When contemplating divorce with children, determining the amount of child support that will be ordered is a top concern for the parties involved. It can be especially challenging in situations where one or both of the parties are self-employed, own and operate a business, or derive their income from non-employment sources such as family trusts or investments.
Determining the income of each party can also be complicated when there are several or a mix of such sources of income for one or both of the parties.
Determining Child Support in Arizona
In Arizona, there are published Guidelines for determining child support that are updated periodically and uses the Income Shares Model, which considers the income of both parents to determine the approximate amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together.
Based on the combined income of the parents and number of minor children, the Guidelines have tables, similar in format to tax tables used to calculate your income tax, which approximates the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together again in one household.
Each parent contributes his or her proportionate share of the total child support amount. It also calculates in a credit for the amount of time the child spends in each respective parent’s physical care and custody.
Child Support Worksheet
The Courts will determine child support based on these Guidelines and will utilize a computer-based Child Support Worksheet derived from the Guidelines to calculate the final child support award. The amount derived from this calculation will presumptively become the Court-ordered child support obligation unless the Court finds the amount to be unfair or unjust and a deviation, either up or down, is warranted under the unique circumstances of your case.
Such deviations from the Guideline child support calculation are fairly rare in a divorce, but can happen if the Court is presented with sufficient evidence to justify a deviation. However, even under the Guidelines, the amount of child support that you may expect to pay or receive may be adjusted based on several factors beyond the base child support amount derived from the combined income of both parents.
Factors That Adjust The Child Support Guidelines
1. Children of other relationships – if one of the parents is supporting natural or adopted children not subject to the child support determination currently being considered.
2. One parent is paying Court-ordered spousal maintenance.
3. If a parent is paying Court-ordered child support for children from other relationships.
4. If a parent is the primary residential parent of children from other relationships.
5. Which parent is covering the children on medical, dental and vision insurance and the amount of the monthly premium paid for the children’s coverage.
6. Whether the children have childcare and each parent’s respective amount paid for such childcare.
7. Whether the children have special needs, such as a disability, and require additional monthly costs related to the same for treatment, etc. and who is paying such additional costs.
8. Whether, historically or by agreement of the parties, the children have extra-educational expenses such as private school tuition, tutoring or other such additional costs associated with the same and who is paying these costs.
If a parent has multiple children from different relationships and is ordered to pay child support for those children on a limited income, the Court will attempt to adjust the child support to the extent necessary so that all of the paying parent’s children receive an equitable distribution.
What are the Sources of Gross Income for Calculating Child Support?
Child support is determined based on the income of both parents as well as additional factors. Arizona Child Support Guidelines defines gross income as “income from any source” and further states that even “expense reimbursement or benefits received by a parent in the course of employment shall be counted as income if they are significant and reduce personal living expenses”
Gross income could come and be calculated from:
• Basic salary or wages from employment
• Bonuses and commissions received regularly in the course of employment
• Applicable shares of profits from ownership interests in businesses including draws on same
• Expense accounts and allowances
• Investments and other passive revenue sources
These are not the only sources of income. Your divorce lawyer will be able to assist you in determining what other sources may be considered income.
Child Support in High Income Cases
In Arizona, the maximum combined income used under the Child Support Guidelines for determining child support is $30,000 a month. Again, with high-income earners whose monthly incomes exceed this amount, upward deviations from the presumptive child support calculations are possible with evidence or showing that the children’s reasonable and necessary expenses exceed the presumptive child support calculated from the Guidelines and it would be unjust or unfair to apply the Guidelines to that case. Requests for deviations can be complicated and difficult so it is best to retain an experienced attorney to explore and present such issues to the Court.
Mandatory Exchange of Financial Information
Parents who have a child support order in Arizona are typically required to exchange their financial information at least every two years. The purpose of this exchange is to find out if the current child support order needs to be modified based on a significant and continuing change of financial circumstances for one or both parents.
If either parent has a change in their financial situation, they may request a modification to the child support order. The Court will consider all relevant factors when making their determination, including the updated affidavit of financial information provided by both parents.
Self-Support Reserve Test
A parent may worry that they do not have sufficient income to cover their living expenses and pay their child support obligation. In each case, after determining the adjusted child support calculated under the Guidelines, the Court will also perform a Self-Support Reserve Test to verify that the noncustodial parent is financially able to pay the child support order and to maintain at least a minimum standard of living. The Court may also, through a downward deviation, reduce the child support order further after considering the financial impact of the reduction on the custodial parent’s household.
Keep in mind, the Court considers the obligation to pay child support as the paying parent’s primary obligation above all other financial obligations that they may have, including rent, mortgage, utilities or car payments.
Not paying child support could end up costing you more than the original amount ordered in the end. The Court may order not only interest on any back-owed child support owed on top of the principal amount as well as assess attorneys’ fees and costs against you, but may even issue a warrant for your arrest and keep you in jail until a purge payment for all or a portion of the child support owed is paid.
When Does Child Support Terminate
In Arizona, a parent’s obligation to pay child support terminates on the last day of the month when the child turns 18 years old and graduates from high school or a certified high school equivalency program. Even if the child is still attending high school or a certified high school equivalency program, the obligation stops regardless once the child turns 19 years old in the vast majority of cases. In cases where the child is severely disabled and unable to support or care for themselves and the disability arose while they were still a minor, the Court can order child support to continue even beyond the age of 19.
Calculating child support can be complicated when considering all of the relevant factors.
If you or someone you know needs assistance in a divorce where child support is at issue, the Scottsdale family law attorneys at Owens & Perkins have the experience and skills to help guide you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected. Our highly rated attorneys have the skill and expertise to handle any divorce matter. Please call or text our offices at 480.994.8824 to schedule a complimentary thirty (30) minute consultation today.