Increase in Income Cause to Modify Child Support
Child Support and a Parent’s Income in Arizona
Some people have asked is an increase in income cause to modify child support in Arizona. In Arizona, any individual can request a change to the support obligations as outlined in their divorce decree or separation agreement. When considering a request to terminate child support or spousal maintenance the Arizona courts look for “substantial and continuing changes” to the financial situation of one or both of the parties involved. When one party petitions and receives a modification or termination of child support, the other parent may appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals of Arizona. Such was the case in the case of Jorgenson v Jorgenson. Mother appealed the trial court’s ruling after the court ruled in Father’s favor to terminate his monthly child support payment for the couple’s daughter whose with her mother. The appeal was based on the mother’s belief the trial court’s decision failed to consider that the original support obligation was put in place with the knowledge she would eventually obtain employment after she completed her education and, therefore, her obtaining employment was not a substantial and continuing change in circumstances to justify modification of the child support order.
She felt that child support due from her former husband should not have been terminated and that the original support payments as detailed in their separation agreement should remain in place. According to the original agreement, Mr. Jorgenson was to pay $200 a month each as support for the parties’ two children in addition to $200 per month to the wife for spousal maintenance. At the time of the original agreement, Wife was a student at University of Arizona. The agreement specified that the $200 monthly payments to support the couple’s son were to terminate at the point when he took up residence with the husband. It was further agreed that the child support payments for the couple’s daughter would increase to $300 per month when she turned twelve years old.
The spousal support payments were to terminate on December 31, 1980, when she graduated from college or when she remarried – whichever occurred first. As of October 22, 1980, the parties’ son was living with his father. The appellant was graduated and remarried (negating the spousal support payment). The parties’ daughter was nine years old, leaving the child support obligation on her behalf at the original $200/month. This is the date on which Father filed a petition for modification of the dissolution decree. In his request, he alleged substantial and continuing change of circumstances. He requested termination of the remaining child support obligation to provide for the support of his daughter. The original decision of the trial court to terminate the monthly child support obligation due from Father to Mother was made after evidence of three major changes was presented in relation to the circumstances of the parties involved at the modification hearing. These changes are outlined below:
1. Father had a significant amount of debt in comparison to when the original child support amount and responsibilities were determined. It was further ascertained that a large number of debts were incurred voluntarily.
2. Mother was remarried and her husband’s income was at least equal to that of the Father.
3. Mother was now both graduated from college and employed at a rate of $19,000 a year.
The Court’s Ruling on the Effect of an Increase in Income on Child Support
The trial court quickly rejected the first two arguments because they do not provide a basis to modify Father’s child support. The amount of debt a parent has in no way affects the calculation of child support in Arizona. Prior case law indicated that supporting your children is of paramount importance above all creditors a parent may have. The second argument from Father was also quickly rejected because Mother’s new husband does not have a legal duty to support Mr. Jorgenson’s children. The trial court did find the fact Mother had graduated from college and was gainfully employed to constitute a substantial and continuing change in circumstance to modify child support.
While the Appellant argued that the change in her employment status should not be considered a substantial and continuing change because it was within the contemplation of both parties involved at the time when the original agreement was put in place, the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court in finding the Mother’s future employment was not guaranteed and, therefore, her securing employment was a substantial and continuing change in circumstances to modify child support.
The increase in income of the custodial parent does not always constitute cause for modification or termination of child support on the part of the noncustodial parent – even if it is substantial, continuing and unforeseen. The increase in income on its own does not decrease the noncustodial parent’s responsibility for providing for the support of their child . The increase should be considered as a possible cause for modification or termination of support in cases where the noncustodial parent is bearing a greater share of the burden of support under the current agreement; this is frequently the case when the custodial parent was not employed at the time of the original agreement.
In this case, the prior case of Jarvis v. Jarvis is controlling. In Jarvis, the father’s support obligation to the mother, who had been unemployed at the time of the divorce, but had since gained employment, was reduced. In Jorgensen, Ms. Jorgenson was unemployed at the time of the dissolution of the parties’ marriage. At that time, the Mr. Jorgenson assumed the entire burden of supporting both children. At the time of the hearing for modification of child support, he was providing full support for one child and a substantial amount of the support for the second child. There had been a substantial and continuing change in the mother’s ability to provide financial support to the parties’ children. This made it unnecessary for Father to continue to bear a larger share of the obligation to support the parties’ children. The court of appeals, therefore, found no problem with each parent being solely responsible for the financial support of a child in each parent’s primary care.
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.