This guide will help you understand how child support works in Arkansas.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Arkansas?
- How is Child Support Determined in Arkansas?
- Which Agency Handles Child Support in Arkansas?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Factors that May Impact Child Support in Arkansas
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Establishing Paternity in Arkansas
- Enforcing Arkansas Child Support Orders
- Modifying Arkansas Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Arkansas?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Arkansas?
Both parents have a financial obligation to support their children in Arkansas law when there is a divorce, legal separation, or if the parents were never married. A child support order is a legal action that ensures a noncustodial parent or the parent with a higher income in joint custody situations makes regular child support payments to the custodial or another parent to meet that financial obligation.
How is Child Support Determined in Arkansas?
Determining support is based on Arkansas’s child support guidelines set out in an order issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court known as Administrative Order Number 10. That order incorporates charts that set child support weekly and monthly based on each parent’s time spent and income.
Parents can agree on the amount of child support that should be set, but the court can change the amount of child support to be more suitable according to child support guidelines in Administrative Order Number 10.
The order shifts away from basing all child support obligations solely on the non-custodial parent’s income and instead is based on an income share model.
In this model, the income from both parents of the child is considered. First, the court must determine how much of your combined income the child or children need to meet basic living costs.
In determining the noncustodial parent’s income, the court will look at pay stubs and deduct certain expenses from their gross pay. These expenses include support payments for other dependents that a court has ordered, medical insurance payments for children, Social security, Medicare, and railroad retirement withholdings, and federal and state income tax.
You may apply for services if you’re the parent, legal guardian, or caretaker of a child under 18 who lives with you, or you’re owed unpaid child support, the child is over the age of 18, and the amount of child support to be recovered is based on a court order.
Custodial parties who receive SNAP or TEA benefits or Medicaid, including Arkansas Works, for themselves and whose child receives ARKids 1st, are automatically referred to OCSE to receive child support enforcement services.
If a custodial party does not have a court order for child or medical support and would like one, they can open a case with OCSE, and the program will petition the court to establish a court order. OCSE only has the authority to pursue a court order for child and medical support.
All other concerns, such as custody, visitation, or property issues, may be addressed with the help of a private attorney. If you hire an attorney, OCSE will only discuss your case with your attorney. Once you no longer employ an attorney, OCSE will resume discussing your case with you.
Read More: The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children (and How to Help Them Cope)
Which Agency Handles Child Support in Arkansas?
Child support is administered by the Department of Finance and Administration, Revenue Division, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) in Arkansas.
OCSE has a Central Office to provide support services for field staff and administer the program at the state level. The Central Office is augmented by 26 Field Offices across the state, providing direct services to customers.
A separate Arkansas Child Support Clearinghouse is responsible for collecting and disseminating payments in child support orders.
OCSE provides two types of services:
Enforcement Services – Customers must apply for these services or be referred by the Department of Human Services. OCSE will locate the noncustodial parent to provide services, establish paternity, establish a court order for child and medical support, and work to collect the support owed to a parent.
Payment Processing Services – In these cases, payments are received, recorded, and disbursed through the Arkansas Child Support Clearinghouse.
The custodial party, noncustodial parent, or either party’s representative must provide the Clearinghouse with a copy of a current court order to establish this type of case. OCSE does not automatically receive court orders for private child support cases.
Contacting Child Support
If you have an open enforcement case, go here.
If you don’t have an open enforcement case and only have a payment processing case, go here.
If you’re not sure what kind of case you have or if you want to inquire about opening a case, please call 501-682-8398.
Read More: Divorce Laws in Arkansas
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
Child support is only legally enforceable when a child support order is established through the courts. Many divorcing couples incorporate a child support order into a divorce judgment. But sometimes, parents choose to have an informal child support agreement which is not advisable.
To establish a child support order in Arkansas, apply with the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).
There are three ways to get an application:
- Go to OCSE Forms and Publications and click Request for Services.
- Pick up an application from a local office.
- Request an application by phone from a local office or by calling 501-682-8398.
