Child Support Calculations in Arizona

May 21, 2019

Child support calculations in Arizona are governed by the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. These Guidelines establish a formula for calculating child support which family court judges must follow except in rare circumstances.  So is figuring out child support always simple in Arizona cases?  The answer is… it depends.  Once the variables which go into the formula are determined, calculating child support is easy, but it is not always so easy to determine the variables on which child support calculations are based.

The primary Arizona child support statute is A.R.S. §25-320.  Subsection D requires the Arizona Supreme Court to “establish guidelines for determining the amount of child support.” The supreme court must review the guidelines at least every four years “to ensure that their application results in the determination of appropriate child support amounts.” A.R.S. §25-320(D). A committee of mostly lawyers drafts, reviews and revises the Guidelines approximately every four years as the statute requires, and the supreme court then reviews–and usually approves/adopts–the revised Guidelines.

Under the Guidelines, there are several factors which influence child support calculations in Arizona, including the following: 1) the monthly gross income of each parent; 2) the number of children involved; 3) the parenting time schedule; 4) the cost of medical insurance for the child(ren); and 5) the work-related child care expenses for the child(ren). When parents argue over child support calculations in Arizona, they rarely argue over formula or calculation itself.  Rather, they argue over the numbers–one or more of the variables outlined above–which affect the calculation.

The most common argument parents have is over the income for one or both parents to be used in the child support calculation.  For example, when one parent does not work and has no income, that parent may wish to have child support calculated based on a zero income for him or her.   As you may imagine, the two parents will normally have drastically different opinions and evidence to present as to the “earning capacity” of the non-working parent.

Parents also frequently argue over whether bonus, overtime or shift-differential pay should be included in a parent's income for child support calculation purposes. The parent who has earned the extra income of course does NOT want the extra income counted in the child support calculation. The other parent argues it should be counted in the calculation. The Guidelines do provide some guidance on these extra-income components, but ultimately the judge must decide whether to “count” such extra income for purposes of the child support calculation unless the parents can agree.

Another difficult challenge is the self-employed parent.  Sole proprietors and other owners of closely-held businesses usually have the ability to drastically influence the business profit shown on their financial statements and income tax returns. For example, cash payments may never be deposited into business bank accounts and therefore never hit the books.  Work may be done by the business in trade or barter for non-cash benefits.  Personal expenses may be passed through as business expenses, artificially deflating the true business profits.

In cases where a self-employed person has gone to extensive efforts to hide his or her true income, examination of business records by the lawyer alone may not be sufficient. Sometimes it is necessary to hire a forensic accountant to scrutinize the self-employed parent's bank accounts, financial statements,  tax and other  business records in order to get a clear picture of the parent's real income.

The potential for litigation over the parents' incomes in child support calculations is almost limitless. Once the parties agree on–or the judge determines–the parents' incomes and the other critical variables, however, running the child support formula to calculate child support is a simple process which can be performed in just a few minutes, either manually or using an automated child support calculator.

If you need assistance calculating child support in your case, please contact my office to schedule a meeting with me. I can easily run a child support calculation for you based on the income and other figures you provide me during our initial consultation.

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