Like all states, Arizona has guidelines meant to provide parents and judges with a standard method for calculating an amount of child support that's consistent with the children's needs and their parents' ability to pay support. Calculating child support can be complicated. You'll get into the details when you're completing the forms. But you'll be better prepared to do that if you understand the basic principles and how the guidelines work in Arizona.
Both parents—whether married or not—are legally required to support their children financially. Arizona follows the "Income Shares Model," which means that the guidelines estimate how much the parents would spend on their children if the family was still living together. That amount is then divided between the parents based on their respective incomes.
Usually, the parent who has the kids for less than half of the time under the parenting plan pays child support to the other parent (traditionally called the "custodial" parent). However, that doesn't mean parents who receive child support aren't paying their fair share. The guidelines assume that they're meeting their supporting obligation by paying for the children's food, clothing, housing, and other expenses.
Be aware that in some circumstances, parents who have their children more than half the time— or a roughly equal amount of time—could end up paying support to the other parent, after all of the adjustments and calculations allowed in Arizona's guidelines. For instance, a parent who has the kids for 60% of the time but earns considerably more than the other parent might be required to pay child support to the lower-earning parent.
The starting point for calculating child support in Arizona is to determine each parent's "child support income." This may be different than the definition of income you're used to for the purpose of your income tax returns.
Under Arizona's child support guidelines, child support income includes income from any source (before deductions or withholdings), such as:
However, Arizona's definition of child support income does not include:
Overtime generally isn't included in child support income. Judges have the leeway to decide whether to include income that isn't continuing or recurring. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § II.A (2023).)
Arizona's child support guidelines allow adjustments to child support income for the following:
(Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § II.B (2023).)
Arizona law presumes that adult parents are able to work full time, unless there's evidence to the contrary. If a parent is unemployed or underemployed without a good reason, the judge will decide whether it's appropriate to attribute (impute) income to that parent for the purpose of calculating child support, taking into account the parent's current educational level, training and experience, and physical capacity. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-320(N); Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § II.A.4 (2023).)
After adding the two parents' adjusted child support income, you can find the total child support obligation (based on the number of children being supported) on the "Schedule of Basic Support Obligation" at the end of Arizona's guidelines.
But that's just the starting point. Arizona's guidelines allow adjustments to the basic support obligation to account for certain child-related expenses.
If a child is 12 or older, the basic support obligation allocated for that child will be increased by 10%. If the child turns 12 after the support order was issued, you'll have to request the adjustment from the court. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § III.B (2023).)
Arizona's guidelines allow the following expenses to be added to the basic child support obligation:
The parent who pays any of these costs will receive a credit against that parent's share of the support obligation. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, §§ III.B, VI (2023).)
After making the adjustments discussed above, each parent's share of the adjusted support amount will be in proportion to that parent's share of their combined income. However, some child-related expenses shift when the child spends time with each parent. To account for this, Arizona's guidelines include a further adjustment for each parent's percentage of days with the child under the parenting plan. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § V (2023).)
Arizona's guidelines include a "Self-Support Reserve Test" to make sure that the parent who's ordered to pay child support will be left with enough money to sustain at least a minimum standard of living. If the test shows that wouldn't be the case, the judge may lower the amount of the award. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § VIII (2023).)
The calculations in the guidelines will result in what's called a "presumptive child support award." However, Arizona judges may order a different level of support in any particular case if they determine that the guideline amount would be inappropriate or injust. Before making that decision, the judge must consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:
For example, the circumstances might warrant deviating from the guidelines when:
Parents always have the option of agreeing on a child support amount—and most parents do. In fact, the guidelines are meant to encourage settlements on the issue of child support. But parents must submit their agreement to the court for approval before it can become part of an official child support award.
If you and the other parent have agreed on an amount of child support that's different than the guideline amount, your written agreement should spell out the reasons for the deviation, as well as make clear that you both know what the guideline amount would be and that neither of you were coerced into the agreement. The judge will then review your agreement before deciding whether it's in the child's best interests, based on the circumstances. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § IX.C (2023).)
Child support normally ends when the child is no longer a minor (typically when the child turns 18), unless the child is still attending high school (or a high school equivalency program) and hasn't yet turned 19.
