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Posted 07/07/2022 in Divorce by Jennifer Mihalovich

Child Support in Arizona


Divorce ends a marriage between spouses. But what divorce doesn’t do is end responsibility for children in the marriage. Parents are responsible for supporting their children until the children reach the age of majority—18 years old. That seems like a simple enough concept, but, in practice, it can be much more complicated. At the same time, it’s a fraught situation under the best of circumstances. Given that emotions can run high, a better understanding of the legal requirements can help to clarify where you stand and how to move forward in a way that is best for you and your child.

Eligibility for Child Support 

At a starting point, Arizona law doesn’t limit granting child support to the context of a divorce proceeding. Instead, those who obtain a legal separation can also be ordered to pay child support. Once paternity is established, married or unmarried parents can obtain child support through a separate court proceeding for child support or maintenance. Furthermore, other guardians, caregivers, or agencies providing care for a child can also file for child support.

Parents must provide financial support to their child until any of the following occurs: 

  • A child reaches the age of 18 (or until they complete high school or an equivalency program, and they won’t do so until they’re 19);
  • A child marries (they can marry at 16 or older with parental consent); or
  • A still minor child dies

There are reasons, however, that financial responsibility can endure after a child reaches the age of majority. For example, financial responsibility may continue if a child is seriously disabled as a minor and their disability prevents them from earning a living as an adult. And, of course, parents may voluntarily agree to support a child until a later date. 

Calculating Child Support

There is no set amount for child support. Instead, child support is determined on a case-by-case basis, and a court looks at an expansive number of factors to make the decision. 

Significantly, child support should, to the extent possible, provide the child with the same level of resources that they would have had if the parents had stayed together. 

One key factor for determining child support is the parenting itself. Parenting time—how much each parent will provide custodial care for the child and how that impacts the parents’ expenses—impacts child support.

Additional factors courts use to determine child support include: 

  • The financial resources and needs of the child
  • The financial resources and needs of the custodial and non-custodial parents (i.e., gross income, adjusted gross income, and other assets)
  • The child’s physical and emotional condition, with a medical support plan that covers any necessary medical care and health insurance
  • The child’s educational needs
  • The number of children each parent is providing for
  • The parents’ physical and mental wellbeing (e.g., if they have a medical condition that limits their ability to provide for the child financially)
  • The parents’ educational needs
  • Excessive or abnormal expenditures, or the destruction or fraudulent disposition of property intended to hide or reduce a parent’s assets

Marital misconduct does not impact a parent’s responsibility to provide child support. (By contrast, marital misconduct can be a factor in determining parenting time and parents’ ability to have legal decision-making over a child.)

Above and beyond these statutory elements, a court should be mindful of the fairness of the decision. (In fact, the relevant statute considers that the state supreme court regularly should revisit the factors, to specifically address whether they are delivering fair results.)

During a child support proceeding, child support can be granted retroactively. This allows the court to require child support payments for some time when a couple had separated but had not yet filed for divorce or legal separation. In such cases, a court can grant back payments for up to three years before the filing date—although the court should consider the money both parents contributed during that time before determining the amount due. 

Importantly, once the amount has been set, the payors must abide by the court’s order. They cannot simply refuse to pay that amount, nor can parents privately negotiate for a new child support arrangement. 

But they can go back to court and ask for an adjustment of child support if there are any major changes in either parent’s income and resources, such as if a parent loses a job or marries. 

Paying / Receiving Child Support  

Once an amount is set for child support, the payor doesn’t send the money straight to the payee. Instead, Arizonan parents should submit payments through the state’s Child Support Services payment clearinghouse. The state office then forwards the payment to the payee.

This process is designed to routinize child support payments. Since payment is through a third party, those receiving child support can do so without having to routinely confront the payor. Notably, the state office may make special provisions for any payees concerned about the potential for domestic violence.

This process helps payors, as well, by helping ensure that they are properly credited for having made the necessary payments. 

Paying through the system also helps clarify the statutory requirement that child support is financial support. Gifts for a child do not impact a parent’s child support obligations.

Consequences for Failing to Pay Child Support

Child support is a serious matter in Arizona. For those who rely on it, it’s about how they’ll raise their children. For those who fail to pay it, they do so at their peril.

If a parent fails to pay child support, the state may seize their paychecks, tax returns, and more. And persistent failure to pay child support can be charged as a Class 6 felony in Arizona, punishable by fines and prison. (The court has the discretion to downgrade the charge to a misdemeanor, but that can still result in fines and jail.) Mere claims of inability to pay are not a defense. Similarly, intentionally reducing one’s income to avoid paying child support is also not allowed. 

If you are going through a separation or divorce and need a parenting plan and divorce decree, or need help with existing child support, contact our office (by phone at: 602-548-3400) for a confidential consultation with one of our family law attorneys. Don’t wait. Call today.

Jennifer Mihalovich is a family law and child support and custody attorney in Chandler, Arizona. Stewart Law Group has offices throughout Arizona. The firm has helped many clients navigate the legal complexities of divorce, child custody, spousal support, property division, parental visitation, and child relocation disputes.

 

 

 


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