Effect of Employment Benefits on Child Support
It is important to understand the effect of employment benefits on child support in Arizona. The purposes of the Arizona child support law is to establish a standard of support for children consistent with the reasonable needs of children and the ability of parents to pay. The law says that virtually all income earned by a parent must be considered by the divorce court making a child support award. It also says: “Cash value shall be assigned to in-kind or other non-cash benefits.” The Arizona Court of Appeals addressed the effect of employment benefits on child support in Arizona.
In the case of Patterson v. Patterson, 248 P.3d 204 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2011), the Arizona Court of Appeals discussed whether the divorce court should include the value of a military father’s free, on-base housing as income when calculating child support.
Raquel Helena Patterson and Shawn Jamaal Patterson were married for nine years before they divorced. Shawn was a Sergeant in the Air Force and had free, on-base housing.
The divorce court judge refused to include the value of Shawn’s free housing in his gross income for child support purposes. Raquel appealed, arguing that it should have been considered.
Effect of Employment Benefits on Child Support | Housing Benefits
Although Raquel specifically requested that the value of Shawn’s free, military housing be included in his income for child support purposes, the court refused to do so. It said that the value of housing was not money received by Shawn and that military housing was never included.
The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona law provides that “expense reimbursements or benefits received by a parent in the course of employment … shall be counted as income if they are significant and reduce personal living expenses.”
Under this law, Arizona family law courts include in a parent’s gross income work benefits that are not paid in cash, like an employer’s contributions to a parent’s retirement plan and health-insurance premiums. The value of these benefits is counted in the parent’s gross income if the family court finds that they are “significant and reduce personal living expenses.”
The Court of Appeals reviewed cases in other states and found that many included the value of free housing in gross income for child-support purposes. Some of these cases involved military housing.
After this review of Arizona law and cases from other jurisdictions, the Court of Appeals decided that the Patterson divorce court should not have simply excluded this income. Rather, it was obliged to determine the value of Shawn’s on-base housing, and then consider whether that value was significant and reduced his personal living expenses. If so, the value of the on-base housing could constitute an “in-kind or another non-cash benefit” that should be included in his income when the court calculated child support.