Arizona Child Support Laws
Calculating Child Support in Arizona
Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-320 governs the calculation of child support in Arizona. That law refers to the Child Support Guidelines to calculate support. The Arizona Legislature has codified in Arizona Revised Statute section 46-401 the public policy that it is the responsibility of parents to support their children to avoid dependence on public welfare assistance programs.
The Arizona Supreme Court issued a decision in the Matter of Appeal of Cochise County holding that the duty of a parent to support his or her child through child support payments extends to providing a place for the child to live, providing food, clothing and medical care, and an education. Support is either agreed upon by the parties or determined by the court after a trial.
The Arizona Supreme Court in the Gotthelf v. Gotthelf case held that, although the parties are free to reach an agreement concerning the payment of support, the judge is not required to accept that agreement if the court believes the agreement is contrary to the best interests of the children.
Support continues until the child turns eighteen years of age unless the child has not yet graduated high school in which support in Arizona will continue until the earlier of the child graduating high school or the child reaches the age of nineteen; whichever occurred first.
An exception exists for a child who is severely disabled in which case financial support will continue until such time the disability ends. However, the Arizona Supreme Court in the Ferrer v. Ferrer case held that the trial court should wait until the right moment to evaluate whether the child’s disability requires the continuation of support beyond the child’s emancipation.
This case suggests judges should not make that determination when the child is younger and should, instead, wait until the child is approaching his or her emancipation. The ruling in the Ferrer case held a trial court should not speculate whether the child would or would not recover from his or her disability years before the child’s actual emancipation.
Financial support for a child is ordered based on the parties’ current financial situations. The Arizona Court of Appeals in the Brevick v. Brevick case held a judge may not enter a support order that automatically increases periodically based on the assumption the parent paying the child support will continue to receive annual raises in his or her salary.
All child support orders are required to include provision assigning the responsibility for providing and paying for health insurance, uninsured medical expenses, and daycare costs. However, the Arizona Court of Appeals in the Smith v. Smith case held that the responsibility for the payment of medical expenses for a child does not extend to cosmetic medical expenses, such as cosmetic dental procedures.
Child support payments are usually paid through the Arizona Support payment clearinghouse; although some judges will allow a parent to pay their child support obligation directly to the other parent. If a parent has received public assistance for a child, the state will issue an Atlas number to that person’s case. The paying payment will need to add that Atlas number to any payments made through the support payment clearinghouse. The courts take child support obligations very seriously, so it is important that you remain current on your child support obligation.
Child Support Guidelines
Child support is calculated using what is referred to as the Child Support Guidelines and requires a determination of each parent’s gross income, the cost of health insurance for the child(ren) only, daycare costs, parenting time days with the noncustodial parent, and extraordinary education costs such as private school tuition.
Arizona does not have the authority to add the cost of the child’s participation in extracurricular expenses when calculating the appropriate amount of support, such as fees and expenditures related to sports, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities.
The only exception to this general rule is if the child demonstrates an extraordinary talent in the particular activity. This child support calculator is primarily a mathematical formula. The Guidelines, correspondingly, are not directly influenced by a parent’s actual living expenses or their debts; although a parent’s necessary living expenses were allegedly taken into consideration when the drafters of the Guidelines set limits on the basic support amounts included in the Guidelines.
The Supreme Court is required to review and, if necessary, revise the Guidelines every four years. In creating or changing the Guidelines, the Arizona Supreme Court must include, among other things, considerations of the needs of the parties’ child.
The court should consider the resources and needs of the parents. The court should consider the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the parents lived with their child in an intact household.
The court shall also consider the physical and emotional condition of the child, as well as the child’s educational needs, the provision of health insurance for the child, the duration of parenting time and related expenses incurred by the noncustodial parent for the child during that parenting time. The Guidelines intend to determine the total amount of support the child needs on a monthly basis.
