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The Comprehensive Guide
To Child Support in Arizona

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The Comprehensive Guide to Child Support in Arizona

We help you both decide on child support for any type of case: divorce mediation, legal separation mediation, parenting plan mediation, or child support modification. Your professional mediator will guide you both and will explain the law and help you reach your best possible agreement.

In mediation, parents can reach creative agreements on child support and dividing child expenses. Even when parents don’t agree, a mediator can help find common ground and guide parents to an agreement. Focusing on the best interests of your children and your financial stability allows us to find the best outcomes for everyone.

In Arizona, child support amounts are significantly impacted by Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines. This article will answer your child-support questions and provide an in-depth explanation as to how the Guidelines function. Because understanding the Guidelines can be challenging, we will simplify the important elements that go into each child support determination in Arizona.

The Arizona Child Support Calculator demonstrates what a judge would most likely determine as the child support amount in any given case for divorce mediation, legal separation, parenting plan mediation, or modification. In mediation, parents discuss whether to mutually agree on the calculator-generated amount, or deviate upward or downward based on the best interest of the children.

In mediation, we use the Arizona Child Support Calculator as a guide. Your mediators will answer your questions to help you better understand child support over all. Then, as parents, you may decide to agree upon and use the calculator-generated amount or you may choose a higher or lower amount based upon the best interests of the children. This approach allows parents to have a healthier divorce or post-divorce modification process, while reaching agreements that work for both them and their children moving forward.

Table of Contents

Arizona Child Support Guidelines

The Arizona Child Support Guidelines are based on an “Income Share Model – meaning that the child should receive the same proposition of each parent’s individual gross income, as they would if their parents were still living together.” We often describe Arizona’s approach to child support as a “necessities based model” as support is generally lower than the amounts in most neighboring states. Each state has a unique process for determining child support, and Arizona’s approach considers the combined incomes of the parents to make the child support amount determination.

How does child support work?

Arizona’s child support calculation approach aims to be a universal standard, so that child support determinations are consistent based on the same factors for everyone. This standard for child support determination would apply to all divorcing parents with minor children, separated unmarried parents, and includes adopted children.

Child support must be paid in the form of physical payment from one parent to another. In most litigated cases, the State of Arizona can oversee payment by income withholding through the Arizona Child Support Clearinghouse, meaning the State will withhold funds from the payer’s paycheck and transfer those funds to the recipient.

“In mediation, parents can decide.”

Alternatively, in mediation, parents can mutually agree to pay child support without State intervention through “direct pay.” This option allows for automatic direct deposit each month from the payer’s bank account directly to the recipient’s bank account. Parents can decide which method will be most likely to help them avoid the need for child support enforcement.

In the context of mediation, where parents avoid court and reach agreements with the help of a divorce mediator, the decision to opt for a income withholding order vs. direct pay is based mainly on comfort level. If there is concern about receiving the funds, parents can discuss options with the division of child support. They may also choose to discuss their options with a family law attorney.

Direct payment for goods or activities by a parent is not considered child support, and would be paid separately from the monthly child support amount. Additionally, child support does not eliminate a person’s right to collect other forms of support, such as alimony or spousal maintenance.

What is the priority of the child support obligation?

Arizona puts children first and the obligation to pay child support takes priority over all other financial obligations. Failure to pay child support can result in harsh penalties including court sanctions and can even include jail time.

Can child support be different from the calculator-generated amount?

In mediation, parents can agree to deviate from the calculated child support amount. There is a presumption under Arizona law that the child support amount dictated by the guidelines will be the amount ordered by the judge in a litigated case.

Can the court deviate from the guidelines?

A judge can deviate from the calculated amount if it is deemed to be inappropriate or unjust. Parents can get legal advice at any point in the process.

What is the duration of child support and when does child support end?

The guidelines will determine a presumptive date with child support ending on the last day of the month that the following events occur:

  • the child turns 18;
  • if the child turns 18 while in high school, when the child graduates high school; or
  • the child has not graduated high school but turns 19.