However, Arizona law allows judges to order child support beyond age 18 if both of the following is true:
Parents may agree to extend child support past these legal limits—for example, to continue supporting a child who's attending college. It's best to submit this agreement to the court so that a judge can approve it and make it part of an official court order. But a judge may enforce enforce your written agreement to provide postmajority support in a separate contract action. (Solomon v. Findley, 808 P. 2d 294 (Ariz. 1991).)
Here again, you'll need to submit your agreement to the court for approval. Otherwise, you would have a hard time enforcing the agreement.
When parents are getting divorced, child support is handled as part of the divorce process. If you're filing for an uncontested divorce (known as a summary consent decree divorce in Arizona) you'll include a child support order and related forms with your paperwork. Otherwise, you can request child support when you file your divorce papers.
If you were never married to the child's other parent, you may apply for child support through the Arizona Division of Child Support Services (DCSS), as long as you've established the child's paternity. The DCSS website provides a great deal of general information about the topic of child support, including self-help forms.
When the paying parent is employed, judges must require that payments be made through a wage assignment. The employer will deduct the support amount from the parent's salary and forward it to the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse, which will then pay the recipient parent. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-504 (2023).
Parents who are self-employed, employed part-time, or unemployed should make their child support payments directly to the Arizona Support Payment Clearinghouse (if they aren't paying through the DCSS), unless the child support order specifically allows sending the payments directly to the recipient. When the paying parent is self-employed, the recipient may ask the judge to order self-empoyed parent to make an up-front payment to the clearinghouse, which will hold the money and then release it to compensate for any missed monthly payments. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-503.01, 46-441(H) (2023).)
If you're having trouble collecting child support, you can request enforcement services from the DCSS (at the website linked above). Even though you already have a child support order, click on "Apply for Child Support" to download a copy of the application form ("Request for Title IV-D Child Support Services"). Like all child-support enforcement agencies, the DCSS may use a number of methods to encourage or force parents to pay back support, including:
You also have the option of going back to court to request help enforcing the order. Typically, you'll file a motion (written legal request) asking the judge to find that your co-parent is in contempt of court—which could lead to a fine or even jail time.
Be aware that you must still follow the parenting order even if your co-parent isn't keeping up with child support payments. And if you're the one paying child support, you may not stop those payments because the other parent is withholding visitation.
If you want to change your child support payments, you'll need to prove that there has been a substantial, continuing change in circumstances since the existing order was issued. This means that the current circumstances would call for a different amount of support under the guidelines, and that they aren't the result of a temporary situation. For example, it might warrant a support modification if:
You'll need to file a petition to request the modification, along with a new child support worksheet and supporting documentation. You'll also have to serve the other parent with the paperwork.
Arizona allows you to use a simplified procedure for requesting a child support modification if:
If you can demonstrate that the 15% difference requirement applies in your situation, the judge will consider that to be a substantial change of circumstances. You can find the petition forms and instructions for the simplified procedure on the Arizona Courts website. Maricopa County Superior Court also offers its own "Simplified Mod" petition and instructions. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-503(E), Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § XIV (2023).)
Even if you and your co-parent agree on a change to child support, a judge will need to review your agreement and decide whether you've met the requirements for a modification. But if you don't agree, you'll probably have to request a court hearing on the issue. In that situation, you'll also probably need the help of a family lawyer to help you gather and present the evidence required to win (or fight) a modification.
In and of itself, a parent's remarriage won't affect the amount of child support, and a new spouse's income won't be included in any of the calculations under Arizona's guidelines. That's based on the principle that stepparents don't have a legal obligation to support their stepchildren. (Ariz. Child Support Guidelines, § II.A.2.c (2023).)
In the past, Arizona courts held that judges had the right to consider how much a new spouse's income defrayed the expenses of the parent paying support. But those cases were decided under old versions of the guidelines. As described above, the current guidelines allow adjustments only for certain child-related expenses and for parenting time.
However, if a parent remarries and has children from the new marriage, that might warrant a modification in the existing order to account for the legal obligation to support all of the parent's natural or adopted children.