When I sit down in a divorce consultation with a potential client looking to hire me as their divorce attorney, without a doubt the most frequent questions I get involve child-support. I think there is a very good reason for this. Divorce involves a lot of uncertainty in the future. Most of the uncertainty people face when going through a divorce is the financial well-being of their children and themselves. It is human nature for parents to want to do everything necessary to take care of their children.
While most people focus on the monetary aspect of child support, I believe child-support involves much more than just money. Child support should also include the obligation to make sure that a child’s emotional and psychological well-being is also being addressed. After all, divorce can be a very dramatic event for a child.
Financial child support in Gilbert Arizona is determined by following Arizona’s Child Support Guidelines. The Guidelines are reviewed and revised every few years and provide the framework through which the family law courts determine how much one parent should pay the other parent for the support of the parties’ children. The philosophy behind child-support is to even the playing field so that both parents are sharing the financial burden of raising and caring for their children. This usually means family law judges must look at a variety of factors that influence how much child support is paid before imposing a child support obligation on one parent.
Although there are several factors a court must consider when making a determination as to how much child support should be paid, without a doubt, there are two factors that weigh more heavily than all the others: the income of each parent and the amount of parenting time each parent exercises.
In Gilbert, the first step in determining a child support obligation is to determine what the income is for each of the parents. Arizona requires that each parent fill out an AFI (Affidavit of Financial Information). The AFI requires both parents to disclose their individual finances. This includes not only what their gross monthly income is (including all sources of income) but also their monthly budget for things such as food, insurance, etc. Each parent is required to attach their most recent pay stubs and tax returns as verification of their income. In some cases, such as those involving a non-working parent, the Guidelines require that a parent be assigned minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek for purposes of determining the child-support obligation.
The second major factor is the amount of parenting time each parent will have with the minor children. The amount of parenting time can be decided either through agreement by the parents or if the parties cannot agree, the court will determine the parenting plan following an evidentiary hearing. In most cases, the parent exercising the least amount of parenting time will pay child-support. Moreover, the less parenting time one parent has the more that parent typically pays in child support.
There are other factors that influence the amount of a child-support award. Things such as health insurance, dental and vision insurance, and day care expenses all influence the amount of the child-support award.
Gilbert Arizona law requires that all child-support awards be paid through the Support Clearinghouse via automatic wage assignment. This means that the parent obligated to pay child- support will have his or her wages garnished, typically twice per month, to satisfy the monthly child-support obligation. By making all payments to the Support Clearinghouse, the parent who receives child support is assured that he or she will get his or her child-support payment each month. In addition, the Support Clearinghouse tracks each and every child-support payment. This minimizes disputes regarding missed child-support payments. It is important to note that the parent obligated to pay child-support is responsible for making sure all payments are made to the Clearinghouse. Any payments not made through the Clearinghouse can be considered a gift under Arizona law. Failure to make child-support payments on a consistent and regular basis will result in an arrearage which accumulates interest at the statutory rate. Moreover, except in the most exceptional circumstances, child support arrearages are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. In other words, it is extremely difficult to avoid paying child support in Arizona. The obligation to pay child-support does not cease until after the last minor child turns 18 and graduates from high school.
Gilbert law recognizes that over time changes can occur in people’s lives that can impact the ability to pay child-support. Life changes such as: decrease in income, loss of employment, disability, etc. can all impact one’s ability to continue making child-support payments. As such, child support obligations can be modified so long as the parent seeking a modification can demonstrate to the court that a substantial and ongoing change of circumstance has occurred. In most cases, the obligation to pay child support will not be eliminated. Instead, the court can consider the changes in circumstances and adjust the child support obligation to fit within the Guidelines. This can include both increasing or decreasing the child-support obligation as the circumstances dictate. In any modification situation, the court must always consider whether the modification is in the best interest of the child or children.
Child-support is one of the most important issues in any divorce case. The legal team and lawyers at Jensen Law understand how important and stressful this issue can be. We are committed to aggressively pursuing effective and practical child-support solutions for our clients. Our philosophy is to make sure that you understand the child- support process in Arizona. It is our goal to passionately and compassionately make sure your most important asset, your children, are protected and have the support they need. Please contact us today for free consultation regarding your Arizona child-support issues.