Deviation in Child Support in Arizona
In Arizona, the decision of the court regarding child support is made in accordance with child support guidelines. In some cases, the family court can deviate from Arizona child support guidelines as necessary and as pertaining to specific circumstances, but when doing so, must provide findings of fact and conclusions of law to support the decision. This is the matter the Arizona Court of Appeals had to consider in Stein v. Stein.
The Facts of the Case: Stein v. Stein
Jay David Stein (Father) and Jill Lynn Stein (Mother) were married in 2005 and divorced in 2014. The couple had four minor children. At the time of the dissolution, Mother did not work and Father had an income of over $3 million annually. A premarital agreement signed by both parties agreed that neither party would receive any spousal maintenance in the event of a divorce.
Father was awarded sole legal decision making authority, as well as being named the primary residential parent. Mother was given supervised parenting time of one afternoon per week and one overnight every other weekend with Father covering 90% of the costs of the “supervision” required during Mother’s parenting time.
The decision of the court was to deviate from the child support guidelines and award Mother $7,500 per month in child support. When Father moved for additional findings of fact and a new trial, he was provided with findings of fact (but only as pertaining to the attorney’s fees awarded to Mother) and denied a new trial. Father appealed contending that the court erred by failing to present specific factual findings in support of their deviation from child support guidelines. The child support order was reviewed for an abuse of discretion.
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines
According to the Arizona child support guidelines, the Court can order a parent to pay child support in an amount that is “reasonable and necessary” for the support of their minor children (A.R.S. Section 25-320(A)). In A.R.S. Section 25-320(D) the guidelines present a method for the calculation of what is reasonable and necessary.
The Supreme Court Creates the Arizona Child Support Guidelines
The Family Court is required to reward the amount of child support that would result from the application of the stated guidelines. The only exception is if the Court finds that the application of the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust in a specific instance or case. It is also stated that if the Court does deviate from the child support guidelines in place, it is required to consider all relevant factors, including applicable statutes and case law.
Once all factors have been considered, the Court is required to make written findings showing that the application of the child support guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust and the court considered the best interests of the child when determining the amount of child support. The order must also reflect the amount of child support before the deviation and after the deviation.
The Findings of the Family Court in Support of the Child Support Order
The Family Court did make factual findings regarding the incomes of the parties involved. Father had an income of $3 million per year and Mother had an income of $60,000 per year. The court concluded that this left a significant disparity in financial resources that justified a deviation from the guidelines. The record supports these findings.
Yet the Family Court did not provide any findings of fact on the record supporting its decision to award the amount of $7,500 per month in child support payable to Mother. While reasoning for the increase in child support can be inferred, when a party invokes Rule 82(A) the appellate court does not employ such inferences. The Court may not affirm the lower court’s ruling unless the trial court clearly states the basis for its ruling.
Arizona Court of Appeals Vacates Child Support Order
While the Family Court has the ability to deviate from the child support guidelines, they must only do so when findings and law support such a deviation. In this case, proof of findings and conclusions of law must be provided upon the filing of a timely request for such. As Jay David Stein (Father) did file a timely request in this case, the family court was required to provide the facts supporting its substantial deviation from the guidelines. As the court did not provide the requested information, The Arizona Court of Appeals vacated the child support order and remanded the case back to the family court for additional findings.