For instance, when a child turns 18 in March of their senior year of high school, child support will remain in effect until the last day of the month they graduate high school, or the last day of the month of their 19th birthday, should they still be attending high school at that time.

In another instance, if a child graduates in May and turns 18 in July, child support will continue through the month of July.

The child support guidelines presume that children will graduate from high school in May, and that children will enter 1st grade if they reach the age of 6 before September 1 of any given year. What does this mean with regard to the realities of each family’s actual real-life situation? Not much, since in mediation parents can mutually agree on a different amount based on specific circumstances.

How is the gross income for each parent determined for child support?

As we discussed, the guidelines follow an “Income Share Model,” which considers the gross incomes of both parents. The guidelines take a very broad view of income that must be included in a parent’s “gross income” and list almost any form of income that may be earned including, but not limited to:

  • Salaries / Wages;
  • Commissions / Bonuses;
  • Dividends;
  • Severance Pay;
  • Social Security / Worker’s Compensation Benefits; and
  • Recurring Gifts, Prizes, and ‘Other considerations.”

Is per diem, overtime or seasonal work considered income?

Overtime is not generally considered as income. The court’s position is that a parent should have the choice of working additional hours through overtime, or a second job, without child support increasing, except when the overtime has been “historically earned” and is anticipated to continue in future. Even if income is seasonal or fluctuates, the court will annualize it to determine the income over a 12 months period.

For instance, a police officer may work overtime as part of their regular, consistent schedule based on a 3-day-on / 3-day-off schedule. The additional overtime income would likely be considered part of the parents gross income to be used in the child support calculator, even if work hours exceed 40 hours per week.

What is unemployed or under-employed “earning capacity?”

One of the most controversial elements of the Guidelines is that a parent who is unemployed or under-employed (working below their earning capacity) can be attributed income based on their “earning capacity.” So, what exactly is a person’s earning capacity? The subjectivity of this question is why the attribution of income can be so wildly litigated in court. The courts attempted to resolve some of these debates by including aspects of the parent’s life that should be considered when attributing income. Some of these factors include:

  • Assets;
  • Residence;
  • Employment and Earning History;
  • Job Skills;
  • Educational Attainment;
  • Literacy;
  • Age;
  • Health; and more.

Although in most cases, judges will at least attribute minimum wage, there are also exceptions to this attribution rule, which may include:

  • the parent having physical or mental disabilities;
  • the parent being engaged in some training or employment that establishes basic skills that will enhance their earning capacity;
  • unusual emotional or physical needs of a child that cause a parent to need to be present in the home;
  • the parent is a recipient of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program;
  • the parent cares for young children and the childcare costs are prohibitive.

The income of a parent’s new spouse is not treated as income. In mediation, we work with our clients to determine what parents believe a judge would assign for gross income and also what they each believe is most reasonable to attribute. Together, the mediator shows parents how different income amounts will impact the actual final child support number, as determined by the guidelines.

Oftentimes, parents are hotly debating what income to use for a parent. But many times, the income used actually causes very little effect on the child support amount.

For instance, in litigation, if Dad has not earned an income in 5 years, but previously worked in the medical sales industry for 10 years earning between $80,000 and $150,000 annually. A judge could attribute Dad’s earning capacity based on his earning history.

With a 5-year employment gap, a judge could attribute Dad’s earning capacity as minimum wage, or $80,000, or even $150,000, or any other amount that the judge determines Dad is capable of earning were he to become employed.

“Our mediators help parents have realistic conversations.”

Our mediators help parents have realistic conversations about what is the most likely income forMom, considering all the circumstances, and to mutually agree as to Dad’s most reasonable and likely earning capacity. Creative agreements can be reached where Dad is attributed little or no income for a specific period – perhaps three (3) or six (6) months – at the end of which time the parents return to mediation to reassess the child support amount based on Dad’s actual income earned. This approach can help keep conflict low and base the ultimate child support award on gross income that is real, rather than estimated.

