When a couple goes through a divorce in Arizona, their marital issues are resolved during the divorce proceedings. But when there are children involved, it gets more complicated. Child custody and child support issues are often where tempers flare and emotional outbursts occur. No matter how painful the divorce proceedings may be for the family, the child deserves to have a happy, healthy, and emotionally stable life. This is possible if both parents participate in providing regular emotional and financial support to the child.
Arizona family law mandates that custodial and non-custodial parents provide “reasonable support” for their minor children. Parents have no choice but to oblige. During divorce proceedings, child support discussions may be overlooked. Therefore, the Arizona family court upholds whatever is for the best interest of the child. Doing so ensures that parents who are caught up in a divorce or paternity proceeding are sure to prioritize their children. In fact, the court prioritizes child support enforcement over all other financial obligations of the parent. This aspect of Arizona family law is so important that the court has a set of guidelines to determine the amount of child support to be paid by each parent.
Child Support Order
When one parent files the Application for Child Support Services, the Department of Economic Security locates the noncustodial parent. They are also in charge of establishing paternity or legal parentage through genetic testing, determining child support, and enforcing the collection of payments through this order. In cases where the parents were not married, the custodial parent must file a proceeding with the Division of Child Support Services to obtain child support.
Calculation of Child Support
The state determines child support using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, adopted by the state’s Supreme Court to ensure that children receive a fair share of both parents’ income and other resources. According to the guidelines, a Child Support Calculator is used to calculate child support. The calculator is actually spreadsheet which is also available online and computes based on the following factors:
- The physical and mental health of the child
- The financial needs of the child, including nutrition, dental insurance, vision, health insurance coverage, and education expense
- The financial resources of the custodial parent and non-custodial parent such as gross income of both parents, any spousal maintenance paid or received by either parent and/or court-ordered child support paid or received for children from other relationships
- The standard of living the child is accustomed to during the parents’ marriage
- The time the child spends with the custodial parent or the parenting time
Duration of Child Support
Usually, the non-custodial parent is required to pay child support until the child reaches the age of 18. Exceptions include children who are unable to live independently due to either physical or mental disability, or children under the age of 19 and still attending high school or securing a GED.
There are cases where the child will not be able to support himself even as he or she has reached the age of majority. This is the case for a child with special needs or a disabled child. In such situations, indefinite child support is required from the non-custodial parent. The child support amount can be modified when the circumstances change or every 3 years, as ruled by the court.
Child Support Order Modifications
In Arizona, child support isn’t fixed. It can be modified over time whenever serious changes occur in the living conditions of one parent or the other. In such cases, the custodial or non-custodial parent can file a petition with the court to modify the amount of support. This happens when there is a change in the monthly income of either parent due to being jobless or when the child has developed a medical condition that requires a lengthy treatment plan or medical support that may result in additional expenses. A review and modification can take up to six months depending on how quickly the necessary information is provided.
Parents who are delinquent on their child support are commonly referred to as “deadbeat parents.” In cases where the non-custodial parent who has been ordered to pay child support fails to do so, the other parent has the support of federal and state family law to mandate appropriate enforcement procedures. The term is typically used to reference state laws created to deal with a parent’s refusal to abide by the court’s child support order. These laws ensure that child support payments are remitted as scheduled.
According to federal child support laws as detailed in The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, district attorneys and state attorney generals are authorized to collect child support in arrears on behalf of parents who have not received payments as ordered by the court. There are serious consequences if the deadbeat parent continues to fail to pay even after the authorities become involved. Punishment for failure to pay child support includes jail time, denial of a passport, wage garnishment, liens on the property, negative reports to credit bureaus, freezing of funds in financial institutions, suspension of a driver’s license, contempt order, etc. Arizona courts decide whether failure to pay child support is a crime. There must be proof that the non-custodial parent knows he or she has an obligation, has the resources to pay, and refuses to pay child support.
Arrearage in Child Support
Unpaid support payments lead to a “payment on arrears” amount being added to the regular support amount. Determining the additional amount depends on how many months went unpaid. If you have a past-due child support balance due to unforeseen economic circumstances, you may be eligible for the settlement program, which allows parents to pay off past due support. While the state does not advocate for a specific amount in the settlement agreement, they do help facilitate an agreement that provides a reasonable solution for all parties involved. Settling an arrears balance can help you become current on your child support obligation, halt the accrual of interest, modify wage withholding arrangements, and prevent credit bureau reporting and seizure of income tax refund.
Retroactive Child Support
Retroactive child support refers to back payments that can be modified to increase or decrease on the basis of current circumstances. Such retroactive payments are not legal in Arizona because child support cannot be modified retroactively. This means that when a change is requested and it gets approved, the modification becomes effective on the date when the court introduces the new terms and conditions.
Depending on the circumstances, the court can order for the modified child support payment to become effective at a later date that’s deemed appropriate by both former spouses. Retroactivity, however, is not stipulated in local laws.
Retroactive child support refers to getting an increase or a decrease in the amount that becomes effective at an earlier date and impacts payments that have already been made. This is why parents should not wait to request a modification in the existing child support arrangement. If they are late, they will not get financial coverage for the losses incurred over the delay period. Although Arizona also upholds a retroactive child support law, it has a statute of limitation of three years. This means that the custodial parent can only get back child support for three years before the court filing. It is the court’s discretion to expand the limitation if there is a reason to do so.
Family Law Attorney
Fulfilling your child support order is critical to the success of your children. If you are getting divorced or are separated from the other parent of your child, or if you have a child with a person you have not been married to, you need to know how to proceed with child support. Whether you are seeking child support or if you received a child support court order, the best thing to do is to seek legal advice from an Arizona family law attorney who is knowledgeable about child support laws. Your child support attorney at Pew Law Center can help you determine what you are owed or help you figure out what you should owed. Whether you are a custodial or non-custodial parent, you are entitled to what is fair to collect child support or to pay it. Call us now for an initial free consultation.