Child Support – Frequently Asked Questions

How is the amount of child support determined in Arizona?

Every state has adopted guidelines setting automatic rates of child support based on certain criteria related to family income and the number of children in the household. In this state, child support payments are based on the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.

Under the Arizona child support guidelines, the total support approximates what the parents would have spent on the child if they were living together as one family. Under this shared income approach, each parent is required to contribute a proportionate share of his and her income. Generally, the non-custodial parent will be ordered by the court to pay a percentage of his or her gross monthly income to the custodial parent in child support.

By application of the guidelines, the amount of support to be paid is calculated after considering many factors, including both parents’ gross incomes, the child’s medical expenses, work-related daycare expenses, any extraordinary expenses and the number of children residing in the home, among other things. The amount of support resulting from calculations performed under the guidelines is presumptively the correct amount to be ordered by the court in any action to establish or modify child support. The court may deviate from the guidelines’ result, however, when necessary to avoid an inappropriate or unjust result in a particular case.

What is Included in Gross Income for Purposes of Calculating Child Support?

Under the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, gross income is broadly and flexibly interpreted, and very inclusive. When calculating child support, the parents must include their wages, interest on stock investments, bank accounts, retirement accounts, capital gains, veterans’ benefits, prizes and awards, lottery and gambling winnings, insurance and workers’ compensation benefits, pensions and annuities — that is, income from just about any source.

Can the parents agree to an amount of child support in their separation agreement?

Yes, they can. If the separation agreement extended child support for a longer period of time than the legal presumptions require, and that was made a part of the court’s order, then a longer period of support would be enforceable. The parties may also agree to an amount above that required by the child support guidelines. For example, the parents may include additional support payments sufficient to provide for private schooling, college, vocational education, travel, or summer camp.

When the parents share custody of the child equally, is child support eliminated?

Because both parents are responsible for paying child support, there is almost always a payment from one parent or the other. The exception to that would be if, over a sustained period, both parents earned identical incomes and spent identical hours with their child. Although that is a possibility, it is not very likely to occur.

Does the custodial parent always receive child support payments?

Almost always. Every parent has a legal duty to support his or her natural or adopted child. Although the custodial parent typically receives child support payments from the noncustodial parent, that is not an absolute. Although unusual, if appropriate under the unique circumstances, the judge may order the custodial parent to pay child support. Child support payments are in an amount calculated to meet the reasonable needs of the child for health, education, and maintenance, taking into consideration the incomes, child care costs, health insurance costs, and so on, of each parent.

How long is child support paid?

The court sets a termination date in the child support order. Child support is presumed to terminate on the last day of the month of the youngest child’s 18th birthday, that is, the youngest child covered by the support order. If the court finds that the youngest child is unlikely to finish high school by age 18, then the support terminates on the last day of the month of anticipated graduation or on the child’s 19th birthday, whichever happens first.

The court may order child support to continue beyond that child’s age of majority, into adulthood. For the court to order such support, the adult-child must have a significant mental or physical disability that prevents him or her from living independently.

Does child support automatically reduce when one of my children emancipates?

No, not automatically. You must go to court to get the child support reduced if your child is emancipated. If you do not go to court, then you will not get the overpayment back.

Will virtual visitation with my children reduce my child support obligation?

No, virtual visitation will not reduce your child support. Virtual visitation, or e-visitation, is intended to supplement and enhance parent-child communication and is not intended to be a substitute or replacement for face-to-face interaction. The time involved in e-visitation does not reduce the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation and is not a justification for the custodial parent’s relocation.