In Arizona, child support is calculated using the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, which take into account numerous factors, such as:
- The gross income of both parents.
- The number of children common to the parties.
- The amount of parenting time each parent has with the child(ren).
- The cost of health insurance for the child(ren).
- Any child care costs related to the child(ren).
See Arizona Child Support Guidelines § I(A) (eff. Jan. 1, 2022).
To calculate child support, an Arizona court will use a complex formula that considers the above factors, which is known as the “Income Shares Model.” See id. The goal of the income shares model is to ensure that the “total child support amount approximate the amount that would have been spent on the children if the parent and children were living together.” Id. Under this model, the court determines the total amount of support that the child(ren) require, and then allocates that amount between the parents based on their respective incomes and court-ordered parenting time, to determine the child support award. See id. The guidelines set forth twelve steps for determining child support. See id.
First, the calculation starts by determining the combined gross income of both parents. See id. Often times, the parties might disagree about what constitutes income. The guidelines define income broadly, noting that the “term ‘Child Support Income’ does not have the same meaning as ‘Adjusted Gross Income’ for tax purposes.” Id. at § II(A)(1)(a).
Child Support Income includes income from any source before any deduction or withholdings . . . . [and] 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.
Id. at § II(A)(1)(b).
Second, once Child Support Income is determined, the court will apply any appropriate adjustments. See id. For example, if a parent is actually paying court-order support for any other child(ren) or paying court-ordered child support on an order entered before December 31, 2018, those amounts may be deducted for that parent’s income, which may lower their share of the resulting child support obligation. See id. at § II(B)(2). This results in each party’s “Adjusted Child Support Income.”
Third, the court will combine each party’s Adjusted Child Support Income and, using the Schedule of Basic Child Support, will determine the “Basic Child Support Obligation.” See id. at § I(A). This combination is typically done through an electronic worksheet, which automatically applies the Schedule of Basic Child Support. See id.
Fourth, the court makes adjustments to the Basic Child Support Obligation. See id. at § III(B). These adjustments may include items such as health insurance costs, child care costs, education expenses, extraordinary child expenses, etc., giving credit to each parent who may be providing a larger portion of such needs for the child(ren). See id. Additionally, there is an adjustment that may be made if the child(ren) are age 12 or older, because the average of expenditures of such children tend to exceed the expenditures of younger children. See id.
Fifth, the “computer-based Child Support Worksheet will calculate the Combined Child Support Obligation by adding the Adjustments to the Basic Child Support Obligation . . . . [which] represents the total amount of costs the court must consider for a child support determination.” Id. at § I(A).
Sixth, the court allocates the Combined Child Support Obligation, representing the total amount that should have been sent on the child(ren) if the parties had lived together with the child(ren), between the parties in proportion to their respective Adjusted Child Support Income. See id.
Seventh, the court then adjusts the resulting figure based on differences in the parent’s parenting time with the child(ren). See id. at § V. This is done by determining the number of days the child(ren) spend with each parent, converting those days into a percentage, and multiplying the parenting time percentage by the Basic Child Support Obligation, and then subtracting the amount from the appropriate parenting’s proportionate share of the Combined Child Support Obligation. See id.
Eighth, the court calculates the Presumptive Child Support Obligation, which is each parent’s percentage share of the Combined Adjusted Child Support Income multiplied by the Combined Child Support Obligation. See id. at § I(A). The Presumptive Child Support Obligation is “what each party is obligated to contribute to the support of their common child[ren].” See id.
Ninth, the court makes adjustments for any actual payments made by a parent for expenses associated with adjustments to Basic Child Support Obligation, by applies credits for those payments. See id. at § VI.
Tenth, the court will apply the “self-support reserve test,” which applies to low-income parents who are subject to a child support order. See id. at § VIII. The test is intended to ensure that a parent is financially able to pay the child support award while meeting his or her own basic needs. See id.
Eleventh, if either party has made a request, the parties have agreed, or the court otherwise decides, the court may deviate its award from the Presumptive Child Support Obligation. See id. at § IX.
Twelfth, all of the above calculations and considerations result in a Child Support Award, which typically directs one party to make child support payments to the other party, for a certain amount each month. See id. at § X.
Child support calculations can be complex and difficult to navigate. Having a competent and thorough family law attorney can help make the best arguments for favorable outcome. If you are considering initiating or are involved in a court action regarding child support, and need the guidance of an experienced and compassionate law firm, do not hesitate to contact Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC to set up a consultation and discuss your options.
Disclaimer: This publication is for educational and informational purposes only, and represents Huffman-Shayeb Law, PLLC’s understanding of the present state of Arizona law only. This publication does not constitute legal advice or council, and should not be construed as a comment on the merits of any particular case. It should be noted that the laws and requirements of the State of Arizona may change at any time and that this information may not be complete or correct.