Child support calculations in Arizona
What you need to know
Bewildered about how child support is calculated 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.
It can sometimes be overwhelming to try to determine the proper amount of child support payments. This is true even in states such as Arizona that provide online child support calculators. The first step should always be getting an accurate handle on both parents’ income, expenses, assets, and debts.
Most states have a state-approved form that both parties must use to list all the following:
- Income, such as salary, wages, bonuses, tips, inheritance, trust funds, or disability benefits.
- Expenses, such as those for other children not born of this union (whether court-ordered child support or not) or household costs such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, or automobile loans, insurance, and upkeep.
- Assets, which are things that can be converted to cash.
- Debts, which are moneys owed, more often on a long-term basis than monthly.
This form may be called an Affidavit of Financial Information (AFI), Financial Disclosure Statement (FDS), or a similar name. But no matter what the name, the most important thing to remember is that both sides have to complete the form. Don’t worry that you are disclosing anything the other side doesn’t have to disclose. Be as honest, forthright, and complete as possible because it will only hurt you if you are not.
Adjustments to the default number
From the default amount of child support based on the comparative gross income of the parties, courts may make reasonable adjustments because of surrounding circumstances. These may include but are not limited to:
- One or both parents having children from other relationships whom they are supporting, with or without a court order.
- Extraordinary child expenses, such as where a child is gifted or has diminished capacity.
- Child care costs, but only if you are eligible for the federal tax credit on your personal return.
- The child being older and thus having more expensive needs (in Arizona, any child age 12 or above automatically garners a 10 percent upward adjustment).
It is important to look pragmatically at all costs associated with raising children but be reasonable about estimating the costs. Do not expect an adjustment simply because it might benefit your bottom line. If this happens, consider it to be a pleasant surprise.
Dividing medical costs
Many people assume that judges always order a 50/50 split between parents in handling expenses such as medical and dental costs for children. But in Arizona, the parent deemed to have the majority of the financial responsibility—that is, the child-support payor or obligor—bears the entire duty and burden of carrying health insurance for the child or children at issue. This parent is assessed the entire cost, even if the child-support payment recipient, obligee, or payee—nearly always the custodial parent—can get better or cheaper coverage. If neither parent has access to any health insurance other than AHCCCS (pronounced access), the state’s low-income health plan, then there is an attributed amount.
Any uninsured medical expenses generally are divided in proportion to each parent’s percentage of the parents’ combined gross income. This also applies to child-dependency tax exemptions or visitation-related travel costs.
Changing child support in the future
Much 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 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 circumstances might include:
- Changes in employment status and/or pay by one or both parents.
- Changes in health care insurance availability and cost.
- Changes in day care need and cost.
- Other financial changes relating to the minor child or children’s needs.
Child support is not forever
Just as children grow up, 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 the child support period, but it is not required.
If you are still paying child support and your children have aged out of the system, something is wrong, unless you still owe arrears. Be sure to consult with an attorney experienced in child support matters to resolve this situation.
It’s OK to experiment with the online worksheet. It doesn’t “go anywhere.” It isn’t reported to any official of a government entity, the other parent’s attorney, or anything like that unless and until you file a copy with the court.
Before you do so, it is a good idea to run your numbers by an experienced Arizona family law attorney. He or she can help maximize the amount you receive or minimize your expenditures, depending on which side you are on, or at least ensure that the numbers are as accurate as possible. Don’t leave this important aspect of child custody to chance.