Both parents, whether married to one another or not, must support their children. Most states have specific rules for calculating the financial responsibilities of single, separated, or divorced parents, and for ensuring that parents pay support. Although parents can enter into agreements about child support, such agreements must, at a minimum, meet the guidelines set by law and receive court approval. This is because the right to receive a certain amount of support belongs to the child and not the child’s parents.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has set guidelines all courts in the state must follow in determining the amount of child support one parent may be required to pay to the other. Arkansas calculates basic support as a percentage of a noncustodial parent’s net income after certain allowable deductions. Courts interpret income broadly to cover the widest range of resources available to benefit children. In order to assist the court in calculating support, both parents are required to submit an Affidavit of Financial Means.
If you are a parent going through a support determination, you can refer to Administrative Order No. 10 and its amendments to find out how a court would calculate income available for support. The current version of Administrative Order No. 10 defines income to include any form of payment, regardless of source. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, pensions, disability payments, and investment income. If income includes bonuses, the percentage of the net bonus that a court will include in income varies depending on the number of dependents to be covered by the support order. You can find the specific percentages in Administrative Order No. 10.
Allowable deductions include income taxes, withholding for Social Security, Medicare, railroad retirement, medical insurance payments for dependent children, and support a parent pays to other dependents pursuant to court orders. After determining the noncustodial parent’s net income, you can consult the Child Support Charts and match that amount to the number of children a support order would cover. Unless a judge orders an adjustment, the non-custodial parent will pay the amount shown on the applicable chart to the custodial parent.
Courts include medical support provisions in child support orders if health care coverage is available for a reasonable cost. Both parents generally share the cost of coverage as well as the cost of uninsured medical expenses.
A parent cannot evade a child support obligation by refusing to work. A court will look at the reasons for a parent’s unemployment or underemployment and may attribute income up to the parent’s reasonable earning capacity. If there is no evidence of greater capacity, a court will generally impute earnings at minimum wage
There is a rebuttable presumption that the amounts listed in the current Child Support Charts are appropriate, but a judge who finds these amounts to be unfair or inappropriate in light of the circumstances of a particular case may order a different amount. There are many factors a court might consider in making adjustments. The charts are based on a traditional custody arrangement where a noncustodial parent has visitation every other weekend and for up to several weeks during the summer. The court is likely to deviate from the guidelines if parents are exercising joint physical custody or a noncustodial parent has extended visitation beyond the traditional arrangement. Judges deviating from the guidelines must state their reasons for doing so in writing.
A parent seeking modification of an existing custody order must show an ongoing material change in circumstances. The court will generally presume that a modification is appropriate if there has been a loss or gain of 20 percent per month in a noncustodial parent’s income. In Arkansas, the obligation to support a child ends when the child turns 18 unless the child is still attending high school full-time, in which case it continues until the child turns 19 or graduates from high school, whichever happens first. The obligation may continue longer if a child is disabled and not capable of self-support.
The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), a division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, is responsible for helping families obtain child support payment orders, locate absent parents, establish paternity if necessary, and secure compliance with child support court orders.