New Arizona Child Support Guidelines

Illustration of children with back to school supplies

The new version of the Arizona Child Support Guidelines will become effective on January 1, 2022. The guidelines have been updated and reorganized, but retain the same basic structure as the previous version from 2018. This article will focus on significant changes between the 2018 and 2022 guidelines.

Section II.A: Determining Child Support Income

The definition of Child Support Income remains basically the same–broadly defined to include income from all sources before any deductions or withholdings. Seasonal or fluctuating income is annualized and the court may average fluctuating income over periods exceeding one year. Cash value is assigned to in-kind or other non-cash employment benefits. Income does not include benefits from means-tested public assistance programs.

Income from self-employment, rental, or proprietorship of a business remains unchanged. Self-employment income is defined as gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income.

NEW: Additional language was added to reflect that parents may work less overtime if it helps them spend more time with the children:

A parent who historically worked overtime when the family was intact may choose to reduce or not to work overtime hours to ensure the parent has meaningful interaction with the child during that parent’s parenting time.

The new guidelines also expand the definition of “extraordinary work regimen” to include “the parent’s relevant medical or personal circumstances.” This language did not appear in the old guidelines.

Unemployment or Underemployment

Both the old and new guidelines require the court to attribute income of at least full-time minimum wage, absent extraordinary circumstances. Full-time is now specifically defined as 40 hours per week; however, the court may consider fewer hours to be “full-time” if a person is earning more than minimum wage. For example, if a nurse works 32 hours per week as part of their regular schedule, the court should not attribute additional income up to 40 hours.

If a parent is unemployed or underemployed, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the court must consider the following factors which have been revised for clarity:

  • If involuntary, whether it is reasonable for that parent to find replacement income above actual earnings;
  • If voluntary with reasonable cause, whether the parent’s decision and its benefits outweigh the effect that the reduced income has on the child’s best interests;
  • If voluntary and without good cause, whether income attribution is appropriate; and
  • If the parent has the ability to find suitable work in the marketplace at a greater income based on the parent’s current educational level, training and experience, and physical capacity.

The court may decline to attribute income in certain cases, including but not limited to the following:

  • A parent is physically or mentally disabled;
  • A parent is engaged in reasonable career or occupational training to establish basic skills or that is reasonably calculated to enhance earning capacity;
  • Unusual emotional or physical needs of a natural or adopted child common to the parties if that child requires that parent’s presence in the home; or
  • A parent is the caretaker of a young child common to the parties and the cost of childcare is prohibitive.

NEW: The underlined language above is new in the 2022 guidelines. If a parent is caring for a young child or a child with special needs that is not common to the parties, they may still be attributed income. However, the court can still deviate the guideline amount under Section IX.

Section II.B: Adjustments to Child Support Income

Spousal Maintenance

Beginning January 1, 2019, spousal maintenance payments are no longer a tax-deductible expense for the payer and the recipient will no longer pay taxes on the payments. This change was not reflected in the old guidelines, which were issued in April 2018.

NEW: Under the 2022 guidelines, if a parent is paying non-deductible spousal maintenance (for orders entered after January 1, 2019), the spousal maintenance adjustment will be “grossed up” to reflect the gross income needed to pay the spousal maintenance amount. For example, if a parent is paying $1,000 per month for spousal maintenance and their tax rate is 20%, the adjustment to income would be $1,250 rather than $1,000.

Note that this only applies if a parent is using taxable income to pay spousal maintenance. If a parent is paying with non-taxable income–gifts, inheritance, certain veteran’s benefits–the adjustment shouldn’t be grossed up.

If the spousal maintenance award was entered before January 1, 2019, there is no change from the 2018 guidelines.

Other Children and Child Support Orders

If a parent is paying child support for a child not common to the parties, the child support amount is deducted from that parent’s Child Support Income. NEW: If the parent has not historically paid child support for the other child, they can now demonstrate changed circumstances, such as the issuance of an income withholding order, that they will pay child support in the future.

If a parent is the primary residential parent of a natural or adopted child not common to the parties, their Child Support Income is reduced based on a simplified application of the guidelines. NEW: The old guidelines differentiated between children covered by a court order and children not covered by a court order. The new guideline eliminate this distinction.

NEW: If a parent has essentially equal parenting time with a natural or adopted child not common to the parties, the court may either reduce Child Support Income by the amount of child support being paid or by a simplified application of the guidelines–whichever produces the higher amount.

NEW: If after adjusting for other children and applying the Self-Support Reserve Test, the child support amount determined under the guidelines results in no child support being paid, the adjustment for other children should be reduced to the extent necessary to ensure that all of the paying parent’s children are treated equitably (note, not equally). This provision is intended to avoid the inequitable result of one of the payer’s children receiving little or no support–but it may be confusing to apply in practice.

