Both parents, whether married to one another or not, have a continuing duty to financially support their children. Most states—including Arkansas—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 support belongs to the child and not the child's parents. Parents can't waive their child's right to child support.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has set child support 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.
You can use Arkansas's Child Support Estimator to enter in information about your financial situation and get an estimate of how much child support you might be entitled to (or have to pay).
The first step in a court's determination of child support is to calculate each parent's income. Courts interpret "income" broadly to cover the widest range of resources available to benefit children. Types of income that Arkansas courts typically consider include:
(Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § III (2022).)
After examining each parent's sources and amounts of income, the court then computes their individual income by calculating the parent's:
A parent can't evade their child support obligation by refusing to work. So when a parent can't provide evidence of current or average income, or is underemployed (meaning they have the potential to make more), the court can assign an imputed (assumed) monthly gross income to the parent. In doing so, the court must consider the circumstances of both parents. This includes factors such as the parents':
The court must examine these factors in light of community factors, too, such as the local job market and the prevailing wages of others doing similar work in the area. (Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § III.8 (2022).) The court can then decide on a fair income amount to impute to the parent.
After calculating each parent's income, the court combines the two amounts. The court then determines what percentage of the total income is attributable to each parent.
EXAMPLE: Pat makes $2,000 per month. Jordan makes $3,000 per month. Their combined gross monthly income is $5,000. So Pat's income makes up 40% ($2,000/$5,000) of the total, and Jordan's income makes up 60% ($3,000/$5,000).
Using the parents' combined income and the number of children to be supported, Arkansas courts use a chart to determine the total basic monthly child support amount. (Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § V.1 (2022).)
EXAMPLE: Pat and Jordan have two children. Looking up Pat's and Jordan's combined income of $5,000 on the chart, the base monthly child support amount is $1,081.
Each parent's share of the monthly support amount is based on their percentage of the combined income.
EXAMPLE: Jordan is responsible for 60% ($648.60) of the base monthly child support obligation. Pat is responsible for 40% ($432.40).
Even though each parent is responsible for a share of the total child support obligation, both parents won't be making monthly payments to each other. Instead, in most cases, the noncustodial parent becomes the "payor," and pays the custodial parent (the "payee") a proportionate share of the base support.
The Arkansas child support guidelines assume that the payor parent has the child overnight in their residence less than 141 overnights per calendar year. (Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § II (2022).) The calculations are different if the parents have joint custody.
When the parents have joint custody of the children—in other words, when they both have responsibility for the child for at least 141 overnights per calendar year—the parties must (like all other parents) complete a Child Support Worksheet and Affidavit of Financial Means. The court considers these forms as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and will, if necessary, adjust the amount determined by the guidelines.
In particular, the court will consider any disparity between the income of the parties as well as which parent is responsible for the majority of one-time expenses for the child (such as basic clothing costs, extracurricular activity fees, and school supplies). The court will also take into account any significant time periods on separate days when the child is in a parent's physical custody but doesn't stay overnight.
(Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § V.2 (2022).)
Arkansas courts can adjust parents' child support obligations if there are other monthly child-rearing expenses, such as extraordinary medical expenses or childcare.
The court can require parents to obtain health insurance for the child at a reasonable cost. In Arkansas, health insurance coverage is considered reasonable if the cost of coverage for the child doesn't exceed 5% of the net income of the parent who has to provide such coverage. The court can order an adjustment to the base support when necessary to cover costs of health insurance. (Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § IV.1 (2022).)
The court will also determine the parents' responsibility for paying uninsured and unreimbursed medical expenses.
Courts presume that the amounts listed in the current Child Support Charts are appropriate, but a judge who finds these amounts to be unfair 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. Under Arkansas law, the court should consider:
Judges must write in the order their reasons for deviating from the guidelines. (Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order 10, § II.2 (2022).)
Often, parents request child support as part of the process of filing for divorce in Arkansas. However, the issue of child support also comes up in situations where the parents never married. Children are entitled to support regardless of their parents' marital status.
Outside of a divorce proceeding, parents can apply to establish a child support order through the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).
Families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits or Medicaid benefits are automatically referred to OCSE and don't have to fill out an application.
OCSE can also help you locate an absent parent and establish paternity if necessary, and it's responsible for enforcing Arkansas child support orders.
Arkansas courts won't recognize an agreement between the parents to change the amount of child support—instead, you must get court approval to modify your child support order. Courts don't modify child support orders lightly; there must be a material change of circumstances that makes it in the child's best interest to modify the order.
Most often, parents request a modification of child support due to a change in financial circumstances. A change of either parent's income—either up or down—by 20% is considered a material change of circumstances that would warrant a review of the child support order.
Even if there's no material change in your circumstances, you can petition for an adjustment to the order once every three years.
(Ark. Code § 9-14-107 (2022).)
Child support is paid through the Arkansas Child Support Clearinghouse, a division of the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement. The clearinghouse receives, records, and disburses child support payments. You might hear the clearinghouse referred to as the "state disbursement unit" or the "SDU."
Most Arkansas child support orders require your employer to automatically withhold (and pay on your behalf) child support payments from your paycheck. If you're self-employed or don't have an employer, you can choose one of the following methods to pay child support in Arkansas:
You can receive your child support payments either through a prepaid card or direct deposit. Payments are received by the clearinghouse and sent out within two days of receipt.
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. (Ark. Code § 9-14-237 (2022).)
A child support obligation may continue longer if a child is disabled and not capable of self-support.