Let’s look at another example, let’s say Mom has a 10-year career earning $100,000 to $200,000 annually. Several months prior to the divorce filing, Mom decides to quit her job, become a minimalist and to be ‘at one with the land’ by picking strawberries for $10 per hour. Will the court determine that Mom’s earning capacity is more than $10 per hour for the purposes of the Child Support Calculator? We know that the court’s focus is on the best interest of the child or children, so, in these circumstances, what is best for the kids will guide the court’s decision-making.

Our mediators, at The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, work to create a collaborative child support agreement in which parents control these decisions.

What if the parent is self-employed or owns a business?

If a parent is self-employed or a business owner, it can be challenging to determine the correct gross income amount to use for child support purposes. Generally, income from self-employment is considered gross revenue (100% of any money generated) minus “ordinary and necessary” business expenses.

These expenses are the necessary expenses without which the business could not survive; payroll, office rent, necessary marketing, etc. However, a parent may be able to deduct some expenses for tax purposes that would not be deducted for determination of child support purposes.

For instance, payment for a car, phone, or internet at your house may be deductible for tax purposes, but should not be deducted for child support determination purposes because all parents typically have costs associated with cars, phones, and internet.

If I pay child support, do I have to pay spousal maintenance?

No. Paying child support does not negate the need for you to pay spousal maintenance. Further, receiving child support does not eliminate a person’s right to collect other forms of support, such as alimony or spousal maintenance.

How is a parent’s adjusted gross income determined?

Gross income is total gross income from all income sources. The gross income of each parent, minus adjustments, as discussed below, equals each parent’s gross income for the child support calculator. The individual gross incomes are added together to find the Combined Adjusted Gross Income.

After determining gross incomes – which spouses agree upon in mediation – the mediator will explain the items that adjust gross income, such as payments currently being made by each spouse for certain expenses so that these funds are not actually available to be dispersed. These include:

  • spousal maintenance paid in the current or a past marriage;
  • court-ordered child support for children of other relationships;
  • support for another minor child that is not subject to the current child support or any previous court orders; and
  • other adjustments for healthcare premiums, daycare expenses, and extraordinary expenses, which are explained in more detail below.

What is the maximum child support obligation?

The Child Support Calculator uses the gross monthly combined income of the parents along with the number of kids they have to determine the maximum child support amount. The child support guidelines consider up to 6 children and up to $20,000 per month earned by both parents collectively. If you reach either threshold, in terms of number of children or amount of combined gross income, the calculator will hit a maximum child support number.

In mediation, parents may mutually agree to deviate to a higher amount, as that may be in the best interest of your children. However, here is an example of what would most likely occur in court if for example Mom earns $15,000 per month and Dad earns $5,000 per month. The child support award might be that Mom pays Dad $2,000 per month in child support. If Mom gets a raise and then makes $25,000 per month, child support has already hit it’s ceiling and will remain at $2,000 per month. In court, Dad would be required to prove that you need any amount in addition to this maximum amount.

Parents can come to mediation at any time they feel changes to their agreements are necessary.

How is the total child support obligation determined?

In litigation, once the basic monthly child support amount is calculated, the court has a number of additional expenses to consider, which are either mandatory or discretionary.

The court considers the health insurance premiums for the children’s medical, dental, and vision coverage excluding parents or other adult family members.

For example:

[The monthly insurance premium costs for parent + children]
– MINUS
[The monthly insurance premium costs for parent only]
= EQUALS
[The amount the parent spends on the children’s premiums should be used in the calculator.]

In mediation, if child care costs exist, we can show you how the addition of this expense would or would not impact your child support amount.

“In mediation, parents can mutually-agree to
any amounts that work best for their family.”

The court may consider including other expenses into the child support calculator, such as:

  • child care costs: Child care costs are annualized and included in the child support calculator. The court may also consider any tax credit given by the federal government in relation to child care costs. This credit is only given to the parent with a greater amount of parenting time each year, who also has a child care expense.
  • education expenses: such as private schools fees and expenses beyond normal educational expenses.
  • extraordinary expenses: such as expenses beyond the needs of most children, particularly relating to special needs, gifted, or handicapped children.
  • older child adjustment: for children 12 years of age or older which naturally exceed the expenses for younger children. The child support calculator automatically adjusts for this increase.

