It’s a New Year with New Child Support Guidelines

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The Arizona Child Support Guidelines are updated every four years and the 2022 updated Guidelines took effect January 1, 2022. Below is a summary of the key changes that may impact all currently pending child support cases and new cases moving forward, including an updated Child Support Worksheet that may change the amount of a previously ordered child support obligation. The updates also include numerous stylistic changes, reorganization of sections, updated examples, and changes in terminology that do not impact the child support obligation and therefore are not included in this summary.

I. Child Support Income

The court determines the Child Support Income, previously gross income of each parent in the calculation for child support. For clarity, the Child Support Income attributed to each parent for the child support calculation now expressly includes military income including military pay, disability benefits, housing, allowances, and any other continuing or recurring military entitlements.

The prior Guidelines discouraged non-continuing or non-recurring income, such as a one-time payment from grandparents or a one-off house remodel, from being included as Child Support Income. The updated Guidelines now make it discretionary for the court to consider whether this type of income will be included as Child Support Income and the Guidelines encourage the courts to average out the income if it is received over periods exceeding one year.

The updated Guidelines expressly excludes Child Support Income from any government or public assistance received for a child, such as adoption or child disability subsidies. The Guidelines also exclude from Child Support Income any income historically earned from working overtime while the family was intact, so that now a parent can choose to have a reduced income to have more time to meaningfully interact with the child without the pressure of having to continue working overtime.

II. Adjusted Child Support Income

The prior Guidelines provided that Child Support Income could be adjusted to deduct payments for spousal maintenance, including those from prior marriages. The updated Guidelines provide that only spousal maintenance payments made to the other parent listed on the Child Support Worksheet will be deducted to adjust the amount of Child Support Income, thereby excluding any spousal maintenance payment adjustments from prior marriages or relationships.

However, some spousal maintenance deductions from Child Support Income can be adjusted up to account for taxes. Spousal maintenance payments made from orders entered on or after January 1, 2019, are no longer tax-deductible. The spousal maintenance amount credited for the adjustment can be increased to account for taxes paid on spousal maintenance payments (i.e. $1,250 is credited for a parent paying 20% taxes and a spousal maintenance payment of $1,000 to the other parent) so long as the payment is made from taxable income.

If a parent is the primary residential parent of natural or adopted children not in common with the other parent on the Child Support Worksheet, a simplified application of the Guidelines is used (automatically adjusted on the Child Support Worksheet) to reduce the Child Support Income. A parent exercising equal parenting time with natural or adopted children not in common with the other parent on the Child Support Worksheet can use the higher amount of either the simplified application of the Guidelines or the amount of the child support obligation to reduce the Child Support Income. However, if after applying such reductions it results in no child support obligation, the reductions should be adjusted so that each child is receiving an equitable amount of support.

III. Basic Combined Child Support Obligation

The predetermined amount of basic child support was increased based on new economic data to reflect inflation and the increased cost of living. The Guidelines take the adjusted combined Child Support Income of the parents to reach a basic combined child support obligation that the parents would share for the child if the parents were still living together. The adjusted combined Child Support Income was capped at $20,000 under prior Guidelines, but was updated to a maximum of $30,000 combined Child Support Income per month; therefore, parents earning a combined Child Support Income of more than $30,000 per month will have the same basic child support obligation as those earning $30,000 in combined Child Support Income unless the court finds, upon request of a parent, it is in the best interests of the children to raise the basic child support amount.

IV. Total Combined Child Support Obligation

The basic combined child support obligation can be adjusted upward to account for costs paid by a parent exceeding basic obligations for a child such as medical, dental, and vision insurance costs for a child. If medical, dental, or vision insurance for the child is provided by a step-parent or domestic partner instead of the parent, the parent can now receive an adjustment for the amount paid by the step-parent or domestic partner even though not paid directly by the parent listed on the Child Support Worksheet.

V. Parenting Time Adjustment

The amount of the child support obligation is adjusted by the parenting time amount exercised by the parent with lesser parenting time. The updated Guidelines use one simplified chart to count the days of parenting time of the parent with lesser parenting time and provide a parenting time adjustment for the child support calculation. The multiplier used for the parenting time adjustments was updated, impacting the child support amount.

VI. Deviation

The deviation requirements have not changed, but the updated Guidelines did clarify what does and does not constitute grounds for a deviation from the child support obligations generated by the Child Support Worksheets. For example, a deviation may be appropriate when a significant disparity of income exists between the parents or when one parent is covering significant child expenses. However, a deviation is not appropriate when rounding on the Child Support Worksheet or changing the guideline adjustments, such as for Child Support Income.

VII. Tax Benefits

There are tax benefits related to children, such as claiming the child tax credit, additional child tax credit, and child and dependent care credit. The parties can reach an agreement on which parent will claim the tax benefits each year, or the court will make that determination in proportion to the Child Support Income of the parents. Under the prior Guidelines, if a parent stopped paying child support the court could deny that parent the right to present or future tax benefits. The new Guidelines provide that even in such cases a parent could demonstrate changed circumstances and the likelihood of paying future support to continue receiving tax benefits. Otherwise, the tax benefits are forfeited and the other parent can claim the tax benefit for that year. This may give rise to disputes between the parents regarding entitlement to the tax benefit.

If the tax benefit is disputed, the new Guidelines provide that the parents must communicate in writing to attempt to resolve the issue by no later than January 20th of the following year. If no agreements are reached (as confirmed in writing), by no later than January 30th, the parent receiving child support must provide written notice to the other parent detailing the amount of unpaid child support, the amount of paid child support, and the intent to pursue the tax benefit. The parent paying child support then has 20 days from the date of the written notice to file an enforcement action and request a hearing. If the enforcement action is not timely filed, the tax benefit is confirmed to the parent receiving child support. If an enforcement action is timely filed, the court will either affirm the prior order on tax benefits if the unpaid child support is nominal or will issue an order to appear for the hearing if the unpaid child support amount is not nominal. The burden of proof is on the parent who pays child support to establish entitlement to the tax benefit. The court can award attorneys’ fees, costs, and other sanctions, such as the refiling of tax returns or reallocation of future tax benefits, for either parent acting unreasonably and/or ignoring this procedure.

VIII. Conclusion

To read the full 2022 Child Support Guidelines, they can be found at the following link: https://www.azcourts.gov/familylaw/Child-Support-Guidelines. The 2022 Child Support Calculator can be found here: https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/llrc/child-support-calculator/. For those with existing child support orders, a significant and continuing change in circumstance resulting in at least a 15% increase or decrease in support is still required to modify child support. The updating of the Guidelines and the child support calculator alone likely does not constitute a significant and continuing change in circumstance to warrant a modification of existing child support orders. However, it is best practice to consult with an attorney to address the unique circumstances of each case and the impact of the 2022 Child Support Guidelines on previously ordered child support obligations.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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