Section III.A: Basic Child Support Obligation

NEW: The Schedule of Basic Support Obligations has been increased across the board based on updated economic data. For example, the Basic Child Support Obligation for combined income of $10,000 per month was $1,181 for one child under the old guidelines and $1,274 under the new guidelines.

NEW: The maximum combined income has also been increased from $20,000 per month to $30,000 per month. This is bad news for parents with incomes over $20,000 per month. If the combined income is more than $30,000 per month, the court must determine whether a higher amount is in the child’s best interests. Under the old guidelines, the burden was on the party seeking the higher amount; the new guidelines remove that burden and replace it with a best interests test.

Medical Insurance Adjustment

The new guidelines clarify how the insurance adjustment is calculated if the insurance covers other dependents:

  • If the exact cost for the child is used (if the insurance covers the child only), use that amount.
  • If other family members are covered and there is sufficient information to calculate the cost of insuring the child, subtract the individual cost for the parent and divide the remaining amount by the other dependents covered.
  • If other family members are covered and the parent cannot provide a breakdown, then the total premium is divided by the number of dependents covered.

NEW: If a parent is assigned the obligation to provide insurance, that responsibility may be fulfilled by family coverage provided by a stepparent or domestic partner. In such a case, the court should include an adjustment for the stepparent’s cost. In the past, some judges have declined to include an adjustment for insurance provided by a stepparent.

NEW: The new guidelines specifically state that “[a] parent is not obligated to provide dental and vision insurance for a child.” If a parent does provide dental or vision coverage, those costs are included in the adjustment.

Section V: Adjustments for Parenting Time

NEW: Under the old guidelines, only time spent by a child with the non-custodial parent was considered, and did not include time that the child was in school or childcare. Under the new guidelines, parenting time is calculated based on the segments of time that are assigned to each parent. If exchanges occur at school or through a caregiver, the receiving parent’s time commences at the end of the school day or pick up from the caregiver.

For example, John drops the children off at school on Monday at 8:30 a.m. and Molly picks them up at 3 p.m. Molly has parenting time until Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. and John picks them up after school on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Molly has two days of parenting time in this example, from Monday at 3 p.m. until Wednesday at 3 p.m.

New Parenting Time Table

The Parenting Time Table has been adjusted. The adjustment percentage has been slightly reduced at the low end and slightly increased at the high end.

The alterative “Parenting Time Table B” has been removed entirely from the new guidelines. Under the old guidelines, Table B could be used if a parent could show that costs are not equally shared as parenting time approached equal time. Under the new guidelines, a parent will have to request a deviation.

Section IX: Deviations

The factors considered in deviating the guideline child support amount remain unchanged (best interests, inappropriate or unjust). However, the new guidelines provide specific examples where a deviation may be appropriate:

  • A significant disparity of income exists between the parents and each parent has significant parenting time;
  • The combined income exceeds $30,000 monthly and there is a significant disparity in income between the parents;
  • One parent is paying a disproportionate share of the child’s expenses and there is significant parenting time for each parent;
  • The parenting plan will require a parent to incur significant travel expenses related to parenting time and the cost thereof in combination with child support may impede the parent’s ability to exercise parenting time;
  • The payment of child support would compromise the parent’s ability to receive and afford out-of-pocket necessary and extraordinary health care or mental health services; or
  • Unusual emotional or physical needs of a natural or adopted child not common to the parties if that child requires that parent’s presence in the home.

It is not considered a deviation to round the guideline child support amount for ease of accounting or to reduce child support to zero if the guideline amount is less than the current clearinghouse fee.

Section X: The Child Support Order

NEW: A request for payment or reimbursement of uninsured or unreimbursed medical expenses must now include “date of service, name of provider, and a brief description of the goods or services rendered.”

The following provisions are not new to the 2022 guidelines, but a refresher may be helpful:

  • The final child support amount is always rounded to the nearest whole dollar;
  • If a parent receives benefits on behalf of a child such as Social Security Retirement and Disability Insurance, as a result of contributions made by the paying parent, those benefits may be credited against child support;
  • If the court attributes income above minimum wage, the court must explain the reasons for its decision; and
  • The court must order the parents to exchange financial information at least every 24 months.

Section XI: Tax Benefits for Minor Children

Both the old and new guidelines allow tax benefits to be allocated between parents proportionate to their income. With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the deduction for personal exemptions for children has been suspended through 2025.

Because of the changing tax landscape, the new guidelines simply state that tax benefits associated with children shall be allocated in proportion to income, with no specific directions on which benefits to divide.

NEW: If a parent has demonstrated a “historical pattern of non-payment of child support and unless changed circumstances demonstrate the parent will likely pay the order in the future such as through the issuance of an income withholding order, the court may deny that parent the right to present or future tax benefits.”

NEW: If one parent needs to release tax benefits to the other parent, the IRS Form 8332 must be signed no later than January 31 of the year immediately following the tax year.

