If you have a child with someone else and no longer live with the other parent, a court may order either you or your ex-spouse or ex-partner to pay child support. Child support is defined as a monetary amount that is meant to help feed, clothe, educate, and house your child. Arizona expects all parents to contribute to the upbringing of their children. The amount that you might expect to pay or to receive will depend on several factors, including your income and that of your ex, the amount of parenting time that each of you enjoys, and the needs of your child. The attorneys at the Cantor Law Group can help you to understand these laws and what you might expect.
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How is Child Support Calculated in Arizona?
When determining the amount of child support to order, the court will first look at the gross incomes of both parents. The gross income includes all of the following:
- Severance pay
- Trust income
- Worker’s compensation benefits
- Social security benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Disability benefits
- Spousal maintenance
- Recurring gifts
After determining the gross incomes of both parents, the court will then look at adjustments. Adjustments from the gross income of a parent may be made for the following:
- Spousal maintenance that the parent is ordered to pay
- Child support paid for children of other relationships
- Deduction for a child who lives with the parent as the primary residential custodian
- Deduction for the support of a child who is not subject to a court order
Once the adjusted gross income of each parent is determined, the court will combine the amounts to arrive at a combined adjusted gross income. The court will then compare the combined adjusted gross income to the schedule of basic child support obligations to find the basic solution. Additionally, the court will add the cost of the child’s medical, dental, and vision insurance to the total obligation amount. The court may also add the cost of childcare expenses to the basic obligation, but is not required to do so. We have also seen the court may add sums for extraordinary expenses in certain cases.
After arriving at the total child support obligation for the child, the court will then divide the amount on a proportional basis between the parents according to their adjusted gross incomes. Each parent’s adjusted gross income will be divided by the combined total adjusted gross income to arrive at his or her percentage of the total.
This percentage is the parent’s proportionate share of the total combined income. From that amount, the court will make adjustments for parenting time. The adjustment percentage ranges from 0 for 0 to 3 days of parenting time up to 0.486 for 173 to 182 days of parenting time per year.
If you would like to calculate the amount of support that you might expect to pay or that you might expect to receive, you can input your information and that of the other parent into a child support calculator. The Arizona Judicial Branch has a child support calculator available on its website. This can provide you with a rough estimate. However, the court may order a different amount, depending on your individual circumstances, the other parent’s circumstances, and any extraordinary needs that your child might have.
What if We Have 50/50 Joint Custody?
If you jointly share custody with your child’s other parent on an equal basis, the court will take that into account when it is determining child support. If you and your child’s other parent spend equal amounts of time with your child and have equal incomes, the court may choose to not order any child support. If your incomes are not equal, the court will find each of your percentages of the total combined adjusted gross income and will order support in an amount necessary to make them equal.
What if My Ex-spouse Makes More Than Me?
If your ex-spouse makes more than you do, he or she will have a higher proportional percentage of your total combined adjusted gross income. After the adjustments are made from each of your individual gross incomes, the court will determine the obligation that each of you has for the support of your child.
The amount of parenting time that each of you has with your child will also be taken into account. If you are the obligee parent and have your child most of the time, you may receive a higher amount of child support. If you and your ex-spouse share your child an equal amount of time, the amount that you might receive will be less. The court will calculate the amount that your ex-spouse will have to pay according to the child support guidelines as previously discussed.
If you are the noncustodial parent and your ex-spouse makes more money than you do, that does not mean that you will not have to pay child support. Your percentage of responsibility will be calculated, and the court will determine the amount to order after making the previously described adjustments.
What if My Child or Children Live out of State?
If your child lives in a different state, you will still be obligated to pay child support. Your obligation to support your child does not disappear simply because your child lives elsewhere. If your child support order was issued in Arizona, the state will send notice of it to your child’s new state. The amounts that you have to pay will be taken from your work checks and sent to the new state for disbursement to your child’s other parent.
If you have an existing child support order from the other state in which your child is living, that order will also continue to be in effect even if you have permanently relocated to Arizona. Under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, all states must give full faith and credit to the judicial proceedings of other states. In other words, Arizona must recognize and follow the order that was issued in the other state.
Do I Pay Child Support if My Ex-spouse Has Remarried?
If your ex-spouse has remarried, his or her new spouse’s income will not be counted to determine an amount you are obligated to pay. The guidelines do not allow the inclusion of a new spouse’s income in the calculation of child support. If your ex-spouse has children with his or her new spouse, the support provided to the new children may serve as an adjustment to his or her income and result in a lowered child support amount owed to you if he or she is the obligor.
What if I Lost my Job or am Unemployed?
If you are the noncustodial parent and have lost your job or are unemployed, that does not mean that you will not have to pay child support. Under the child support guidelines, courts may consider the reasons when obligor parents are working at jobs below their full capacities to earn an income or when they are unemployed. If the court determines that your income reduction was reasonable and voluntary, it will then balance your interests against the best interests of your child. The court may attribute earnings of at least minimum wage to you or more for the calculation of child support. If the court finds that you voluntarily reduced your income in an effort to reduce the likely child support that you would have to pay, it may attribute your previous income to you to calculate your child support payments.
If the court does attribute income to you, it can also attribute the cost of childcare. However, the court does not attribute income in every case. The court may decide not to attribute income to either parent when the following types of circumstances apply:
- The parent suffers from a mental or physical disability;
- The parent is currently enrolled in a job training or educational program that can help to increase his or her future earnings capacity;
- The parent has a natural or adopted child who has unusual physical or emotional needs that necessitate that the parent remains in the home; or
- The parent currently receives Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
If you already have an existing order of child support and have lost your job, you may be able to file a petition to modify your support order under ARS 25-503 as long as your financial situation has changed substantially since the time of the initial order and is expected to be continuous in nature. Even if you file a petition to modify your child support, you must continue making the payments under the original order until the modified order is issued. Your child support balance will continue to accrue, and modifications are not retroactive.
If you are unemployed and have lost your job, it is important for you to talk to an experienced lawyer at the Cantor Law Group as soon as possible. We can help you to determine whether you might be eligible for a modification in your ordered child support amount and help you to file your petition. Acting quickly may help to prevent you from accruing a large arrearages balance of your owed child support.
What are the Penalties for Non-payment of Child Support?
Failing to pay child support may result in criminal and civil penalties. Under ARS 25-511, a parent who knowingly fails to provide reasonable support for a child may be convicted of a class 6 felony. A class 6 felony in Arizona for a first-time offender carries a potential sentence ranging from 0.33 years when there are mitigating factors up to two years when there are aggravating factors under ARS 13-702. The parent who allegedly failed to pay child support may defend against the charge by showing that he or she followed the child support order that was in place at the time or was unable to provide reasonable support. It will not be an affirmative defense to the charge if the parent was unable to provide reasonable support because he or she voluntarily stopped working in an effort to evade child support.
In addition to criminal penalties, parents who fail to follow the court’s child support orders may also face civil penalties. The parents who are owed child support arrearages may file petitions to enforce the court’s child support order. The court may then hold a hearing, and if it finds that the other parent is in violation of its order, it will enter a money judgment for the amount of the arrearage together with interest. The obligee parent may then take that judgment and use it to place a lien on the property of the other parent, a levy, or a garnishment order for his or her wages.
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Child support is ordered in the best interest of the child and is meant to ensure that both parents support him or her. If you are a parent who is not receiving support for your child or are a parent who may have to pay it, it is important for you to get help from one of the experienced family law attorneys at Cantor Law Group. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by filling out our secure contact form below, or calling 602.254.8880.