Establishing Child Support in Arizona
Arizona law states that “every person has the duty to provide all reasonable support for that person’s natural and adopted minor, unemancipated children” (ARS 25-501). Parents who are divorced or who have never been married still have an obligation to support their biological or adopted children.
In 2005 the Arizona Supreme Court issued child support guidelines that follow 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.
Establishing Child Support
Child support can be initially established as part of a divorce or legal separation process, or it can be requested separate from any other proceeding. During the divorce process, both the Petitioner and Respondent can request the court to order child support using the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) with Minor Children (or Response, in the case of the Respondent). Otherwise, either parent can file a Petition to Establish Child Support to ask the court to order support. These forms are filed with the appropriate county Superior Court (Pima County Superior Court, Maricopa Superior Court, etc.).
The court uses Arizona’s child support guidelines to establish the amount of child support each parent is responsible for. However, the court can establish a different amount from the guidelines if the amount from the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. Also, parents can 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.
Once child support has been ordered, under Arizona law, 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 Child Support is Calculated
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.
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. If the parent receives reimbursements from the business/self-employment that are significant and that reduce 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
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.
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.
However, 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.
The Basic Child Support Amount
Each parent’s adjusted gross income is calculated by subtracting the allowed deductions from their gross income. The two parents’ adjusted gross incomes are added together to calculate the combined adjusted gross income. Using a set formula, the court uses these calculations to establish 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. Also, there is an adjustment for children who are 12 or older. Finally, the court considers each parent’s share of parenting time and other factors to calculate each parent’s share of the total support amount and to determine whether one parent must make child support payments.
Arizona Child Support Calculator
On the AZ Statewide Paralegal website, we have an Arizona child support calculator you can use to estimate child support amounts based on each parent’s income and other factors. The amount of child support a court will order for any particular case may be different from the amount estimated by the calculator. The court has the final authority to determine the amount of child support awarded. The amount yielded by this calculator is only an estimate and is not a guarantee of the amount of child support that will be awarded.
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.