A Comprehensive Look at Arizona Child Support Guidelines

When divorcing, most married spouses with children are familiar with the concept of child support but may not be familiar with the legal guidelines surrounding it, how the specific amount is calculated, whether or not it can change, and for how long it must be paid. Specific child support guidelines vary from state to state so it is important to familiarize yourself with the guidelines for the state in which you reside. Child support guidelines are designed to promote consistency in child support outcomes Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines were updated and as of January 1st, 2022, the date the new guidelines will go into effect.

What is Child Support?

The State of Arizona requires custodial and noncustodial parents to provide reasonable financial support for their minor biological and adopted children, regardless of whether both parents were married or unmarried and whether a traditional courtroom divorce or divorce mediation is chosen. In Arizona, an “Income Share Model” is used to calculate child support, with the amount being based on the usual costs to raise children and the parties’ combined incomes.

Once the total child support amount is determined, the specific percentage of the total that each parent owes is based upon their respective income. The total amount each parent must pay may be adjusted based upon the number of days a child spends with each parent, whether there are other work-related childcare expenses, whether there are child healthcare-related expenses, and other factors. Additionally, spousal maintenance amounts are calculated prior to child support calculations because spousal maintenance payments are considered gross income for the recipient which means the amount will factor into child support calculations.

How Does Child Support Work?

As aforementioned, once a child support calculation has been determined, each parent will be responsible for paying the determined amount and are obligated to prioritize child support payments over all other financial obligations. In Arizona, children are the priority in issues of child support which is why there are harsh penalties and potentially even jail time if a parent is found to be in non-compliance with their legal obligations.

When paying child support, the funds must be cash but may be transferred from one parent to another via various options. If so desired, the State of Arizona can facilitate child support payment by having funds withheld from the payer’s paycheck and automatically transferred to the recipient. If the option to have the state facilitate payment is not chosen, parents may agree to pay child support directly via direct deposit from one account to another.

Does the Court Consider Overtime or Seasonal Work As Gross Income?

Generally speaking, the court does not consider overtime and seasonal work as part of your gross income if it is inconsistent and unanticipated. If, however, overtime or seasonal work is consistent (‘historically earned’) and is anticipated to continue in the future, it may be considered as part of a parent’s annual gross income. The Arizona Supreme Court believes that “each parent should have the choice of working additional hours through overtime or at a second job without increasing the child support obligation.” But they also clarify that “a parent who historically worked overtime when the family was intact may choose to reduce or not to work overtime hours to ensure the parent has meaningful interaction with the child during that parent’s parenting time.”

How Does the State of Arizona Handle Self-Employment When Calculating Child Support?

Self-employment is one of the most complicated factors influencing gross income considerations for child support. In Arizona, gross income for a self-employed person, or person that owns a business, in regards to child support is considered to be any income from self-employment, rent, royalties, proprietorship of a business, or joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation (gross revenue), minus any ordinary and necessary business expenses for the business to operate as determined by the court. Examples of this could be things like business office rent, office utilities, payroll, marketing, etc. Additionally, the gross income calculation should include ½ of self-employment taxes paid. And, courts will count as income any business expenses that “reduce personal living expenses” such as a phone or car payment that the business pays. Because self-employment income is more challenging to calculate and is considered less consistent than other forms of income, in some cases, a self-employed spouse may be required to prepay an amount of child support equal to six months of support as security for payment.

Adjustments to Gross Income for Calculating Child Support

After both spouses agree on gross income amounts but before determining final child support obligations for each parent, there may be some adjustments to gross income. Potential adjustments may include mutual debt that one spouse is paying, funds not available for disbursement due to paying child support, or spousal maintenance payments for this or a previous marriage and/or child(ren), costs to insure children, healthcare costs, childcare costs, and adjustments for who the primary residential parent is (based upon the percentage of time each parent has custody of the child).

How Do Arizona Courts View Unemployment or Underemployment in Child Support Calculations?

Many people assume that if they are unemployed or underemployed, regardless of whether it is voluntary or involuntary, that they will not have any gross income to be considered. However, previous guidelines as well as the most current guidelines require income to be attributed to anyone that is unemployed or underemployed. The court must attribute a minimum of the full-time minimum wage (40 hours per week or less if a person earns more than minimum wage depending on their employment circumstances) unless there are extraordinary circumstances.

So, even if a parent has stayed home for a number of years as the primary caregiver or “stay at home” parent if they worked prior to staying home, a judge could attribute previous earning capacity to the parent despite not recently working. Conversely, in mediation, your mediator will work with both parents to have respectful and fair conversations about income and earning capacity. While a litigated divorce will be at the mercy of whatever the judge decides, there is more leeway for conversations about reasonable solutions in mediation.

