Child Support in Arizona Part I-by Shannon Trezza
Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines – Part One
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.
General Information about Child Support Obligations
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.
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.
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.
How is a parent’s gross income calculated for child support purposes?
In determining the gross income of the parents, the guidelines do not have the same meaning as that used by the IRS.
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
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 obligation.
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 for children who are 12 or older.
Arizona Child Support Calculator-Figuring Each Parent’s Share of Total Child Support
The total child support number is determined from the basic child support amount plus any additions listed above. The court then takes each parent’s adjusted gross income to calculate the combined adjusted gross income for the family. To calculate this amount, you can use the child support calculator on our website. You will put in all of the information that is discussed above and calculate each parent’s share of the obligation. Go to the Arizona child support calculator here
In Part Two of this article, we outline basic information about adjustments made to the share each parent must pay for the child support obligation. We include information about adjustments for costs associated with parenting time, travel expenses associated with parenting time, how gifts impact child support and what happens when a 3rd party is care-giver.
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 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. Schedule your consultation today through our website or by calling 520-327-4000 in Tucson and 602-253-1515 in Phoenix.