Raising and caring for children in Arizona is expensive regardless of whether you have only one child or multiple children. Education, medicine, food, clothing, shelter, and all the extras add up really fast. Both parents are responsible to care for and pay for their child's needs. Sometimes, when one parent is the primary or sole custodian of the child, he or she is paying child support by the other parent.
At The Law Offices of Shawn B. Hamp, we want our clients to be informed of their rights and responsibilities as parents. Here, we provide an overview of child support laws in Arizona and how they may apply in your situation. But as you know, each situation is unique – so contact us at 928-753-6868 to schedule a consultation to discuss your child support questions.
What is the Purpose of Child Support in Arizona?
Some people get mad when they are ordered to pay child support, but as mentioned above, child support is the Court's way to ensure that both parents are responsible financially for their children. One parent may make more money or have the children for longer stretches of time, if not full-time. That means the other parent has to compensate financially.
So, the purpose of child support is simple: making sure both parents are financially responsible for their children's needs and necessities as they grow and become young, responsible individuals themselves.
Who Pays Child Support?
Who pays child support is dependent on many factors and the unique circumstances of your situation. When a parent files for child support, the court will issue an order. That order will outline when child support is to be paid, how much it will be, and who pays it.
Typically, if one parent has primary custody of the child, the other parent will likely have to pay child support, especially if the other parent makes comparable or more income. The only time the non-custodial parent will not be ordered to pay child support is if that parent is unemployed or living off of a limited income.
There are cases when parents have joint custody and one parent must pay the other parent child support. In these circumstances, it's typically when the other parent makes more money. This is determined when the court calculates child support in Arizona.
How is Child Support Calculated in Arizona?
Child support in Arizona is calculated via a specific process as outlined by the Supreme Court of Arizona. Here, we break this now as a basic five-step process.
Step 1: Identify Gross Incomes
First, the court considers the gross incomes of both parents. Gross income includes:
- Severance pay
- Trust income
- Worker's compensation benefits
- Social security benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Disability benefits
- Spousal maintenance
- Recurring gifts
Step 2: Consider Adjustments & Deductions
Next, the court considers adjustments. Adjustments can include things like:
- spousal maintenance, if the parent is ordered to pay it
- child support payments, if the parent pays support for children with another person
- children (even if from another relationship) living with the parent and the parent is the primary residential custodian
- medical, dental, or vision insurance
- educational expenses
- daycare expenses
- other child-related expenses, and possibly
- extraordinary expenses.
Step 3: Find the Total Child Support Obligation
Once the adjustments are made to each parent's income, the court will combine the amounts. The sum of each parent's adjusted income is compared to the schedule of basic child support obligations. This will identify the total child support obligation.
Step 4: Determine Each Parent's Share of Child Support Obligation
The court will divide the total child support obligation by each spouse's adjusted grow incomes. Basically, each parent's adjusted gross income is divided by the combined total adjusted gross income to determine a percentage The percentage is each parent's proportionate share of the combined total adjusted gross income.
Step 5: Adjust to Allow for Parenting Time
One further adjustment is made at this time: parenting time. The court will adjust the combined total to accommodate who has the child more, less, or more or less the same. The court considers blocks of time. One day is 24 hours but for the purpose of a block of time:
- 12 hours equals one day
- 6 to 11 hours equals one half-day
- 3 to 5 hours equals one quart-day
- less than 3 hours equals one quart-day if the noncustodial parent pays for child-related costs during that time (e.g., provides food).
The greater number of parenting days means the greater percentage your child support obligation will be adjusted.
Once these calculations are made, the final percentages represent the parent's total child support obligation. The parent with the higher percentage may have to pay child support. If the percentages are equal, then it is likely neither parent will have to pay child support.
How is Child Support Paid in Arizona?
In Arizona, when child support is ordered by a court, it usually stays in the system. This means the parent who owes child support will likely have the support garnished from his or her wages. So, there won't be much the parent owing support will have to do unless he or she switches jobs or another life-change circumstance materializes.
What Happens When Child Support is Late or Goes Unpaid?
When the parent owing child support fails to pay or is late, the other parent has options.
First, it's important to know, the parent who fails to pay actually commits a crime in Arizona, known as "failure of parent to provide for child." This crime is a Class VI felony that can result in up to 1.5 years in prison. This is usually extreme and often not what either parent wants. For one, if the parent goes to prison, he or she won't be able to pay child support during that time. So, it's in everyone's best interests to have this problem taken care of immediately.
Second, know your options. You can enforce the court order on child support by either
- asking the Arizona Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) for assistance; or
- moving the court to take action.
The DCSS can help you in many ways, like by:
- withholding the non-custodial parent's income;
- reporting the non-custodial parent to the credit bureau when he or she has not paid support for at least 180 days;
- intercepting or taking the non-custodial parent's state income tax refunds when the latter owes $50 or more;
- seizing or taking bank accounts or other property from the non-custodial parent when the latter owes twelve months or more in unpaid support;
- placing a lien on the non-custodial parent's property; or
- intercepting or taking lottery winnings if the winning is $600 or more.
Going through the CDSS can take time, and when you need child support, time is not your friend.
Thus, going through the courts is often a more efficient means to obtain unpaid child support. When a parent is 30 days behind in payments, you can ask a judge to find the parent in contempt (so long as the non-custodial parent received property notice of the contempt request). In addition to being made to pay unpaid support, the non-custodial parent could also be fined and/or incarcerated.
Can a Child Support Court Order in Arizona be Modified?
If a parent who pays child support has a life-changing event occur, he or she may be able to request a modification. Eligible reasons for modification include:
- a child becomes emancipated
- income significantly changes (e.g., the parent becomes unemployed)
- a change in custody or parenting time has been ordered
- the parent has been diagnosed with a disability
- the non-custodial parent has been incarcerated.
A parent cannot request for a modification is one was ordered within the last three years.
Contact a Child Support Attorney in Northern Arizona Today
If you are filing for child support – whether via a divorce, legal separation, paternity, or another reason – contact us to help make sure the child support ordered is fair and just and that your interests (as well as the child's) have been upheld.