Factors that should be considered when determining a parent’s earning capacity include lifestyle, assets, residence, age, literacy, health, educational attainment, and more.

The court will consider the best interests of the child(ren) and the factors below. In mediation, we will work with you to discuss both what the court would likely attribute as gross income and what both spouses think is fair to attribute as gross income for each parent and work with both parents to find a mutually agreed-upon gross income amount.

  • If involuntary, whether it is reasonable for that parent to find replacement income above actual earnings.
  • If voluntary with reasonable cause, whether the parent’s decision and its benefits outweigh the effect that the reduced income has on the child’s best interests.
    If voluntary and without good cause, whether income attribution is appropriate.
  • If the parent has the ability to find suitable work in the marketplace at a greater income based on the parent’s current educational level, training and experience, and physical capacity.

 

When Is Income Not Attributed to an Unemployed or Underemployed Spouse?

There are a few circumstances in which the court may decline to attribute income to an unemployed or underemployed spouse including but not limited to:

  • Incarceration
  • A parent is physically or mentally disabled.
  • A parent is engaged in reasonable career or occupational training to establish basic skills or that is reasonably calculated to enhance earning capacity.
  • Unusual emotional or physical needs of a natural or adopted child common to the parties if that child requires that parent’s presence in the home.
  • A parent is the caretaker of a young child common to the parties and the cost of childcare is prohibitive.

Is There a Maximum Child Support Obligation Amount?

It is important to note that there is a maximum child support obligation amount allowed in the State of Arizona. Arizona’s child support guidelines stipulate that a maximum of 6 children shall be used in child support obligation calculations. Additionally, a total parental gross income (that is, the total gross income of both parents) cannot exceed $20,000 per month. Any amount of total income above $20,000 shall not be factored into maximum child support obligation calculations.

Once Toal Gross Income is Determined, How is the Total Child Support Obligation Calculated

Once gross income has been established, there is not a simple percentage to be assigned, there are other things that should be accounted for and adjusted for before the final child support obligation can be determined. So, what things must be considered? We explore them in depth below.

  • Spousal Maintenance
    • As of January 1, 2019, spousal maintenance paid to the other parent, or paid to another parent from another child, cannot be counted as gross income. Additionally, the parent that receives spousal maintenance must count those funds as gross income.
  • Childcare Costs
    • The costs of raising a child can be very expensive. When parenting time is equal or near equal, child support calculations will generally not include childcare costs. However, adjusting for childcare costs may be necessary if there is a significant difference in the percentage of parenting time.
  • Health Insurance
    • The parent that pays the health insurance premiums or medical, dental, or vision insurance for the child(ren) will be credited with the amount paid for the child(ren) alone.
  • Older Child Adjustment
    • If one or more children are 12 years old or older, the base child support obligation will be increased by 10%.
  • Education Expenses
    • If the child(ren) attends a private or special school as agreed upon by both parents or as the result of a court order, or there are necessary expenses to meet the educational needs of a child, the base child support obligation may be adjusted.
  • Extraordinary Child
    • If a child has extraordinary expenses that exceed the needs of most children, such as is the case with special needs children, gifted children, and handicapped children, the base child support obligation may be adjusted.

Once the Base Child Support Obligation is Determined, How is Each Parent’s Child Support Obligation Calculated?

Both gross income and percentage of parenting time will be factored into individual child support obligation calculations. As aforementioned, the parent that earns more money will be responsible for paying a higher percentage of the base child support obligation. Additionally, if one parent has the child for 70% of the time, that means they incur 70% of daily childcare costs and will be responsible for a smaller percentage of the base child support obligation.

If adjusting for parenting time, the parenting time adjustments as set forth by Arizona’s guidelines are as follows:

  • 12 hours or more = one day
  • 6 to 11 hours = ½ day
  • 3 to 5 hours = 1/4 day

Once all adjustments have been made, the total child support obligation amount is divided between both parents based on their monthly gross income. When one percentage exceeds the other, the parent with the smaller percentage will not pay child support. Rather, the total amount owed by the parent that has a higher gross income will be reduced and one payment will be transacted according to the determined payment schedule. Fortunately, in mediation child support conversations allow parents to determine if they think a higher amount is needed for child support, or they choose to deviate from the total, they are legally allowed to do so.

How Long Does Child Support Last?

