In his proclamation naming August 2015 Child Support Awareness Month, Governor Douglas A. Ducey states that, “children need parental support and stability from both parents for their financial, emotional and physical growth.” I’m sure we can all agree that a well planned child support agreement is important not only to secure the material needs of children but also for their emotional security and to secure the relationship between the child and both parents.
In 2005 the Arizona Supreme Court adopted Child Support Guidelines that follow what is referred to as the “Income Shares Model.” The model is based on the amount that would have been spent by the parents on their children if they were still living together. Under these guidelines, each parent pays his or her share of child support based on a proportion of the income they earn.
The purpose of the child support guidelines is to create a standard of support that is consistent with both the needs of the children and each parent’s ability to pay. It is also expected that the guidelines will ensure that families in similar circumstances will pay similar amounts of child support. Another goal under this model is that families be treated consistently under this model. It is also hoped that the guidelines will encourage parents and courts to come to agreement about child support amounts
Child support is paid for all biological and adopted children. Parents who are unmarried still have an obligation to support their children. Since it is a parent’s legal obligation to support his or her biological and adopted children, if a parent decides to offer financial support for stepchildren, this is considered voluntary. This amount will not be used by the courts to adjust the amount of child support parents are legally obligated to pay biological and adopted children.
A parent’s obligation to pay child support is considered more important than other financial obligations. If a parent is required to pay spousal support, the income of the parent paying that support is decreased by that amount and the income of the parent receiving that support is increased. This is done prior to calculating the share of child support that each parent is required to contribute.
How Child Support Is Calculated
Monthly income and expenses are used to calculate child support. For example, a parent who has custody pays $100 a month for childcare for nine months of the year. This would be $900 per year. This $900 is divided by 12 to come up with an amount of $75 to be paid in child support for childcare expenses over the course of the year.
The court uses the child support guidelines to establish the amount of child support to be paid by each parent. However, the court can establish a different amount from the guidelines if the amount from the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. Parents might come to an agreement about child support that is different from what the court might order under these guidelines as long as the agreement is in writing, both parents know what the amount would have been under the guidelines, and neither parent has been coerced.
If both parents have equal income and equal parenting time, there may not be a child support order. 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). Generally, the more children, the higher the child support obligation. 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 necessarily cost twice as much to raise two children than one).
Under Arizona law, child support is generally paid until the last day of the month the child turns 18. If the child will not complete high school by that time, then the support continues until the child turns 19 or completes high school, whichever comes first.
Several factors go into determining the child support amount, including:
– The gross income of both parents (actual or estimated)
– Whether or not either party has children from a different relationship
– Any spousal maintenance paid by either parent
– The cost of medical, dental, and health care insurance for the children
– The cost of daycare for the children
– The cost of any extraordinary educational expense (such as private school)
– The cost of any extraordinary healthcare expenses for the children
– The number of days the children visit with the noncustodial parent
Although the child support guidelines use terms like “gross income” and “adjusted gross income” that are also used in tax preparation, these terms do not have the same meaning in child support as those used by the IRS.
For calculation of child support, gross income includes:
– Severance pay
– Trust Income
– Capital gains
– Social security benefits
– Worker’s compensation benefits
– Unemployment insurance benefits
– Disability insurance benefits
– Recurring gifts
– Spousal maintenance
Gross income does not include:
– Income of a parent’s new spouse
– Benefits from public assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,
– Supplemental Social Security Income, Food Stamps and General Assistance
– Child support payments received
If a parent has fluctuating or seasonal income, it is converted to an annual amount and divided by 12 to come up with a monthly amount. A parent who receives income that is one-time, and does not continue, will not include this amount in the gross income calculation. The court does not include in gross income support from public assistance programs.
Many parents have income from a business or are self-employed. Whatever expenses are required to produce the income are deducted from the income to come up with gross income. And, if the parent receives reimbursements from the business/self-employment that are significant, and it reduces living expenses, this will be considered income. The courts will also take into consideration when a parent is unemployed or has chosen to work below their full earning capacity. If a spouse remarries, the income of the spouse is not included in the calculations because the new spouse does not have a legal support obligations.
