Both parents, whether married to one another or not, have a continuing duty to financially 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 to determine 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're 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, and railroad retirement; medical insurance payments for dependent children; and, support a parent pays for 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.
In addition to the award of child support, provision must be made for the child's health care needs, which normally would include health insurance if available to either parent at a reasonable cost. Pursuant to Administrative Order No. 10, health insurance coverage is considered reasonable if the cost of coverage for the dependent child doesn't exceed 5% of the net income of the parent who has to provide such coverage.
The court will also determine the parents' responsibility for paying uninsured/unreimbursed 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. If the court concludes that a parent's earnings were reduced as a matter of choice and not for a reasonable cause, it may attribute income up to the parent's reasonable earning capacity. If there is no evidence of a greater earning 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. For example, the court might deviate from the guidelines if parents are exercising joint physical custody, or a noncustodial parent spends an extraordinary amount of time with the child.
Judges deviating from the guidelines must state their reasons for doing so, in writing.
A parent can seek modification (change) of an existing child support order every three years, if there's a 20% or greater change in the noncustodial parent's gross income, or more than $100 per month. A parent can also request that the court modify a child support order if there's been a substantial change in circumstances since the current support order was entered.
In Arkansas, the obligation to support a child ends when the child turns 18 years of age. But if the child is still attending high school at age 18, support continues until the child's high school graduation or the end of the school year after the child reaches 19, whichever is earlier. Child support also terminates when a child is emancipated by the court; marries; or dies. (2018 Arkansas Code, §9-14-237)
A child support 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.