Child Support: FAQ

Every parent has the responsibility, and legal duty, to support his/her natural and/or adopted children. In this article we will discuss the basics of child support, including calculations, payments and modifications and will answer frequently asked questions related to the topic of child support. Please note that child support can be very confusing and complex. While the following article is intended to answer common questions related to child support, consulting with an experienced family law attorney is always recommended.

  • What is Child Support?

Child support is a part of the “custody” process – and it is generally considered in conjunction with the topics of legal decision-making and parenting time. In the court system, child support is financial support ordered by the court to be paid by a parent in support of a child. The child support process generally begins after the end of a marriage/relationship or legal separation.

  • Who Pays Child Support?

A parent has a legal duty to support his or her natural or adopted children.  Arizona Revised Statutes §25-501 states: “[E]very person has the duty to provide all reasonable support for that person’s natural and adopted minor, unemancipated children, regardless of the presence or residence of the child in this state. In the case of mentally or physically disabled children, if the court, after considering the factors set forth in §25-320, subsection D, deems it appropriate, the court may order support to continue past the age of majority. If a child reaches the age of majority while the child is attending high school or a certified high school equivalency program, support shall continue to be provided while the child is actually attending high school or the equivalency program but only until the child reaches nineteen years of age unless the court enters an order pursuant to §25-320, subsection E.”

Furthermore, a “child who is born as the result of artificial insemination is entitled to support from the mother as prescribed by this section and the mother’s spouse if the spouse either is the biological father of the child or agreed in writing to the insemination before or after the insemination occurred.”

  • How is Child Support Calculated?

A.R.S. §25-320 and the Child Support Guidelines establish a standard to calculate support for children based on the reasonable needs of each child and the ability of the parents to pay.  It is important to note that monthly financial figures are used to calculate the child support obligation.  The most important factors used to determine the amount of child support to be paid are as follows:  (1) Each parent’s gross monthly income, (2) the amount of time each parent spends with the child on an annual basis, 3) who is responsible for paying the medical, dental and vision insurance and the monthly premium amount for the children at issue; and 4) the amount a parent is paying for court ordered spousal maintenance.

Additionally, when calculating child support, the Court will likely take into account the number of children from previous relationship(s) each parent is responsible for supporting, and the amount expended for necessary education and child care expenses.  While this process has created standardization, it also allows for consideration of other factors that influence each case on an individual basis to best fit the needs of the children involved and the parent’s ability to pay.

  • What if We Decide on a Different Monthly Amount?

The parties may deviate from the child support guidelines, as long as there is an agreement and finding by the court that deviation is in the best interest of the children. The agreement must acknowledge that the parties are aware of the amount that would have been ordered under the current child support guidelines, and certify that neither party was under duress and/or coercion when the deviation was agreed upon. Often times, parties will agree to deviate under the contingency of other obligations or when there is a significant disparity of income between the parents. Working with a trusted lawyer can simplify this process for you.

  • What is the Duration of Child Support Obligations?

Duration of child support is governed by A.R.S, §25-320 and §25-501, except as provided in A.R.S. §25-1304. Presumptively, child support payments terminate on the last day of the month of the youngest child’s eighteenth (18th) birthday. However, in the event that the child is still enrolled in high school, or a certified equivalency program, child support will terminate on the last day of the month of the anticipated graduation date or by age nineteen (19), whichever occurs sooner. As noted previously, in the event that the minor child is mentally or physically disabled, the Court may decide to continue child support payments past the age of eighteen (18).

  • What if My Circumstances Change?

When child support is ordered, a number of variables and factors are considered, and an agreement/order is established. This agreement/order becomes problematic when circumstances change in a parent’s or child’s life.   For example, if child support was established when a child was an infant and a parent was credited $800.00/monthly for childcare costs the child support amount should be reevaluated when the child begins school and/or is no longer in need of full-time care.  It is imperative that you have an attorney who can help you to understand how modifications work, and when you should file a Petition to Modify.

Pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes §25-327 and §25-503, child support may be modified if there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstance.  A variance of at least fifteen percent (15%) between the existing child support amount and the new/proposed child support amount would be evidence of a substantial and continuing change of circumstance.  The Court has established several procedures to allow for modification: (1) Modification by Agreement, (2) Standard Modification and (3) Simplified Modification. Determining which of the above three options to choose for modification will depend on your specific circumstance, hence why you need an experienced lawyer to assist you to figure out how best to proceed when there is a changed circumstance and you need to modify child support.

  • What Qualifies as Changes in Circumstances?

The court may consider a number of different factors as continuing and substantial changes.  Some of the common factors or changes include loss of a job, an increase or decrease in salary, change in education or medical related expenses, change in childcare expenses, disability, change in parenting time and legal decision making, incarceration, the birth of a new baby, and/or medical/health complications.

  • How do I File for Child Support?

While filing for Child Support can be done without hiring an attorney, we strongly recommend that you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney before attempting to navigate the legal system alone. The lawyers at Onisile Law are well equipped to assist and advise you regarding Child Support and other family law matters. If you have any questions or concerns pertaining to establishing child support, modifying a current child support order, or need assistance enforcing court ordered payments, contact us today at: 602-687-6248.

Additional information and resources regarding child support can be found at the Self-Service Center of the Maricopa County Superior Court website.