Arizona’s child support guidelines state that child support payments will end on the last day of the month, in the month when the last of the following occurs:

  • A child turns 18 years of age.
  • A child graduates high school.
  • A child has turned 19 but has not graduated high school, child support will end on the last day of the month, in the month that the child graduates, or the last day of the month when the child turns 19, whichever comes first.

A presumptive date for the termination of child support will be determined in the official child support order. However, a judge may choose to change the date at their discretion if exceptional circumstances arise.

Understanding the Self-Support Reserve Test

The court presumes that a parent is capable of earning at least minimum wage for full-time employment or full-time employment as reported by the individual, whichever is higher.
The Self-Support Reserve Test is used to verify that the paying parent is financially able to pay their portion of child support as outlined by the official Child Support Order and maintain a minimum standard of living. In Arizona, the Self-Support Reserve is an amount equal to 80% of the monthly full-time earnings at the state minimum wage for the year. The Self Support Reserve amount, which as of January 1st, 2022 will be $1,685, will be deducted from the paying parent’s Adjusted Child Support Income. But, it is up to the court, or in mediation both parents may discuss, to consider the financial impact that the reduction would have on the receiving parent’s household before making the adjustment.

How Do Different Parenting Time Schedules Impact Child Support Obligations

There are occasionally circumstances where there are multiple children that are not on the same parenting schedule with each parent. One child may spend more time with one parent than the other child(ren). When this is the case, the total child support obligation remains the same but the amount each parent is responsible for may be adjusted according to the percentage of parenting time.

What Special Circumstances Impact Child Support Obligations?

  • Travel Expenses Associated with Parenting Time
    • In some circumstances where one parent does not live near the child(ren) and one-way travel exceeds 100 miles, travel expenses may be allocated in the total child support obligation. It is the priority of the court that children have contact with both parents. Therefore, considering travel expenses for the parent that lives far away or in another state is in the best interests of the child(ren). It is important to note that any parent who is entitled to receive reimbursement from the other parent for the child’s allocated travel expenses must provide receipts or evidence that travel expense payments have been made.
  • Gifts In Lieu of Money
    • In the State of Arizona, child support payments cannot be made via gifts or non-monetary items, the total amount must be paid in cash unless the court orders otherwise or both parents agree to other arrangements.
  • Third-Party Caregivers
    • Though not common, if a child lives with a third-party caregiver under a court order or administrative placement by a state agency, the third-party caregiver is entitled to receive child support payments from each parent on the child’s behalf. When this is the case, the total child support payment will be determined by considering the caregiver’s expenses but not their income.

Legal Guidelines for Information Exchange in Child Support Determinations

Arizona’s child support guidelines stipulate that parents are required to share financial information every twenty-four months. Financial information will include tax returns, financial affidavits, and earning statements. Additionally, unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents will also exchange their residential address as well as the names and addresses of their employers.

What if Parents Want to Deviate from the Arizona Child Support Calculator?

Whether in court or in mediation, deviations from the amount determined by Arizona’s Child Support Calculator are allowed under certain conditions. If parents choose to deviate from the amount, all criteria must be met:

  1. The agreement is in writing or stated on the record under Rule 69, Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure.
  2. All parties have entered into the agreement with knowledge of the amount of child support that would have been ordered under the Guidelines but for the agreement.
  3. All parties have entered the agreement free of duress and coercion.
  4. The court complies with the requirements of Section VI.B of Arizona Child Support Guidelines.

Can the Court Decide to Deviate from the Arizona Child Support Calculator Amount?

Yes, the court can decide to deviate if certain conditions are met. However, this is less of a concern in mediation since the case will not take place in family court. Should the court decide to deviate, all of the following criteria must be met:

  1. Applying the Guidelines is inappropriate or unjust in a particular case.
  2. The court has considered the child’s best interests in determining the amount of a deviation.
  3. A deviation that reduces the amount of child support paid is not, by itself, contrary to the child’s best interests.
  4. The court makes written findings regarding 1. and 2. above in the Child Support Order, Minute Entry, or Child Support Worksheet.
  5. The court shows what the Order would have been without the deviation.
  6. The court shows what the Order is after deviating.

Federal Income Dependency Tax Exemption for Children Guidelines

Federal and state tax law provides potential tax benefits associated with minor children. Generally speaking, the court divides tax exemptions for children based on each parent’s gross income and child support contributions. It is important to note that, historically, parents were entitled to claim children as personal exemptions on income tax returns, but the deduction for personal exemptions was suspended for tax years 2018 through 2025 by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. For the aforementioned period of time, taxpayers cannot claim a deduction for exemptions but may be eligible to claim the child tax credit and the additional child tax credit.

