Establishing Parental Support Obligations Using Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines

Each state has adopted guidelines setting automatic rates of child support. The support is based on specific criteria relating to income and the number of children in the household. In this state, child support payments are based on the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, the current version of which became effective on January 1, 2005.

In every child custody case there will a determination of child support. Under our guidelines, support payments are in an amount calculated to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance. To learn what is involved in establishing a monthly support amount, we look directly to the guidelines.

What purposes do the child support guidelines serve?

The Arizona Child Support Guidelines serve four fundamental purposes, as follows:

They “establish a standard of support for children consistent with reasonable needs of children and the ability of parents to pay.”
They “make child support orders consistent for persons in similar circumstances.”
They “give parents and courts guidance in establishing child support orders and to promote settlements.”
They are designed to “comply with state… and federal law…”

What are the premises of the child support guidelines?

The guidelines include seven premises predicating their application to every child support case. These include the following:

The guidelines apply to all children. Whether adopted or born out of wedlock, it makes no difference for child support purposes. Every child is covered under the guidelines.
Child support is a priority financial obligation. A parent’s other debts are not considered in determining his or her share of support.
The duration and amount of spousal maintenance, if any is to be awarded, is determined by the judge before the parents’ respective child support obligations are established.
Every parent has a legal duty to support his or her natural or adopted child. Support of a step-child is not a legal duty, and so is purely voluntary.
Under certain circumstances, the custodial parent will pay child support.
Child support is calculated on a monthly income basis. Adjustments to the support are annualized to achieve a monthly figure. This allows for an equal monthly distribution of the cost item over the course of a year.
The basic child support owed is capped when the parents’ combined adjusted gross income reaches $20,000 per month. Also, the basic child support obligation is capped with the sixth child.

What presumptions are made in the child support guidelines?

In any action involving child support, the amount calculated under the guidelines is presumed to be the amount the court shall order paid. The court can make an exception if the result using the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances. In that situation, the court may deviate from the guidelines by increasing or decreasing the amount of support.

How is the amount of child support determined?

The total support approximates what the parents would have spent on the child if they were living together as one family. Under the guidelines’ shared income model, each parent contributes a proportionate share of his and her income. Typically, the noncustodial parent is ordered to pay a percentage of his or her gross monthly income to the custodial parent for child support.

The amount of support to be paid is calculated by considering many factors, including the parents’ gross incomes, the child’s necessary expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, work-related daycare expenses, and the number of children residing in the home, among other things.

What is the duration of child support?

The judge will set a termination date in the child support order. Child support is presumed to terminate on the last day of the month of the youngest child’s 18th birthday, that is, the youngest child covered by the support order. If the youngest child won’t graduate from high school before his or her 18th birthday, then support ends the month of anticipated graduation or on the child’s 19th birthday, whichever is first to occur.

Can the parents agree to an amount of child support in their separation agreement?
Parents may include child support provisions in their separation agreement which exceed the legal presumptions under the guidelines. They may agree to continue child support for a longer period, or may agree to increase the amount of support per month. For example, the parents may include additional support payments sufficient to provide for private school, college, travel, or summer camp.

When the parents share custody equally, is child support eliminated?

Because both parents share the responsibility of child support, there will typically be a payment from one to the other. The exception to that would be if, over a sustained period, both parents earned identical incomes and spent identical hours with their child. Although that is a possibility, it is not very likely to occur.

Can child support be ordered for disabled adult-child?

There is an important circumstance when the court may order child support to continue beyond that child’s age of majority and into adulthood. For the court to order such support, the adult-child must have a significant mental or physical disability that prevents him or her from living independently. The controlling Arizona statutory provision is found in A.R.S. § 25-320(E):

E. Even if a child is over the age of majority when a petition is filed or at the time of the final decree, the court may order support to continue past the age of majority if all of the following are true:

1. The court has considered the factors prescribed in subsection D of this section. [Court has applied the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.]

2. The child is severely mentally or physically disabled as demonstrated by the fact that the child is unable to live independently and be self-supporting.

3. The child’s disability began before the child reached the age of majority.

For this provision to apply in any given case, the adult-child must have manifested the disability during minority. The court may order support to be paid to the adult-child or to the parent who provides for the care. The parent seeking support need not be the adult-child’s legal guardian or legal custodian before the court can order such support. In the event the adult-child has no guardian or custodian, he or she should be joined as an indispensable party to the support proceedings.

At the end of the day, support is about caring for the child’s basic needs. Any personal differences between the parents should not affect the financial support that a child is entitled to. For some parents, support ends when the child reaches the age of majority. For other parents, it may not end until the child has graduated from college. And for some parents, the support may continue into their disabled child’s adulthood.