Determining Child Support in Arizona: Legal Guidelines and Considerations

Determining Child Support in Arizona: Legal Guidelines and Considerations

A divorce or a legal separation significantly changes family circumstances, especially for a couple with children. Parents don’t need the family court to tell them about their responsibilities and how to co-parent. Yet, most divorcing couples can’t agree on child support and child custody issues.

Additionally, most divorcing parents are unaware of the legal guidelines and considerations related to child support. They are not familiar with how the courts determine the specific child support amount, how long they should pay it, and if it is possible to change the amount.

Accordingly, the law provides some guidelines for determining child support. These guidelines vary from state to state hence it is important to understand the guidelines applicable in your state. Arizona’s new child support guidelines became effective January 1, 2022. The updated guidelines seek to ensure child support contributions are proportional to the respective parent’s incomes.

What is Child Support?

Arizona laws require custodial and noncustodial parents to provide necessary financial support for the upbringing of their minor children. This is regardless of whether the children are biological or adopted or whether the parents are married or unmarried. Child support requirements apply regardless of whether the parents are divorced or separated in a family court or through mediation.

While child support is often payments made to the custodian parent or guardian, they are primarily for the benefit of the child and not the receiving parent or guardian. The state of Arizona uses the ‘Income Share Model’ to calculate child support. The model determines the total child support amount based on the usual cost of raising a child and the parent’s combined incomes.

After determining the total amount, the model calculates the specific percentage that each parent must pay based on their respective income. However, other factors can affect the total amount an individual parent should pay, including the number of days a child spends with the parent and whether there are extra expenses such as child healthcare expenses.

Child Support Orders

A child support order outlines the child support arrangement. In Arizona, a child support order is a written document that the court issues indicating;

  • Which parent is to pay child support
  • Who receives the child support payments on behalf of the children
  • The payment amount
  • How often the payment must be made

The Purpose of Arizona Child Support Guidelines

Arizona’s child support guidelines have four specific purposes, including:

1) To establish a standard of support for children consistent with the reasonable needs of children and the ability of parents to pay.

2) To make child support orders consistent for individuals in similar circumstances.

3) To give parents and courts guidance in establishing child support orders and promoting settlements.

4) To comply with state and federal laws and all related amendments.

Arizona Child Support Guidelines Premises

The state of Arizona’s child support guidelines are based on some considerations, including:

  • The guidelines apply to all children for whom the parents have a legal obligation to support. They apply regardless of whether the children are biological or adopted, and whether the parents are married or unmarried. However, support for a step-child is voluntary.
  • Child support has priority over all other financial obligations. A parent’s other financial obligations are not a consideration when determining child support
  • The court first determines spousal maintenance, if any, before determining child support obligations. Essentially, the spousal maintenance amount becomes part of a parent’s income when determining child support.
  • Sometimes, the court may require the custodial parent to pay child support as well.
  • Child support is not child custody. The right to receive or the duty to pay child support is distinct from any child custody rights or responsibilities. As such, a parent should not use the violation of their child custody rights as an excuse not to pay child support.
  • The court calculates child support based on a person’s monthly income. But, it makes adjustments based on total annual income to ensure an individual pays a standard amount throughout the year.

How Does the Court Calculate Child Support in Arizona?

The court requires a non-custodial parent to pay a flat 25% of their income to the custodial parent as child support. However, several factors affect the amount a non-custodial parent pays as child support. These factors include:

  • The parent’s income
  • The number of children
  • The children’s age
  • The amount of time the parent spends with the children
  • Specific costs like daycare and healthcare expenses
  • Any additional costs that are specific to a child such as special needs expenses

Arizona’s child support guidelines provide for the modification of child support orders if any of the above circumstances change. For instance, there can be changes in income or the number of children.

Can the Court Deviate From Arizona Child Support Guidelines?

Yes, the court can deviate from child support guidelines. Typically, the law presumes that the court makes a child support order based on calculations under Arizona’s child support guidelines. However, there are instances where the court may deviate from the guidelines by either increasing or decreasing the amount calculated using the guidelines.

For instance, the court can deviate from the guidelines if doing so is in the best interest of the child. All child custody and child support decisions are in the “best interest of the child”. If the guidelines make a specific order unjust or inappropriate, the court will deviate.

The court may also make a deviation if all the parties to the child support agree on related terms despite being aware of the amount of child support when following the guidelines. The parties’ agreement has to be in writing and entered into without duress. These kinds of deviations are common where one parent has a significantly higher income than the other.

Regardless of the reason, when there is a deviation, the court has to provide a written ruling, indicating what the child support order would have been without deviation and how it is with the deviation.

Contact a Tucson Child Support Attorney

Arizona child support laws, including the legal guidelines, are often complex, especially if you do not have a legal background. It is advisable to seek the help of a skilled and experienced child support attorney when dealing with child support issues. If you are in Tucson, AZ, you can contact our well-qualified and experienced child support lawyer at Liberty Audette and Associates. We guide you on how to navigate the complexities of Arizona’s child support laws and help you understand your rights and options. If necessary, we will represent and defend your rights in the family law court. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about our services.

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