The Guidelines then divide that total figure between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes. The primary custodial parent is presumed to be providing his or her share of his or her amount of that total by the child residing in his or her home. The non-custodial parent’s share is the amount he or she will be ordered to pay to the custodial parent. The Guidelines max out at a total combined income of $20,000.00 per month.
Deviation in Child Support
In cases in which the parents combined earnings are greater than $20,000.00 per month, a party may ask for an upward deviation in child support, but that parent has the burden of proving an upward deviation is in the child’s best interests.
The Arizona Court of Appeals in the Nash v. Nash case held that a trial court cannot refuse to consider evidence supporting an upward deviation in support above the $20,000.00 combined income maximum simply because the custodial parent has sufficient wealth to provide for the additional needs of the child. In that case, professional Phoenix Suns point guard, Steve Nash, earned significantly more than the $20,000.00 per month income cap of the Guidelines.
Calculating the Parents’ Incomes
The revenues of the actual biological parents are included in the calculation. The Arizona Court of Appeals in the case of In Re Marriage of Pacific held that the court shall not attribute to a parent half of the income of their new spouse when calculating child support.
Parties are required to testify and provide financial documents establishing, for example, their wages, the cost of providing health insurance for the child(ren), and daycare costs. Parties are required to exchange Affidavits of Financial Information wherein they list their income, expenses, and other expenses associated with child support.
The Court of Appeals in the Kells v. Kells case held that such Affidavits of Financial Information have no evidentiary value making it imperative that parties present actual financial documents to the court at a trial.
If one of the parents is self-employed, a determination will need to be made to establish that parent’s true income. A review of the business tax returns provides a starting point for evaluating that parent’s income, but a person should never just rely on a business income tax return. Instead, an analysis needs to occur of the business’ financial statements, such as the business’ Profit and Loss Statement and Balance Sheet statement.
The documents may reveal additional income, such as personal expenses that are being paid by the business but deducted as a business expense, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals case of Pearson v. Pearson. The records may show the purchase of additional equipment that has been 100% deducted under a section 179 income tax deduction, but that asset has an extended service life. Also, the court, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals case of Baker v. Baker, may decrease a self-employed parent’s reported income because of business losses or depreciation in certain circumstances.
Some parents choose to work overtime or even two different jobs to make ends meet after a divorce. The Arizona Court of Appeals held in the McNutt v. McNutt case that a parents income should is based upon their revenue from their primary job to avoid a parent continually facing increases in support payments due to the more they work to pay their living expenses. Although McNutt dealt with alimony, the reasoning may be persuasive in a similar child support case.
A court is required to at least attribute an income of minimum wage based upon full-time employment, according to Arizona Revised Statute Section 25-320 if a parent is not employed.
The court, however, is permitted to attribute to a parent an income based upon their actual earning ability if the tribunal concludes that parent is intentionally unemployed. However, an exception to this rule may apply.
Specifically, the Arizona Supreme Court in the case of Little v. Little set forth many factors the court should consider when determining whether to reduce a parent’s income when calculating child support when a parent voluntarily quits their job to attend school. The balancing test is the best interests of the children in receiving current support versus the increased income that parent will have available to support the child after completing his or her education.
Since child support calculations are based on a mathematical formula, child support issues are usually resolved without the need for a trial. There are, however, some special circumstances that make calculating child support more complicated, such as when one of the parents is self-employed, in which a business evaluation may be necessary.
It is important to hire an Arizona family law attorney who knows how to review and evaluate business financial statements, bank account records, and other financial information to accurately determine a self-employed parties’ income. Hildebrand Law, PC provides practical and efficient solutions for all of our clients in their child support cases.
If you are facing support issues in Arizona, you deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing your most precious assets are guarded by a committed team who focus only on Arizona divorce and related family law cases.
Call us at (480)305-8300 to schedule your personalized consultation with one of our divorce attorneys with experience in valuing a professional practice in a divorce in Arizona.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article about child support to ensure everyone has access to information about child support laws in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and child support attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and actually caring about what his clients are going through in a child support case.
As Seen on CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, and Fox News