In Arizona, child support is determined using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. At first glance, the Guidelines can appear daunting in their 31-page glory (you can read them here). We have attempted to simplify the concept behind the Guidelines for you here.
The Guidelines are based on the idea that if the parents were still living together, then their combined gross income reflects what they would make as a family. Please note that the Guidelines are based off each parent’s gross (pre-tax) monthly income, not what is deposited into each parent’s bank account. The Guidelines then assume that a “family” that makes a certain amount of money spends a certain amount of money on their child(ren). For example, a “family” that earns $1,250 per month is presumed to spend $274 on one child, $399 on two children, $473 on three children, and so on. This amount is called the “Basic Support Obligation.”
After determining the Basic Support Obligation, the Child Support Guidelines will consider expenses specific to the child(ren). These expenses are:
- The monthly premiums for the children’s medical, dental and/or vision insurance coverage;
- Childcare expenses;
- Reasonable and necessary expenses for attending private or special schools;
- Necessary expenses to meet particular educational needs of a child, when such expenses are agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court; and
- Extraordinary expenses associated with the special needs of gifted or handicapped children.
In addition, there is an increase to the Basic Child Support Obligation when one or more children are age 12 or older.
Once these additional factors are considered, the new amount represents the amount that it takes to care for the child(ren) at issue. This amount is called the “Total Child Support Obligation.”
After determining the Total Child Support Obligation, the Guidelines has to divide the obligation between the parents. The obligation is divided based upon how much each parent earns when compared to the other. For example, if both parents earn equal gross incomes, then both parents will be equally responsible for the Total Child Support Obligation, but if one parent earns twice as much as the other, then the parent with the greater income will be responsible for two-thirds (67%) of the Total Child Support Obligation. We refer to this division as the parents’ proportionate share of income.
These proportions are also used to determine each parent’s responsibility for a child’s medical expenses not paid by insurance (e.g. co-pays, deductibles) as well as each parent’s right to claim the child(ren) as deductions for income tax purposes.
Once we know how much of the Total Child Support Obligation that each parent is responsible for paying, we can begin crediting each parent for those expenses he or she is actually paying. Parents receive credit against their child support obligation for paying the children’s insurance premiums, childcare, and those expenses listed above. In addition, the parents receive credit for how much parenting time the child(ren) spends with them.
Once all of the credits are given, the actual child support obligation can be determined.
A hypothetical case
As an illustration only, let’s assume the following:
- Mother and Father are divorced. They share two children, ages 10 and 8.
- Mother earns $2,000 per month.
- Father earns $2,500 per month.
- Father provides health insurance for the children at a cost of $120 per month.
- Mother pays for afterschool care at a cost of $200 per month.
- The parents share equal parenting time.
Based on the above case, the parents’ combined gross income is $4,500 per month. For a family who earns $4,500 per month, the Basic Child Support Obligation for two children is $1,180 (this amount can be found in the table at the end of the 2015 Arizona Child Support Guidelines). In order to determine the Total Child Support Obligation, we add the cost of health insurance ($120) and afterschool care ($200) to the Basic Child Support Obligation, for a Total Child Support Obligation of $1,500 per month.
In the above case, Father earns 55.56% of the parties’ combined gross income and Mother earns 44.44%; let’s round those figures to 56% and 44%. As such, Father is initially responsible for 55% of the Total Child Support Obligation ($840) and Mother is initially responsible for 44% of the same ($660). Father will receive credit for paying the health insurance premiums, bringing his obligation down to $720 ($840-$120=$720). Mother will receive credit for paying the afterschool care expenses, bringing her obligation down to $460 ($660-$200=$460).
Because the parents share equal parenting time, the child support guidelines will seek to equalize the parents’ child support obligations. The math looks something like this: the difference between Father’s obligation ($720) and Mother’s obligation ($460) is $260. As such, Father will be required to pay to Mother $130 (one-half of the difference between their obligations).
So what is there to argue about?
Sometimes a parent’s gross monthly income is not obvious. He may be self-employed, unemployed, or arguably not working up to his earning capacity. She may have worked overtime – should that overtime be considered as part of her income? What if a parent is attending school full-time and that’s why his income is reduced? What if one parent goes to jail?
Sometimes a parent is receiving a financial benefit that is not included in his or her paycheck. For example, what is one parent lives in a home owned by his parents, so he has no rental expense while the other parent is responsible for paying rent or a mortgage with her income? What if one parent’s employer provides that parent with a vehicle to drive, even on personal time, thereby reducing her expenses? These are all factors the court can consider when determining a parent’s gross monthly income for child support purposes.
Sometimes the parents will argue over whether certain childcare expenses are necessary. What if the child only attends childcare during one parent’s parenting time? What if the other parent is available to care for the child(ren) during that time? Is it necessary for the child to attend the most expensive childcare in the city?
Sometimes parents cannot agree on how much credit a parent should receive for his or her parenting time. Or whether or not the current parenting time schedule should be considered “equal” parenting time for the purposes of calculating child support.
There are also cases where the parent who spends more time with the children will end up paying support to the parent who spends less time with the children.
Sometimes the amount determined by the Child Support Guidelines is simply unfair in the circumstances. The Guidelines cannot always account for extremely high or low incomes, or for cases where there is a large disparity in incomes. Parents can ask to “deviate” from the Child Support Guidelines is application of the Guidelines is inappropriate or unjust and it is in the child(ren)’s best interests to deviate. Be aware that deviations from the child support guidelines are rare unless both parents agree to the deviation.
We plan to discuss these child support obstacles in more detail in future blog posts.
The State offers a child support calculator online.