How is each parent’s proportionate share of the total child support obligation determined?

The total amount used for child support is divided amongst the parents based upon their percentage of the monthly gross income. This results in a percentage to demonstrate each parent’s contribution to the total gross income between them.

For example, if the parent’s combined gross income is $10,000 per month, with Dad making $7,000 per month and Mom making $3,000 per month, Dad’s share would be 70% and Mom’s share would be 30%. Practically speaking, Dad will pay Mom child support and Mom will not pay Dad child support. In mediation, understanding the proportional share of income can help parents reach agreement about how to divide out-of-pocket medical expenses, extra-curricular activity expenses, childcare costs or educational costs.

How to adjust child support for costs associated with parenting time?

It is important to understand what Arizona considers to be “time” with a parent. To fill out the calculator properly, we determine what blocks of time a parent has with the children, which is understood as time from pick-up to time of drop-off. Here are some examples:

24 hours = 1 day
12 hours or more = 1 day
6 to 11 hours = ½ day
3 to 5 hours = ¼ day

Your mediator will review the implications of parenting time on child support.

In litigation, the court is mainly looking at routine expenses such as the costs for the meals for the children.

Equal Parenting Time
In mediation, when the parenting time with each parent is essentially equal, parents can agree not to make any adjustment.

In court, there would likely be no adjustment made.

How to determine the child support order?

In mediation, parents will understand the ultimate result of the child support calculator, but may mutually agree to deviate up or down from this amount in consideration of their children’s best interests.

In litigation, the person with less parenting time may be required to pay additional child support in accordance with the guidelines, specifically to address the additional resources used with the parent with the majority of the parenting time. It is presumed by the court that the parent receiving child support will utilize the funds for the benefit of the children. The court will always adjust the child support amount to the nearest whole dollar.

“Often, we see parents mutually agree
on a different amount.”

In mediation, parents may feel the calculator-generated amount is not adequate, because their children have needs that are not considered by the guidelines. Often, we see parents mutually agree on a different amount.

For example, in mediation,if the calculator-generated amount is $200 per month, they may deviate the award to $400 per month, because it is more fair and reasonable considering their children’s needs.

Another scenario may be that one parent has taken on extra expenses. Parents may agree that Dad pays 100% of all the children’s extracurricular activities, which is substantially more than the child support amount. After thoughtful discussions, Mom and Dad may determine that extra-curricular activities cost about $500 per month for the children. The parents agree that the fairest approach, that is in the best interests of the children, is that Dad reduce child support from $200 per month to $100 per month because Dad is paying for 100% of extra-curricular activities. Parents may deviate from the calculator-generated amount as long as they are in mutual agreement and the deviation is in the best interest of their children.

What is the Self-Support Reserve Test?

The Self-Support Reserve Test is a test used by the courts, in litigation, to determine whether or not the assigned child support amount is feasible considering each parent’s gross income. This test is an automatic function of the child support calculator.

What if we have children with different parenting-time schedules?

When parents have different parenting time schedules for their children, each parent is obligated to support all of the children, even if they do not have parenting time for some of them. A calculation will be used to determine the average of the total number of parenting days with the parent who does not have the majority of parenting time. This calculation will then result in an adjustment of the total child support obligation number.

Who is the Primary Residential Parent?

The Primary Residential Parent is the parent who has the most parenting time per year.

What about travel expenses associated with parenting time?

In mediation, your mediator will help both of you to understand the implications of, and costs associated with, travel time. Your mediator will help you to reach creative agreements that best meet both of your needs.

In litigation, the court may consider allocating travel expenses, if the travel exceeds 100 miles. When one parent lives in another state, the court may look at the reason for the parent living in another state, the age of the children, the income of both parents, and other potentially relevant factors.

“Your mediator will help you to reach creative agreements
that best meet both of your needs.”

Can child support be made by gifts in lieu of money?

Child support cannot be made via gifts or non-monetary items, such as clothes, resources, etc. Child support must be paid with money, unless the court orders otherwise.

Can parents decide to deviate from the Arizona Child Support Calculator?