NEW: Under the old and new guidelines, the court may condition the entitlement to tax benefits on the payment of child support. However, the new guidelines clarify that this only includes current child support and court-ordered arrearage payments, and does not include reimbursement for uninsured medical expenses or other child-related expenses.

NEW: For purposes of determining eligibility to claim tax benefits, interest is not included in the total amount of child support and arrearage payments due in a given tax year. If a parent pays the full amount of current support and court-ordered arrearage payments by the end of the year, irrespective of any interest that may have accrued, they may claim the benefit.

NEW: Procedure for Tax Disputes

If there is a dispute about which parent is entitled to claim the tax benefit for a given tax year, the new guidelines provide a specific procedure for parents to follow:

  • If there is an issue regarding allocation of tax benefits, the parents must communicate by no later than January 20 following the tax year and attempt to resolve the issue. The parties should confirm any agreement or failure to reach an agreement in writing.
  • If no agreement is reached, the parent receiving child support must notify the other parent in writing by no later than January 31, detailing the amount of child support that should have been paid and the purported shortfall.
  • If the paying parent objects, they have 20 calendar days from the date of the written notice to file an enforcement action. The petition must identify the facts that are in dispute and must include a Request for Hearing on this issue.
  • If the dollar amount of the shortfall is nominal, the court may affirm the prior order and allow the paying parent to claim the benefits.
  • If the dollar amount of the shortfall is not nominal, the court must set a timely hearing through an order to appear. The burden is on the paying parent.
  • If no enforcement petition is filed within the required 20 calendar days, the parent who receives child support is entitled to claim the tax benefit for that prior tax year only.
  • The court may award attorney’s fees under A.R.S. § 25-324 and may order other sanctions including costs associated with a parent having to file an amended tax return or a reallocation of future tax benefits.

Reorganization

The guidelines have been reorganized to mirror the steps of an actual child support calculation, which are:

  1. Section II.A | Determine the income of each parent: Income is now defined as Child Support Income rather than Gross Income or Adjusted Gross Income. This should reduce confusion because Child Support Income is often different than the Adjusted Gross Income listed on a parent’s tax return.
  2. Section II.B | Make adjustments to Child Support Income based on a parent’s other support obligations: A parent’s Child Support Income will be adjusted if they are paying or receiving spousal maintenance, paying child support for other children, or if they are the primary parent for another natural or adopted child.
  3. Section III.A | Determine the Basic Child Support Obligation: The Combined Adjusted Child Support Income of both parents will be used to determine the Basic Child Support Obligation, which reflects the monthly amount an intact household would spend on the children. The Schedule of Basic Support Obligations has been increased for the 2022 guidelines based on economic survey data.
  4. Section III.B | Make adjustments to the Basic Child Support Obligation for child-related costs: If a child is over the age of 12, the Basic Child Support Obligation is adjusted upward by 10%. Each parent will also receive credit for health insurance premiums, childcare costs, education expenses, and other extraordinary expenses for the children. After adjustments, the Basic Child Support Obligation becomes the Combined Child Support Obligation.
  5. Section IV | Allocate the Combined Child Support Obligation between the parents: The Combined Child Support Obligation (Step 5) is allocated between the parents in proportion to their Adjusted Child Support Income. For example, if the Combined Child Support Obligation is $1,000 and one parent earns 70% of the combined income, that parent’s share of the Combined Child Support Obligation will be $700.
  6. Section V | Reduce the non-custodial parent’s share of the Combined Child Support Obligation for costs associated with parenting time: The non-custodial or paying parent receives credit for parenting time they spend with the children. Multiply the Basic Child Support Obligation (Step 2) by the Parenting Time Table percentage to determine the amount of the reduction.
  7. Section VI | Determine the Presumptive Child Support Obligation: If a non-custodial parent is paying any of the child-related costs from Step 4, deduct those costs from that parent’s share of the Combined Child Support Obligation to determine the Presumptive Child Support Obligation.
  8. Section VIII | Apply the Self-Support Reserve Test: At lower income levels, child support is capped to ensure the paying parent is able to maintain at least a minimum standard of living. The Self-Support Reserve is equal to 80% of the monthly full-time earnings at the state minimum wage ($1,773.57 for 2022). In other words, if you work full-time minimum wage, you won’t pay more than $443.39 per month for child support.
  9. Section IX | Determine if a deviation is appropriate: A judge has discretion to deviate from the Presumptive Child Support Obligation in unusual circumstances, or by agreement of the parties.

Conclusion

Overall, the guidelines clarify and expand upon previous iterations. But they also introduce additional complexity and it may be difficult for self-represented parties to properly calculate support–especially in cases where when one parent is self-employed. The new guidelines refer to a “computer-based program” that will be used to calculate child support, but that program is not yet available.