so and receiving a notice of the order. A.R.S. § 25-681.

Is there a state agency that assists with child support enforcement?

The Arizona Department of Economic Security, Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) (www.azdes.gov/dcse/), can assist you in receiving your child support.

The Arizona Supreme Court (www.supreme.state.az.us/dr/childsup/agency.htm) also offers information on agencies providing assistance with child support enforcement.

 

Last revised:  22 October 2008

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