Scott David Stewart 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Arizona Child Support Assessment and Enforcement Arizona family law has one hard and fast rule: In every child custody case there will be a determination of child support. In contrast to spousal maintenance awards, with child support we can offer our clients consistency and predictability in orders with application of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Payments are in an amount calculated to meet the child’s reasonable needs for health, education, and maintenance. Parents may certainly agree to payments above the guidelines, and on rare occasion they can deviate below the guidelines with judicial approval. The parties’ attorneys should calculate the amount of support required under the guidelines and negotiate from there. To be enforceable, any such agreement to provide additional support dollars must be written into the parties’ separation agreement and included in the court’s support order. A.R.S. § 25-317. Support payments are made directly to the custodial parent or to the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse, as the case may be. To be credited against the payor’s obligation, payments made directly to the custodial parent must be court-ordered, or made pursuant to a written support agreement. CALCULATING CHILD SUPPORT UNDER THE GUIDELINES As with all other states, Arizona’s guidelines are used to determine how much child support each parent will contribute. Take a glance at the guideline’s seven essential premises: 1. The guidelines apply to all children. 2. Paying child support is a priority financial obligation. 3. Spousal maintenance is determined before child support obligations are established. 4. Every parent has a legal duty to support his or her natural or adopted child. 5. Under some circumstances, the custodial parent may be required to pay child support. 6. Child support is calculated on a monthly income basis. 7. Basic child support is capped when the parents’ combined adjusted gross income reaches $20,000 per month; and is also capped with the sixth child. When either, or both, situation is applicable additional inquiry and analysis is applied. On parental income For most families, the child support guidelines work well. Using a child support calculator, we can estimate the monthly obligation for each parent by entering their incomes, answering a few questions about the child and child-related expenses, and indicating how many other children there are in the household. The more challenging cases involve parents with self-employment income or cashbased income which can fluctuate significantly from month-to-month. With a self-employed parent, the court may order a “federally authorized tax practitioner” to assist with income analysis. On parental Expenses. Parents should be advised that, in Arizona, the court will not consider parental living expenses in setting child support. Only the parents’ income, the parenting time exercised by the non-custodial parent, and the expenses for the child’s daycare, health insurance, and special needs are considered. In the absence of exceptional circumstances, the court will follow the amount suggested by the guidelines. On judicial Discretion. In any action involving child support, the amount calculated under the guidelines is presumed to be the amount the court shall order. However, the family law judge does have discretion to make exceptions when results under the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in the circumstances. When exception is taken, the court may deviate from the guidelines by increasing or decreasing the amount of child support. On child support orders. In Arizona, the court’s order must include the exact amount of child support, the date that payments are to begin, and when they are to end. The judge will make specific findings for the record, including each parent’s gross and adjusted gross income, the basic and the total child support obligation, the non-custodial parent’s proportional share, and any attributed income in excess of the minimum wage. Be mindful that when a child under the support order emancipates, the support does not automatically reduce. To avoid an unintentional overpayment, the non-custodial parent needs to return to court and seek an order modifying child support. SUPPORT FOR THE DISABLED ADULT-CHILD The duration of child support is determined by the judge who sets a termination date in the support order. Generally, support is paid until the child reaches age 18, completes high school, or emancipates. With a young person’s severe disability, though, the court may order child support to continue beyond the age of majority. On establishing disability. The parent may seek a support order even if the child was an adult when the divorce was filed or will be an adult when the final decree is issued. For the court to order such support, the adult-child must be “severely mentally or physically disabled” such that he or she “is unable to live independently and be self-supporting.” Furthermore, the disability must have manifested during the child’s minority. On guardians custodians. There is no requirement that a parent be appointed guardian or legal custodian before a support order for the disabled adult-child may be issued. However, if the adult-child has no guardian or custodian, then he or she should be joined as an indispensable party to the support proceedings. In that way, the court will have authority over the matter and the adult-child’s rights and interests will be protected. CHALLENGES OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT Unquestionably, parents must meet their child support obligations. Those who do not pay, who pay less than required, or who pay sporadically will risk contempt proceedings, fines,and jail time. On contempt proceedings. Civil and criminal contempt proceedings are common actions taken against parents who fail to pay child support. The key to holding a parent in contempt is a finding that he or she had the ability to pay, but willfully failed to do so. For violating a child support order, the court may order the payor-parent jailed and fined; may suspend a driver’s license, professional or occupational license, and recreational license; may seize assets and intercept state tax refunds. Additionally, the parent who “knowingly fails to furnish reasonable support” may be prosecuted for a class 6 felony. On federal prosecution. Under the Child Support Recovery Act and Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, federal prosecution for willful non-payment of child support is possible when the non-custodial parent and the child reside in different states. Parents who willfully fail to pay child support face federal penalties, including fines and incarceration. On interstate enforcement. To punish those parents who cross state lines to escape support obligations, states are required to give full faith and credit to valid final child support orders. This effectively prevents parents from seeking more favorable child support awards in different jurisdictions. Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), the court that issued the child support order retains continuing exclusive jurisdiction. The UIFSA provides state courts with long-arm jurisdiction should a parent relocate to another state. Before leaving this topic, one common misconception regarding the connection between parenting time and child support must be dispelled. In Arizona, access to one’s child is not contingent upon timely payment of child support. No family law judge will condone any obstructive actions taken by one parent in retaliation for the other’s nonpayment of child support. Attempts to enforce a support obligation by withholding parenting time will, in all likelihood, result in a contempt action against the parent who prevented access to the child.
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