If you’re getting a divorce in Arizona, child support is one of the key issues you’ll have to deal with if you have minor children.
Here’s what you should know.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Arizona?
- How is Child Support Determined in Arizona?
- What is the Purpose of Child Support?
- Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Arizona?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Establishing Paternity
- Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
- Modifying Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Arizona?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Arizona?
According to Arizona divorce laws, both parents must financially support their children. In most cases, there is a payment from one parent to the other, even if child custody is shared equally.
Child support payments are calculated to meet the child’s reasonable needs for health, education, and maintenance, taking into consideration the incomes, child care costs, health insurance costs, and so on of each parent.
Parents are also responsible even if they weren’t married when the child was born or if either parent remarries someone else.
In addition, child support payments may be enforced even when the parent who provides the child’s primary residence refuses to allow visitation or the parent who does not provide the child’s primary residence lives or works in another state.
How is Child Support Determined in Arizona?
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines follow the Income Shares Model, which considers the income of both parents. Under the model, the total child support amount approximates the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parents and children were living together. Each parent contributes their proportionate share of the total child support amount.
According to Arizona statutes, Child Support Income includes income from any source before any deductions or withholdings.
This may include salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, military pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability benefits, military disability benefits, recurring gifts, prizes, and spousal maintenance.
The court has the discretion to consider whether non-recurring income is considered income to calculate child support.
Child Support Income does not include funds a parent receives as child support, benefits from means-tested public assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Nutrition Assistance and General Assistance, and others. It also does not include adoption subsidies, Supplemental Security Income, and subsidies arising from the disability of a child.
The way marital property is distributed between the parents is also not considered, except that such property generates income for a parent. Also, the income of a parent’s new spouse, a stepparent, is not included in any calculations.
The Guidelines apply to all children with a legal obligation to support them. The “support” of other persons, such as stepchildren, is considered voluntary and does not impact the child support determined under the Guidelines. The child support obligation has priority over all other financial obligations.
The calculation itself is often performed by using a computer-based program. The information that affects the child support amount is identified on the computer-based Child Support Worksheet, which has fields of information that must be completed.
That creates a Basic Child Support Obligation, but it is not the total amount the court will use to determine the Final Child Support Obligation. The court will also consider other factors such as medical insurance premiums, childcare costs, and other expenses to create an Adjustment to the Basic Child Support Obligation.
When a child spends time with each parent, some of the child’s expenses may shift between the parents. The parenting time adjustment accounts for this shift. The obligation is also modified based on this formula as well.
The result is the creation of a Presumptive Child Support Obligation
The court orders this amount to be paid unless the court determines a deviation is appropriate based on a request from either parent, an agreement of the parties, or the court’s discretion.
Before granting a deviation, the court must find that the strict application of the Guidelines is inappropriate or unjust and must consider the child’s best interests when determining the amount of any deviation.
Another critical factor to note is that the obligation to pay or receive child support is separate from any rights or responsibilities relating to legal decision-making and parenting time.
Read More: Arizona Divorce Guide
What is the Purpose of Child Support?
Child support is the ongoing monetary expenditures and payments to cover a child’s living and medical expenses. It is a recurring payment by a parent for a minor child when that parent does not have full custody. In some cases, support may be extended indefinitely, such as when a child has ongoing health or medical needs.
The goal is to protect the child’s welfare with an agreement fair to both parents. This agreement can be reached by the parents or determined by the courts.
Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Arizona?
The Arizona Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) provides services to parents and caretakers who receive child support and pay child support.
You can contact DCSS customer service with your questions by calling 602-252-4045
Toll-Free in Arizona 1-800-882-4151. Offices are staffed M-F, 7 am to 5:30 pm.
To find a local DCSS office, go here.
The Arizona Child Support Services Portal is available for parents and caretakers to:
- View a history of child support payments
- Correspond with customer service
- Review case status
- Provide updates to your contact information
If you don’t have an open child support case, you can contact your county’s Clerk of the Court. Also, contact the Clerk if you want to file your actions or if you’re interested in custody, visitation, spousal support, or parenting time.
You can send questions about cases directly to the Arizona Division of Child Support Services Customer Service Team online, but first, you need to register with the AZ Child Support Portal.
If you have any difficulties registering or logging in, call customer service at 602-252-4045 or toll-free in Arizona at 1-800-882-4151.
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
Establishing a child support order is a legal process that sets a monthly amount paid from one parent to the other for the support of the children.
An order can be established after paternity is established for children under age 18. Cases can also be opened when parents are separated or divorced, were never married, or a caretaker or agency has custody of the children.
To open a case, you must complete and submit an application. There are several ways to do this.
You can download the Request for Title IV-D Child Support Services and mail it to:
PO Box 40458
Phoenix, AZ 85067
You can call DCSS customer service at 800-882-4151 and request an application by mail, or you can walk into a nearby DCSS office and pick up an application.
When you submit your application, you’ll also need to submit as many of the following documents as possible:
- The name of the other parent
- A copy of each child’s birth certificate
- The other parent’s Social Security number (if available)
- The other parent’s most recent employer (employer name and address), if known
- Children’s Birth certificates
- Copies of any orders relating to paternity
- Copies of any existing or previous support orders
- A record of payments that have been made directly to you through a court or a clearinghouse outside of Arizona.
