Change in Circumstances Needed to Modify Child Support in Arizona
Arizona law allows a court to modify a child support award on a showing of changed circumstances. An appellate court reviews a trial court’s modification of child support order using an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review.
The Court of Appeals reviewed a child support modification order in Beck v. Jaeger, 604 P. 2d 18 (1979). Mrs. Beck and Mr. Jaeger divorced in January 1974. The court ordered Mr. Jaeger to pay child support of $62.50 monthly for each child.
When the children were 10 and 8, some 3 years later, Mrs. Beck asked the court to modify the amount of support. The court held a hearing and, at its conclusion, ordered the increase of $100 per month. Mr. Jaeger appealed.
Modification of a Child Support Order
Before an Arizona court can order a modification of child support, a party must make a showing of changed circumstances. These changed circumstances must have occurred after the prior child support order was made and the substantial and continuing changes for the foreseeable future.
The sufficiency of the showing is left to the sound discretion of the trial court. An appellate court affirms the lower court’s ruling if competent evidence shows a change of circumstances. The lower court found that at this time, Mrs. Beck and Mr. Jaeger’s kids require at least $300 per month to meet their basic needs.
Moreover, the cost of living had substantially increased since the original child support order was entered in 1973. In addition, Mr. Jaeger’s earnings substantially increased from the time of the divorce. In 1973 and 1974, he earned $6,647 and $2,534, respectively. Mrs. Beck testified that she agreed to the initial support amount because, at that time, Mr. Jaeger had little income. These factors constitute competent evidence of a change of circumstances sufficient to allow a judge to modify child support in Arizona.
Mr. Jaeger claims that his court-ordered “share” of the support obligation is 75%, while Mrs. Beck’s is only 25%. However, Mr. Jaeger makes a lot more than his former wife. He earns $15,000 – $16,000 while Ann only earns $600 a month. Also, $300 was the minimum needed for the children.
Mrs. Beck’s estimated monthly expenses for the children exceed $400. Therefore, Mr. Jaeger’s share is not disproportionate. Both parties have remarried and their respective spouses are employed. However, the earnings of the parents’ new spouses have no bearing on the child support obligation. The Court of Appeals affirmed the order modifying the child support. It found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in requiring John to pay an additional $100 per month for child support.
The take away from this case is that a child support order can be modified in Arizona whenever there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances to do so in order to ensure children receive the financial support they need.
The guideline used by the Court is that you also have to show that at least a 15% change in the amount of child support to be ordered will occur if the child support is modified regardless whether the parents’ circumstances have changed or not. If the resulting child support obligation will not change by at least 15%, either higher or lower, a trial court can deny a parent’s request to modify the existing child support obligation.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law 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, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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