Upon receipt of your application, it will be referred to the appropriate local office, where it will be reviewed. After the case is opened, you will receive confirmation and may be contacted if more additional documentation or information is needed. Typically, you can expect OCSE to contact you within 30 days from the time you submit your completed application.
Read More: How to File for Divorce in Arkansas
Factors that May Impact Child Support in Arkansas
Arkansas courts presume that the amount of child support listed in the current Child Support Charts is appropriate. However, a judge who determines these amounts are unfair in a particular case can deviate and order a different amount of child support paid that is in the best interest of the child.
There are many other factors a court considers in making adjustments when calculating support. Under Arkansas law, the court should consider:
- Financial support for educational expenses (such as private school tuition and school supplies)
- The cost of procuring life insurance, dental insurance, or other insurance for the children
- Extraordinary expenses for court-ordered visitation
- The creation or maintenance of a trust fund for the child
- Support by a parent for minor children in the absence of a court order
- Extra time the payor parent spends with the child
- Additional expenses incurred because of natural or adopted children living in the home
- Payment for work-related childcare
- Any other factors that warrant a deviation from the child support guidelines.
Incarceration does not automatically change a court-ordered child support obligation. A child support court order remains in effect, and support continues to accrue and be owed. However, a noncustodial parent may be eligible to lower child support payments if they will be incarcerated for more than six months and have no other income or property.
If your child support order was issued in another state, the laws of that state would determine when an order can be changed. Contact the child support agency in the state your order was issued to determine if your order can be changed. You can also contact your local child support office if you have questions about changing an order.
What if I am called to active military duty?
If you have been called to active duty, contact your local child support office and provide your military branch, activation date, and new address.
OCSE staff will ensure that income withholding of a child support obligation is transferred to DFAS so that it is deducted from your military pay.
There may be some delay before the income withholding at DFAS goes into effect. If so, you are responsible for making payments until you see the child support deducted from your military pay.
If you provide health insurance coverage for your child and your existing insurance coverage will end, you may enroll your child in the military TRICARE health care coverage. Notify OCSE if you won’t be maintaining your current health insurance plan and transferring coverage to TRICARE.
If your call to active duty results in a significant change in your income, that change in income may justify a modification of the amount of the child support order. Even if your income is reduced due to military activation, you are still responsible for paying the current court-ordered amount on time and in full. You may request a review of your case.
What about custody, visitation, and child support?
OCSE does not have any authority to address custody matters and visitation issues. Under Arkansas law, if you are a custodial parent, you may not deny court-ordered visitations because the noncustodial parent is not paying court-ordered child support.
If you’re a noncustodial parent, you cannot stop paying court-ordered child support because the custodial party denies court-ordered periods of visitation. If you are being denied your visitation rights, contact an attorney.
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
Arkansas courts can require parents to obtain health insurance for the child at a reasonable cost. Health insurance coverage is considered reasonable if the cost of coverage for the child doesn’t exceed 5% of the net income of the parent who has to provide such coverage.
The court can order an adjustment to the base support when necessary to cover health insurance costs per Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § IV.1 (2022).
The court will also determine the parents’ responsibility for paying uninsured and unreimbursed medical expenses. These expenses can include costs of illnesses or major expenses such as braces or other health items not covered by insurance.
Establishing Paternity in Arkansas
When a child is born to married parents, there is an automatic and presumptive legal relationship between the child and the mother’s husband.
However, when a child is born to unmarried parents, there is no automatic legal relationship between the father and the child. In these cases, paternity must be established to confer several rights and responsibilities on the father, including child support.
There are a couple of ways this can happen.
Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity
A mother and father can voluntarily sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form any time before the child turns 18. The process is available to parents if the mother was not married at birth or if the biological father is someone other than the mother’s current spouse.
Both parents must sign and have their signature witnessed and notarized by a Notary Public. Hospitals can help parents complete the AOP before the mother and baby leave the hospital. AOP forms are also available through the Arkansas Department of Health and any local Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Either parent may change their mind about signing the AOP by completing a form and filing it with the Office of Vital Records within 60 days from the date of the last notarized signature.