As we have discussed, deviations from the child support amount are allowed in mediation and in court. For a deviation to occur in court, the following elements must all be met:

  • the application of the guidelines (i.e. child support calculator number) is inappropriate or unjust in the particular case;
  • the deviation is not contrary to the best interests of the children;
  • the court or parents give written finds or reasons for the deviation;
  • the court or parents show what the amount would have been without deviation; and
  • the court or parents show what the amount is after deviation.

In mediation, as well as in court, it is also important that the following criteria exist:

  • The agreement is in writing stating;
  • parents entered into the agreement with knowledge of the amount of child support before the deviation; and
  • the parents have not entered into the agreement because of duress or coercion.

Thus, in mediation, per the parents’ mutual agreement, after seeing the child support amount suggested by the court and understanding how that number was reached, they may agree to deviate from the amount if there is reason to do so in the best interests of their children.

Can child support be awarded to a third-party caregiver?

Although rare, when a child is in the full-time care of a third-party caregiver the child support should be paid to the caregiver. The guidelines specify that when determining the child support payment, the caregiver’s expenses should be considered, but their income should not be considered.

How will information about gross income be collected?

The Aurit Center collects the necessary information through our simple and easy 3-part Mediation Questionnaire, which is a form of voluntary disclosure. We typically look at W-2’s, taxes for the last three years, 1099’s, and paystubs.

In litigation, the court will collect information from each parent, including their individual gross incomes, to determine the child support obligation.

How do parents exchange income information in order to determine if child support should be modified?

Under Arizona law, parents are required to share their financial information, including tax returns and income statements, every 24 months. We include this language in every Parenting Plan we file with the court. You may mutually agree to share this information more frequently, but this is the default Arizona law.

How do I modify child support?

Parents can simply and smoothly modify child support, if there is a substantial change in circumstances or upon mutual agreement, in post-divorce mediation. Many of our divorce mediation clients return to our office to have their child support, or other parenting plan issues, modified after their divorce.

To schedule a modification meeting, please call 480-999-7399
to speak with a Mediation Coordinator who can assist you.

Either parent has the right to modify child support through the court upon a finding of substantial and continuing change of circumstances. Simply, this means that modification may occur if any change to the child support calculator results in a change of 15% or more from the original child support amount. Such changes could include a gain or loss in income, a child aging out of child support while other minor children remain, etc.

How do you modify child support when a child turns 18 years old?

Parents can avoid the courts by opting to attend mediation to resolve the modification by mutual agreement. They can consult with a law firm at any point during mediation if they wish to seek legal advice. A new child support calculator (if a newer version exists) will be run with the remaining children and a new child support amount will be determined by the parents.

The court will not automatically change the child support amount. It is the responsibility of at least one parent to request a modification to child support. A parent can request a modification of child support by petitioning the court. However, this can often result in escalation of conflict wherein the Petition is disputed, resulting in litigation.

Will income or benefits received by or on behalf of a child be included in the child support calculator?

In most cases, any income earned or money received by a child will not be counted towards either parent’s child support obligation. There are exceptions to this rule, such as benefits received by a parent on behalf of a child or child support ordered to continue past the age of majority, such instances are rare.

How will the federal child tax credit be divided?

In litigation, tax exemptions are often divided by the court in proportion to parent’s income and child support contributions.

For example, if one parent’s portion is 33%, this parent will claim the children as a tax exemption once every three years, while the other parent claims the children two of every three years.

In mediation, you can follow this method, but you can choose from other options, such as each parent claiming one child each year, rotating each year in who claims the children, or any other creative approach that both parents believe is most fair.

In conclusion

We hope this guide has illuminated the process of child support determination in Arizona. As described, these child support guidelines apply in both litigation or mediation, however, mediation may allow for more productive conversations that result in unique deviations that better reflect what both parents believe is most fair and in the best interest of the child. The Arizona Guidelines, while at times complicated, create a system in which child support can be determined in any situation, regardless of income, number of children, or specific life circumstances.

If you have questions, please call 480-999-7399 to speak with a Mediation Coordinator.

Published on: Apr 13, 2018

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