If one parent pays 70% of the child support obligation, they are entitled to 70% of tax deductions for the child. The amount is not divided each year but, rather, a more likely scenario would be that the parent would be able to claim their child as a dependent 2 out of every 3 years, as long as they are current on their child support payments.  Similarly, if one person is paying 70% of the child support obligation for 3 children to one parent, they may claim 2 out of the 3 children as dependents on their taxes each year.  In mediation, how tax deductions are allocated can be discussed and if an alternative claim schedule or arrangement is desired by both parents, a deviation is allowed. Some examples of scenarios in which a deviation may be granted by the court or agreed upon by both parents include:

  • If the parent entitled to the child tax deduction would not benefit from claiming the tax deduction. In this scenario, the tax allocation may be allocated to the other parent that would derive a benefit from the tax deduction either by agreement or court order.
  • If the parent entitled to the proportionate share of a tax benefit has demonstrated a historical pattern of failure to pay child support and cannot provide evidence that they will be able to pay their obligation in the future, the court may deny that parent’s right to present or future child deduction tax benefits.

How is a Child Support Order Enforced?

Once a child support order is in place, it is everyone’s hope that the parent with an obligation to pay will do so. But, there are many cases in which a parent refuses to pay or is inconsistent. The State of Arizona recognizes that this happens and because the order is a legal obligation, they have systems and guidelines in place to enforce the order. The Arizona Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) provides services to all parties involved in a child support order (support recipient and/or caretaker recipient, and parent responsible for paying).

Enforcement of a child support order includes nonpayment of current support, nonpayment of arrears, and failure to pay unreimbursed costs. If the parent responsible for paying child support does not pay or is in arrears (not paying on time, in full), the receiving parent must file a petition for enforcement with the court. To enforce the order, the court may enter a judgment against the non-paying parent and require them to pay the amount in full or face jail time and the requirement to attend “Accountability Court” where consistent payment will be carefully monitored by the court. Additionally, if the nonpaying parent fails to pay, the court may choose from a variety of options to collect payment including income withholding, asset seizure, state tax refund offset, drivers license suspension or revocation, liens on property, and more.

Child Support Modifications

Child support modifications are not uncommon and can be granted to either parent but the requesting parent must be able to demonstrate that there is a substantial and continuing change of circumstances. There are a few different circumstances and guidelines that govern child support modifications:

  • A 15% variation in the amount of the order is considered evidence of substantial and continuing change of circumstances
  • A request to assign or alter the responsibility to provide medical insurance for a child who is subject to a Child Support Order. A modification of the medical assignment or responsibility does not need to vary by 15% or more from the existing amount to use the simplified procedure.

If any party disputes the request, a hearing may be necessary and the burden to provide evidence that supports the request for modification rests on the requesting party. Modifications to child support orders are very common and can also be more effectively and efficiently managed in a mediation setting, rather than in a courtroom so that a fair and/or mutually agreeable solution can be met.

Modifying Child Support When a Child Turns 18

It is incredibly common for two parents to share more than 1 child and have a child support order in place for all of them. The court will not automatically cancel child support and reduce the total for the child that has turned 18. So, when one of the children turns 18 but the others are still minors, one or both parents may request to have child support modified or terminated for the 18-year-old child but not the others. Going through the court system can be complicated and may result in an increased conflict which is why modifying child support is often best handled in mediation, where respectful and fair conversations can be had with the hopes of finding a mutually agreeable resolution.

Child Support Arrears

When the paying parent does not make payments according to the child support order or falls behind on payments, the court may collect on arrears. If the court sets payment on arrears at less than the amount of the accruing monthly interest, the court must make a finding as to why the amount is less than the accruing monthly interest. C. Upon a showing of substantial and continuing changed circumstances, the court may adjust the amount of payment on arrears. D. When a parent’s current child support obligation terminates but the parent still owes arrears, the income withholding order may remain in effect until the arrears and any accruing interest are paid. The court may modify the income withholding order to an amount less than the current child support amount and the payment on arrears. Before making any modification, the court must consider the total amount of arrears and the accruing interest, and the time that it will take the obligor to pay these amounts.

Child Support Guidelines Conclusion

This in-depth look at child support guidelines in Arizona is meant to be informative and helpful but even this detailed explanation isn’t the entirety of child support guidelines and there are many areas where parents have options to discuss modifications that may be desired. Because of this, it is ideal to work with an experienced mediator that can help you navigate the complicated rules surrounding child support and help you reach an agreement about your child support order that, first and foremost, is best for your children but that also is acceptable for both parents involved.

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