- Copies of adoption documents
If you have been married, submit copies of your marriage license and a copy of any decree of dissolution of divorce.
A case must be opened within 20 calendar days after receiving your application. There is no fee to apply, but you may be required to pay nominal amounts for some other support services
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Child Support
Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
The two issues are separate but related in Arizona.
The fact that a parent receives child support does not mean that they may not also be entitled to spousal maintenance. If the court establishes both child support and spousal maintenance, the court must first determine the appropriate amount of spousal maintenance and then adjust the Child Support Income.
The spousal maintenance adjustment applies for the duration of the spousal maintenance award. When that ends, it may be necessary to modify the child support obligation.
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
Arizona courts and DCSS require health insurance coverage or cash medical support to be included to provide for children when establishing a child support order. DCSS will list one of the parents as the person who must provide coverage, or in some cases, both will assume that responsibility.
DCSS can help any parent or person with a child who needs help locating a noncustodial parent to establish legal parentage for children when parents are not married.
DCSS has a Hospital Paternity Program between several government agencies to provide paternity establishment services for unmarried parents immediately after the birth of a child.
Paternity can be established in several possible ways:
- A father can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form available at hospitals and birthing centers. After it is signed, nurses and birth recorders can help establish paternity for a child legally.
- a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity signed by both parents can also be filed with the court or an administrative agency to establish legal parentage.
- Both parents can visit a DCSS office and sign a Voluntary Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity.
- Genetic testing may be needed to prove a father’s identity if you are unsure of paternity.
If a parent is uncooperative in establishing paternity, the case can be referred to the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for a court hearing.
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
DCSS can enforce child support orders through several possible actions:
- DCSS must issue an Income Withholding Order to collect child support from a parent’s earnings. This order is sent to a parent’s employer and can include an additional amount if any unpaid support is owed.
- The Arizona Department of Revenue also works with DCSS to offset state and federal income tax refunds when a past due amount of at least $50 exists.
- DCSS may also seize bank accounts and property to collect child support arrears when 12 months or more of unpaid support is owed or when there is a court-ordered judgment.
- State statutes and federal laws require that credit bureaus be informed of monthly payments that are due or any past due amounts. Arrears balances of six months or more appear as collection accounts.
- When unpaid support is $2,500 or greater, passports may be revoked or even be issued.
- Property liens are another effective tool for unpaid support.
- Lottery winnings above $600 can also be intercepted.
- State statutes allow DCSS to suspend a professional or occupational license with six months or more of child support is owed. DCSS may also request a driver’s license or recreational (hunting or fishing) license suspension.
- DCSS also has the authority to attach Workers’ Compensation benefits when support is owed.
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act authorizes collection and modifications when parents live in different states. DCSS must rely on other jurisdictions’ laws and statutes for collections, regulatory actions, and other processes.
If circumstances permanently affect your ability to pay current or past-due child support, you may be eligible for the DCSS Hardship Program. If you think you qualify, contact DCSS Customer Service at 602-252-4045 or 1-800-882-4151.
DCSS also has a Settlement Program to assist noncustodial parents who may have a large arrears balance on their child support case. It provides an opportunity to pay off past-due arrears balances for a percentage of what is owed by paying either a lump sum or making monthly installments for up to 3 months.
To participate, stop by a local DCSS office or contact the DCSS Customer Service Center at 602-252-4045 or 1-800-882-4151, or email the DCSS Settlement Team at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss or submit your settlement offer.
Modifying Child Support Payments
Either parent can request a modification of an existing child support order when there has been a significant and continuing change in either household. These changes can include:
- Change in the income of either party
- Loss of a job
- Adding or changing health insurance.
- Change in the amount of time the children spend with each parent
- Change in custody
- Incarceration of the paying parent.
To start the modification process, you’ll need to provide your financial information and complete the Request for Modification Review along with support documents. Financial information is collected from both parents. You may also file for a modification on your own through your local court.
Modification may be warranted if the current support order increases or decreases by at least 15% or $50 a month, whichever is less.
When you complete the Request for Modification Review and pull together the requested documents, mail the information to:
Division of Child Support Services
P.O. BOX 40458
Phoenix AZ 85072
You do not need an attorney to go through the modification process, but you have the right to hire one.
If the modification is approved, the new monthly child support amount will be on the order signed by the judge and typically begins the first day of the month after the court hearing.
DCSS should complete the review and modification within six months, but this will vary depending on the court schedule.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor 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 provided 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 alternate years claiming the 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 substantially similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Arizona?
When a child turns 18, the child support obligation ends unless the child is still in high school. In those cases, support will continue until the child graduates from high school but not past the 19th birthday. Emancipation also occurs whenever a child gets married, leaves their parent’s home, or joins the armed services.
If the order is from another state, Arizona will follow the emancipation law of the state where the order was entered.
Your Order of Assignment includes the date that child support payments are automatically discontinued. The only thing you will have to do is make sure that the child support order has been terminated on the respective date.
If you owe child support that you haven’t paid, the collection efforts will continue.
Arizona parents are not obligated to support their children financially during their college years. However, it’s common for divorce agreements in Arizona to feature arrangements for support during college studies.
Also, a case may be closed if the noncustodial parent is imprisoned without the possibility of parole or release before a child emancipates, is institutionalized, or has a verified permanent disability with no evidence of support potential.