Federal child support laws require each state to publish guidelines for child support. In Arizona, the agency that manages all child support laws and guidelines is the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The guidelines for child support were adopted under Administrative Order No. 2004-09.
When the parents do not live together, or when a third-party guardian cares for the children, each parent must provide some form of financial support for the child. In the case of non-custodial parents, this typically occurs as a child support payment. In Arizona, a court order is the only way to establish support. You can obtain this court order in a number of ways, including:
- Child support is calculated as part of a parenting plan during separation or dissolution of the marriage.
- Parents can petition the court pro se (without an attorney) for a child support order.
- Parents can retain an attorney to establish a child support order.
- Parents can apply to the Arizona Department of Economic Security Child Support Enforcement (CSE) to initiate child support proceedings.
Once the court approves the child support, it will issue an Order of Support signed by a judge.
Currently, Arizona uses two different child support calculators.
- The 2011 support calculator determines support for orders entered on or after June 1, 2011.
- The 2015 support calculator determines support for orders entered after June 30, 2015.
Current laws use the following information to calculate support:
- Gross income of both parents
- Number and ages of children
- Spousal maintenance
- Support orders from previous relationships
- Healthcare insurance paid by both parents
- Extraordinary health care expenses
- Extraordinary educational expenses
- Time spent with each parent
- Any unpaid arrears
To calculate support:
- The courts adjust each parent's gross monthly income by adding or subtracting court-ordered spousal maintenance paid or received, as well as subtracting other court ordered support.
- Next, the court combines the parents' adjusted income to establish a basic support obligation for the child.
- The court then calculates each parent's percentage of the combined income. This becomes that parent's percentage of the total support obligation.
- Adjustments are made for the time the child spends with each parent.
- Adjustments and credits to the support amount are then made. Circumstances affecting these adjustments include the child being over the age of 12, health insurance payments made, extraordinary healthcare expenses, extraordinary educational expenses, and work-related childcare costs.
- Once the non-custodial parent's child support obligation is calculated, the court applies a Self-Support Reserve Test in order to determine that the parent paying support will still be able to support himself or herself with at least a minimum standard of living. If the parent's income does not meet this test, child support may be reduced.
In some cases, the courts may choose to deviate from the standardized guidelines. These circumstances include:
- Application of guidelines is unjust to either parent
- The child's best interests dictate a deviation
- The parents reach an agreement in writing to deviate from the standard
Either parent may request a modification of an existing child support order. The court will consider such requests when a significant and continuing change of circumstances occurs in either household. Such circumstances may include:
- A permanent and substantial change in income of either parent
- Permanent or long-term illness or disability
- Changes in health insurance status
- Changes in physical custody
Parents can request modification reviews every three years. A support modification will be made if:
- The required support amount varies by 15 percent or greater
- Parents reach a written agreement for support modification
To request a support modification, parents can apply to CSE by submitting the appropriate forms.
Payment Collection and Distribution
In Arizona, parents do not make payments directly to one another. All payments are directed through the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse. Typically, these payments occur organically when the court enters the support order. At the time the order is entered, the court also sends a Notice of Income Withholding to the parent's employer. Support is withheld from the paycheck, and the employer submits it to the Clearinghouse. From there, payment is disbursed either as a direct deposit into the bank account or loaded onto a prepaid debit card.
In some cases, the parent obligated to pay support does not, and the amount due grows as arrears. In these cases, CSE has a number of options to collect support ranging from intercepting benefits from unemployment or disability to jail time. Parents not receiving support should contact CSE to ask for support enforcement services.
In Arizona, judicial child support orders issued on or after January 1, 2005 contain a termination date in their language. Parents with an Income Withholding Order must file a Request to Stop Order of Assignment and prove all past due support, interest, and fees have been paid in full.
For More Information
If you need more information, you can visit the Arizona DES website's documents center where you can download forms and pamphlets about child support in this state.