Do the child support Guidelines apply if the parents live together?

Categories: Child Support, Podcasts
Scott Stewart:

The question is whether or not there is a rule or a statue that says the court cannot or should not order child support when the parents are living together.

Jennifer:

That is a great question which I’m sure comes up quite often, especially recently with the collapse of the real estate market. I know there were a lot of people that, even though they split up romantically speaking, they stayed living in the same household to avoid foreclosures – just moved into different rooms in the house, that sort of thing. There actually is a statue that references the fact that you have to live in different houses in order to obtain a child support order. It doesn’t say it specifically.

The Arizona Child Support Guidelines, which are found in the Arizona Revised Statues, Section 25-320, has a bit of a preamble. They actually title it “The Background Behind the Child Support Guidelines.” If you read that there is a sentence that really is where you find your guidance in this. The sentence is, “The total child support amount approximates the total amount that would have been spent on the children, if the parents and children were living together.” If you extrapolate from that, it is clear that these guidelines, the child support guidelines, child support orders, are envisioned to only occur when the parties are no longer residing in the same household.

There isn’t a specific statue on-point that says that the court cannot order child support when parties live in the same household, but I think you’re going to have a pretty high hurdle to jump over if the paying parent objects, because according to this you wouldn’t utilize these guidelines unless you lived in different households.

Scott Stewart:Okay, so let me summarize, if I can. The one thing I love about lawyers, and since I’m a lawyer I get to make fun of them, right, is that they like to use big fancy words like extrapolate and things like that. I’m going to try and boil it down so that our listeners can hopefully understand in their language. There’s a statue that essentially says, if people are living separate then the guideline would kick in. Is that correct?
Jennifer:Correct.
Scott Stewart:Okay, so if they’re living together, then it doesn’t say that you are prohibited or that you cannot be ordered to pay child support, but the courts most often probably do not order child support when people are living together. Is that correct?
Jennifer:Correct.
Scott Stewart:Now prior to working in private practice, you worked for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and you worked in the Child Support Division. I would imagine that these are things that you dealt with on a fairly regular basis, is that true?
Jennifer:It is true. I was at the Attorney General’s Office during this housing collapse. This was a situation that I saw come up quite frequently during that time because of people’s desire to not have their house go into foreclosure, not to have their credit get ruined, or because they had been laid off they couldn’t find alternate housing. They were on relatively good terms, at least enough to be roommates in the same house. This was something we saw quite often.
Scott Stewart:Now in your entire history did you ever see a court order child support when the parents were currently living in the same house?
Jennifer:I did not, no.
Scott Stewart:About how many cases … I know this is a giant number, but about how many cases in your 16 year career there, do you think you were involved in, total number?
Jennifer:Well, gosh, that is a hard number. I had, at any given point in time, anywhere between about 350 as a low, to about 550 as a high, active cases. That meant that they were in litigation at that time. There were court hearings pending. Pleadings that had been filed with the court. The number … Which cases were in the sort of queue rotated, but that was sort of a steady number. If you just sort of take the average of that, of 450 cases at any given time, in 16 years, that alone would be about 7,200 cases.
Scott Stewart:Not to mention if those cases rotated in and out, then it could be as high as 10-15-20,000 cases that you may have been involved in, but safe to say at least 7,000.
Jennifer:At least, yep. That’s true.
Scott Stewart:And none of those did you ever have a court order support when parents are living together?
Jennifer:Never. The idea was that if you have parties that are living together, under the same roof, for convenience sake, which is universally what this is, they’re not doing it because they’re romantically involved anymore. The idea is that you’re going to split the expenses, the child expenses are going to be part of the household expenses. There wouldn’t … That would take place sort of privately within the … The idea behind child support is the idea that the child should be in the same position as he or she would be in if the parties had stayed together. Technically they’ve stayed together. Just because they’ve removed the romantic aspect out of their relationship they’re still in the same household. I’ve heard a term used a lot when I was at the AG’s office, there’s no “deprivation,” there’s no need for one person to put money into the household of the other party because there is no other household. There’s just the one.
Scott Stewart:Okay. Let me ask you this. Is this rule the same if people are married versus unmarried?
Jennifer:It is. The child support guidelines apply to people who have been married for a long duration and people who just got together for one night and a child was the result. They apply universally across the board.
Scott Stewart:Now one final question that I think would be useful to our listeners. What happens when one of the parents then decides to move out?
Jennifer:Either parent can petition to request that the court order child support. We at the Attorney General’s office refer to them as the custodial and non-custodial parent. There are cases where a custodial parent has to pay child support to a non-custodial parent, due to a large difference in income. It’s not going to be automatic, you have to petition the court, but once you live apart the court can order support. I have, very rarely, I can probably count on one hand the number of times this has happened, I’ve had the court order child support in the event of. In cases where I had parties who were living in the same household out of convenience the court, in the context of the disillusioned, said, “Not going to order child support now, because you’re living in the same household. Beginning the first day of the month after the two of you split up, the child support would be X, and going forward from there.” So they wouldn’t have to come back to court to get that child support order, it would be built into the decree already.
Scott Stewart:Good, that’s a lot of useful information. To boil it down, if you’re not living in the same household and you are in need of some assistance for your child, then you need to go and petition the court so that child support can start flowing your way.
Jennifer:Correct.
Scott Stewart:Awesome. That’s outstanding information. I really appreciate the time here today. I look forward to our next interview. Thank you very much.
Jennifer:Thank you!
Speaker 1:Thank you for listening to Arizona Family Talk Radio. If you have a family law question, please call us at 602-548-3400

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