Another consideration is in instances of extremely high income or very large families. According to section eight of the child support guidelines, basic child support is capped when the parents’ Combined Adjusted Gross Income reaches $20,000 per month. And when there are seven or more children, the basic support is capped with the sixth child. When a parent seeks support above what the $20,000 and six-child presumptions allow under the guidelines, the court will consider the deviation, but cautiously so. Furthermore, the parent seeking a different amount carries the burden of proof and must provide sufficient evidence in support of the requested increase.
Deductions from a Parent’s Gross Income
If a parent is ordered to pay support to a spouse, this will be deducted from gross income as long as that amount is actually being paid. If a parent has other children to whom she or he pays court-order child support, this is deducted from gross income. When the parent has another child with a different partner, and he or she pays child support that is not court-ordered, then the Arizona court will deduct the amount allowed under the state’s guidelines, not the actual amount being paid.
The Basic Child Support Amount
Once all of the deductions are made from both parents’ incomes, this becomes the adjusted gross income. Added together, these two amounts become the combined adjusted gross income. Using a set formula, the court establishes a basic child support amount.
Added to the basic amount are health insurance costs, childcare expenses, extra education expenses, and any extra expenses for a child with a disability or who is gifted. The court also deducts the tax credit for childcare, if applicable to the family. And, there is an adjustment of up to 10% for children who are 12 or older.
Adjustments Made For Parenting Time
Another factor considered is parenting time days. Parenting time is the time you spend with your child, being a parent. This could include time spent together during outings to places around town, or time spent with you in your home. Parenting time can be for a few hours, or for days at a time. The number of days actually spent with the non-custodial parent is included and a deduction in child support paid is given to the parent for the time spent with the children. This makes sense because when the child is visiting with a parent that parent is paying for food, may have the air conditioning on a little longer than normal, there are more baths and showers being taken and therefore the water bill goes up so that parent’s support is given directly to the children and not to the other parent.
Non-custodial parents may wonder if their obligation to make their child support payments is at all affected when the custodial parent refuses to allow for visitation. It is not. These are two separate issues. In this case, parents may wish to explore options to enforce parenting time visitation but will still be obligated to pay child support in the meantime.
In the case of joint custody, the amount of child support each parent pays is normally calculated by the court considering the percentage each parent contributes to the couple’s joint income and the percentage of time each parent has physical custody of the children.
Once all these particulars are determined, a child support order will be written from the court. The order specifies which parent must pay child support, the amount of the payment, how often the payment must be made and who receives the child support payment for the children. Payments are typically then made directly to the Support Payment Clearinghouse and from here a check is issued to the custodial parent.
Failing to meet the payment schedule is seen as defying an order of the court and could result in a garnishment of your wages, intercepting your tax refund, seizing property, suspending your business license or driver’s license or other serious consequences including jail time.
The Self Support Reserve Test
After the court has determined its child support order, it conducts the Self Support Reserve Test. This is a financial feasibility test intended to verify the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay the ordered child support, and enjoy at least a minimum standard of living while doing so. First, the Self Support Reserve Amount of $775 is deducted from the noncustodial parent’s Adjusted Gross Income. Second, at the court’s discretion, actual payments made by the noncustodial parent for court-ordered arrearages of child support from another relationship and spousal maintenance may also be deducted from the noncustodial parent’s Adjusted Gross Income. If the Self Support Reserve Test results in an Adjusted Gross Income that is less than the child support order, then the court may reduce the child support amount. Before it will do so, however, the court considers the impact of such a reduction on the custodial parent’s financial resources.
Arizona Statewide Paralegal handles all types of child support issues, including establishing, modifying, and terminating child support, as well as deviations from child support guidelines. We have the right forms accepted by the Arizona Supreme Court. We also have the software needed to calculate child support and prepare the documents for your specific case. In addition, we file all of the paperwork for you and track deadlines so the process is stress free for you. Contact our office in Tucson, Phoenix, or Mesa today so that we can walk you through the legal document preparation services we offer.