Child Support Calculations in Arizona
Bewildered about how to figure out what the child support amount should be in Arizona and who pays it? This legal guide will help simplify and demystify the process for you. And you don't have to be a CPA to understand it!
Calculating financialsIt can sometimes be overwhelming to try to determine the proper amount of child support payments, even in states with online child support calculators such as Arizona, where I practice. The first step should always be getting an accurate handle on both parents' income, expenses, assets and debts.
Most states have some kind of state-approved form that both parties must use to list all of their income (such as salary, wages, bonuses, tips, inheritance, trust funds, disability benefits, etc.), expenses (for other children not born of this union, whether that is in the form of court-ordered child support or not; household costs such as rent/mortgage, utilities, automobile loans/insurance/upkeep, etc.) as well as assets (things that can be converted to cash) and debts (moneys that are owed, usually on a more long-term basis than monthly). It may be called an Affidavit of Financial Information (AFI), Financial Disclosure Statement (FDS) or some other similar name denoting a kind of personal balance sheet. But no matter what name it goes by, the most important thing to remember is that both sides have to do this, so don't think that you are disclosing anything the other side doesn't have to. Be as honest, forthright and complete as possible because it will only hurt you if you're not.
Adjustments to the default numberThere are certain surrounding circumstances that courts tend to consider worthy of a reasonable adjustment in the default amount of child support based on the comparative gross income of the parties. Such factors may include but are not limited to: one or the other or both parents have children of other relationships that they are supporting (with or without a court order), extraordinary child expenses (where a child is very gifted or has some diminished capacity), childcare costs (but only if you're eligible for the federal tax deduction on your personal return), the child is older and thus has more expensive needs (in Arizona, any child age 12 or above automatically garners a 10 percent upward adjustment). It is important to pragmatically look at all the costs associated with raising children but be reasonable about estimating the costs and do not expect an adjustment just because it might be beneficial to your bottom line. Just consider it a pleasant surprise if it happens.
Dividing up medical costsYou may think that judges would just order a 50/50 split between parents in handling expenses such as medical and dental costs for children. However, at least in Arizona, the parent deemed to have the majority of the financial responsibility, and thus the "child-support payor" or "obligor," bears ALL of the duty and burden of carrying health insurance for the child(ren) at issue. That parent will be assessed the entire cost even if the child-support payment recipient/obligee/payee (almost always the custodial parent) can get better or cheaper coverage or, if neither parent has access to anything other than AHCCCS (pronounced "Access," it stands for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and is the state's low-income health plan), then an attributed amount. Any uninsured medical expenses (and also child-dependency tax exemptions and any visitation-related travel costs, by the way) generally are divided up in proportion to each parent's percentage of the parents' combined gross income.
You may be able to change the child support amount down the roadA lot can happen in life after the first child support order is issued. Don't fret if you don't get it perfectly "right" the first time around. Child support amounts can be modified or changed as long as there is a "substantial and continuing" change in circumstances or something comes to light that would result in at least a 15 percent upward or downward adjustment (paying at least that much more or less). These things included changes in employment status and/or pay (by one or both parents), changes in healthcare insurance availability and cost, changes in daycare need and cost, and other financial changes relating to the minor child or children's needs.
Child support does not go on foreverJust as children grow up, so child support eventually ends. The law says that it continues only until a child graduates from high school or turns 19 years old, whichever happens first. Of course, you can contract for an extension of that, but it is not required. So if you're still paying child support and your children have aged out of the system, something is wrong, unless you still owe arrears. Please speak with a competent attorney experienced in child support matters to resolve this situation.
Don't guess!It's OK to experiment with the online worksheet, as it doesn't "go anywhere" or get reported to any official with any government entity or the other parent's attorney or anything like that unless and until you file a copy with the court. Before you do that, however, it's a good idea to run your numbers by an experienced family-law attorney who can maximize your receiving or minimize your expenditures, depending on which side of things you are on, or at least ensure that the numbers are as accurate as possible. Don't leave this very important aspect of child custody to chance!
Additional resources provided by the author
- current Arizona Supreme Court Child Support Guidelines and Calculator
- current guidelines for child support in Arizona
- Department of Economic Security, Division of Child Support Enforcement
- Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 25 (Marital and Domestic Relations) - includes child support laws
- Joan Bundy Law PLC's website