Calculating Child Support With Split Custody of Children in Arizona
In Arizona like in most states, child support rises as the number of children rise. But under the Guidelines, the support for two children is not double the support for one. Rather, support goes up incrementally and depends on the parenting time spent with each parent. So how do you calculate child support under the Guidelines for three children when only two are splitting time between parents? In Mitton v. Mitton, No. 1 CA-CV 15-0769FC, decided April 11, 2017, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered this issue.
Facts and Procedure
Mr. Mitton and Mrs. Mitton divorced in 2013. The couple had three children. Their daughter is currently 17 years old and the twin sons are 10 years old. The divorce decree split parenting time equally between them. It assigned Mr. Mitton child support based on that arrangement.
In 2015, the couple agreed that their daughter would live full time with Mrs. Mitton. They needed to modify child support to reflect the change. Mrs. Mitton argued she should get more child support since she had increased parenting time. The court ordered the parties to file child support worksheets setting out their positions.
Mrs. Mitton filed two worksheets. One of the worksheets was for the daughter living full time with her. The other was for the two boys, with parenting time divided equally. Mr. Mitton objected to this, arguing that Mrs. Mitton’s method overstated child support. He filed one child support worksheet for the three children.
The court entered a child support amount in the sum of Mr. Mitton’s worksheets. Mrs. Mitton appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Income Shares Method of Child Support
Arizona Child Support Guidelines are based on an “income shares” model. The total child support amount reflects money that would have been spent on the children had the couple remained married. Each parent pays a proportionate share.
Generally, only one worksheet is filled in a child custody no matter how many children are involved. This case involved the issue of how to calculate child support if one child lives entirely with one parent while other children share parenting time. Mrs. Mitton argues for two different worksheets, while Mr. Mitton argues for one.
The Court noted that no prior Arizona cases addressed this issue. However, other states that use an “income shares” child support model have considered it. The Court reviewed decisions from Indiana, Colorado and Maine containing similar issues.
All three jurisdictions rejected the idea of calculating child support with two worksheets. This, the court said, overstated the child support. It calculated one child’s support as if she were the sole child. Then it added that “sole child” support amount to the amount for the other children together.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the courts in other income shares states. It noted that child support under this model is not one set amount multiplied by the number of children. Rather, it is incremental. The amount of support rises for the second child but does not double, since some costs are not duplicated with each child.
The Court said that it was unfair to calculate one child alone and add this amount to the other worksheet. It necessarily inflated the amount due. It ordered the superior court to prepare one worksheet for the three children. It said that the court should adjust costs by determining the total amount of annual parenting time hours for each of the three children. In calculating child support, it should add up each parent’s total parenting time for all children, then divide that number by three to arrive at an average annual amount of parenting time.
The Court of Appeals vacated the lower court decision and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.