Back Child Support in Arizona

In Arizona, both parents are obligated to help support their children financially. The parent who does not have custody pays monthly child support to fulfill this responsibility. The Superior Court hears the evidence in a divorce case and makes the decisions about child support, whether it should be awarded and how much should be awarded. But the judge must follow state law in making those decisions.

In the case of Simpson v. Simpson, 229 P.3d 236 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2010), the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed state law about retroactive child support awards. Patricia Simpson filed for divorce from her husband Thomas and asked for child support for their four children. The court decided the matter some time later when it entered a divorce judgment.

The Superior Court judge awarded her child support going forward from the date of the judgment. However, it did not order retroactive child support back to the date that Patricia filed divorce papers. The court ruled that since Patricia had not requested retroactive child support, she waived the issue.

The Court of Appeals reversed. It ruled that, under Arizona law, a parent need not make a specific request for retroactive child support. Rather, in an initial child support order, a Superior Court must order retroactive child support if it determines that child support is appropriate. Therefore, Patricia was entitled to child support starting from the date she filed for divorce.


Two Prerequisites for Retroactive Child Support

The Court of Appeals first looked at the Arizona law about retroactive child support. It noted that if a law is clear, the courts need look no further to try to interpret it or figure out what the law makers intended.

The law reads:

“If child support has not been ordered by a child support order and if the court deems child support appropriate, the court shall direct, using a retroactive application of the child support guidelines to the date of filing a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, maintenance or child support proceeding, the amount that the parents shall pay for the past support of the child and the manner in which payment shall be paid, taking into account any amount of temporary or voluntary support that has been paid. Retroactive child support is enforceable in any manner provided by law.”

The appellate court pointed out that the terms of this law are very clear. It states that two prerequisites must occur for the Superior Court to order child support retroactive to the date the divorce action was filed. First, there cannot be a previous order for child support. Second, the Superior Court must determine that child support is appropriate.

In the Simpson case, no child support had been ordered before the Superior Court’s judgment. Therefore, the Court of Appeals stated, the first prerequisite was met. The Court also found that the Superior Court did determine child support to be appropriate when it ordered Thomas to pay child support.


Once Prerequisites Met, Retroactive Child Support Mandatory

Thomas argued that even if both prerequisites were met, the Superior Court had authority to determine whether retroactive child support was appropriate. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument since the law states that the court “shall” order retroactive support in those circumstances, not that it “may” order retroactive support.

The Court noted that the Superior Court could order that the amount of retroactive child support be the same or different from the amount ordered to begin prospectively. The law uses the phrase “retroactive application of the child support guidelines.” That means that he Superior Court must apply the child support guidelines to the factual circumstances as they existed in the previous months for which the court is ordering child support.


No Specific Request Required

The Court of Appeals ruled that a parent requesting child support in Arizona need not specify that she seeks child support from the date she filed for divorce. The law doesn’t require a specific request for retroactive support. A waiver of the right to back child support is against the best interests of the children and against public policy unless the parents specifically agree to it in a divorce agreement.

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