Judicial Establishment of Paternity
Either parent can file a petition with the court to establish the child’s parentage. The court will enter an order finding the man to be the child’s father and may address issues such as child support, custody, and visitation.
If a mother applies for OCSE services for child support and paternity has not been established, the agency will take steps to establish paternity. If a man denies he is the father, OCSE will allow him to agree to genetic testing and schedule the testing.
If the putative father does not respond, denies paternity, and does not participate in testing, a complaint with be filed with the court to establish paternity and an order for child support. The court may order genetic testing.
If a father signs an AOP, does that give him the right to visit or ask for custody?
Signing the AOP does not automatically give the father the right to visitation or custody. The father may use the form to ask the court to establish these rights. If the parents agree, either parent may ask the court for an order to prove their rights to visitation or custody.
Enforcing Arkansas Child Support Orders
OCSE pursues child and medical support obligations by utilizing all appropriate
administrative and judicial remedies available under Arkansas law. A child support obligation commences on the date specified in the order. If no start date is set out in the order, the first payment falls due on the date the order was filed with the clerk of court.
A child support order is a legally enforceable court action, and the noncustodial parent is responsible for making payments by the date set in the order.
Enforcing support obligations commences on the date the noncustodial parent fails to make
payments in an amount equal to one month of support. Enforcement activities include:
- Income withholding/wage garnishment. State and federal law require employers to report new hire information to the Arkansas Employment Security Department. The New Hire Reporting program is a confidential and secure program that receives and processes data regarding new employees.
- The intercept of unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation benefits
- Federal and state income tax intercept
- Additional payments are ordered to be paid on the child support arrearage or judgment
- Contempt proceedings or any other means for collecting a child support arrearage or judgment until such is satisfied.
Administrative remedies must be attempted and exhausted before judicial remedies begin.
Judicial remedies use expedited process timeframes. The most common judicial remedy is a motion and order to appear and show cause.
Modifying Arkansas Child Support Payments
You have a right to a review of your order if it has been more than three years since the last child support order was entered by the court or reviewed by OCSE. You may request a review sooner than three years if there has been a significant change in income in an amount equal to or more than 20% or $100 in income per month.
OCSE provides services that include changing an order if it’s appropriate. Typically this is when there has been a change in the paying parent’s gross income of 20% or more than $100 per month. A judge in Arkansas must sign all changes to child support orders.
Circumstances that commonly cause child support payments to be changed include substantial fluctuations in the payor’s income, changes in the recipient’s income, or the child’s development of a costly medical condition. In some other situations, such as where the obligated parent loses their job, it may be more difficult to have modifications to child support payments made.
You must have an open enforcement case with OCSE if you want the agency’s services to help change your order. To avoid unnecessary legal fees, OCSE does a review before beginning the legal process. Since the OCSE attorney does not represent the custodial party or the noncustodial parent, some people choose to hire an attorney.
When you ask to change an order, the amount of current support may go up, down, or stay the same. Every time an order is changed, medical insurance for the children will be addressed.
Either parent may request that the court enter a modification to the child support order. The court will hold a hearing, listen to the evidence, and then rule on whether a modification is warranted or not. To have your request heard, you should file a motion with the clerk of the court, typically in the court that originally determined your child support payments.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are not deductible by the payer or taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.
However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents can alternate years claiming a child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.
Read More: How Retirement Accounts and Pensions are Divided in a Divorce
When Does Child Support End in Arkansas?
When the last or only child on an order emancipates, the noncustodial parent’s obligation to pay child support automatically ends. However, if past-due child support is still owed, the noncustodial parent must continue payments until the amount owed is paid.
Other events automatically end child support, such as the child turning 18 and graduating from high school.
The court may determine that child support should continue, even when the child is older than 18. This may occur when the child has disabilities and cannot care for themselves independently.
Child support may also end when the child marries, dies, or joins the military.