Written by attorney Lawrence Lazzara Jr.

Arizona Family Law: Deviation from Child Support Guidelines

The purpose of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines is:

  1. To establish a standard of support for children consistent with the reasonable needs of

children and the ability of parents to pay.

  1. To make child support orders consistent for persons in similar circumstances.

  2. To give parents and courts guidance in establishing child support orders and to promote settlements.

  3. To comply with state law (Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-320) and federal law

(42 United States Code, Section 651 et seq., 45 Code of Federal Regulations, Section 302.56) and any amendments thereto.

Appendix to A.R.S. §25-320: Arizona Child Support Guidelines, Section 1.

In any action to modify child support, whether temporary or permanent, the amount resulting from application of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines guidelines shall be the amount of child support ordered. These include, without limitation, all actions or proceedings brought under Title 25 of the Arizona Revised Statutes in which a child support order is established or modified. However, if application of the guidelines would be inappropriate or unjust in a particular case, the court shall deviate from the guidelines in accordance with Section 20. Appendix to A.R.S. §25-320: Arizona Child Support Guidelines, Section 3.

Section 5(E) of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-320 app. (2007), implements the policy that both parents, regardless of their employment status, must provide appropriately for their children's reasonable needs. The section allows a court to attribute hypothetical income and expenses to protect a working parent from paying a disproportionate amount of the total support obligation when the other parent has chosen not to earn income to the extent he or she is able. Section 5(E) requires the court to consider the manner in which a parent's decision not to work (and the consequent reduction in income available for child support) will affect the children, and to weigh that impact against the benefits of the parent's choice. The benefits must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and the court may consider such factors as whether the decision is (1) designed to enhance future earning capacity; (2) places the children in financial peril; (3) allows a parent more needed time at home with his or her children; and (4) appropriate in view of the individual needs of a particular child.

Section 5(E) of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-320 app. (2007).

Section 20 of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines (A): The court shall deviate from the guidelines, i.e., order child support in an amount different from that which is provided pursuant to these guidelines, after considering all relevant factors, including those set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-320, and applicable case law, only if all of the following criteria are met:

  1. Application of the guidelines is inappropriate or unjust in the particular case,

  2. The court has considered the best interests of the child in determining the amount of a deviation. A deviation that reduces the amount of child support paid is not, by itself, contrary to the best interests of the child,

  3. The court makes written findings regarding 1. and 2. above in the Child Support

Order, Minute Entry or Child Support Worksheet,

  1. The court shows what the order would have been without the deviation, and

  2. The court shows what the order is after deviating.


The guidelines and criteria for deviation from them shall be based on all relevant factors, including:

  • The financial resources and needs of the child.
  • The financial resources and needs of the noncustodial parent.
  • Excessive or abnormal expenditures by the parties, and
  • The factors set forth in A.R.S. §25-320A.

Gallegos v. Gallages, 174 Ariz. 18, 846 P.2d 831 (Ariz. App. 1992).

In Gallegos, the fact that the father became a paraplegic as a result of a severe spinal cord injury, coupled with the fact that he required a lifetime of physical therapy and medical services, warranted a deviation in the child support guidelines due to abnormal expenditures in the form of medical treatment and the medical needs of the father, according to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Id.

In the Arizona Court of Appeals case, Pearson v. Pearson, the ex-wife was awarded custody of the minor children in prior divorce proceedings and the ex-husband was to pay child support, but the ex-wife requested additional child support payments based on the ex-husband's income, which she alleged was significantly more than her own. The trial court had a difficult time figuring the ex-husband's income because he owned a company and had many expenses paid by the company. The trial court considered these payments by the company, and ordered a significant upward modification in child support payments. On appeal, the court found that the upward modification was proper, as the money received from the ex-husband's company was properly deemed the ex-husband's income. This included amounts received for car and rental allowances, and payments by the company to satisfy debts of the ex-husband. The Superior Court of Maricopa County (Arizona) modified a child support award per the request of appellee ex-wife and thereby required appellant ex-husband to pay additional child support to his ex-wife. The Court of Appeals affirmed the modification based on the income amounts calculated by benefits received from father’s business. Pearson v. Pearson, 190 Ariz. 231, 946 P.2d 1291 (1997).

In the Arizona Court of Appeals decision in Hetherington v. Hetherington, the court found that the inclusion as income of employment benefits, which may obligate a parent to pay child support based on income that he does not really have available to spend, is a valid concern that may be considered by the family court in determining the appropriate amount of child support in any case. Hetherington v. Hetherington, 220 Ariz. 16, 202 P.3d 481 (2008); SeeIn re Marriage of Schlafly, 149 Cal. App. 4th 747, 57 Cal. Rptr. 3d 274, 281 (App. 2007). The court further held that, in a case in which benefits artificially inflate a parent’s income, the court may consider a deviation from the child support guidelines. Hetherington, supra.

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