A child support order honors your son’s or daughter’s right to financial support from both legal parents. Arizona follows an “income shares” model that evaluates your combined income and child-related expenses. But occasions arise when that child support order deserves a change.
Modification may not be possible
Generally speaking, support orders are modified only when a “substantial and continuing” change in the family’s financial circumstances has occurred. It can be accomplished one of two ways: (1) a “simplified” (and much quicker) process when the financial change will alter the final order by at least 15 percent, which is automatically accepted as a “substantial and continuing” change; or (2) the normal litigation process for modifying child support.
Parents can argue over what is fair, but their personal opinions may not matter much
Federal law requires the use of firm guidelines approved by the Arizona Legislature. These guidelines closely resemble an algebra equation you might have encountered in middle school. You plug in various numbers (income, support of other children not common to the parties, health insurance premiums, day care, special needs costs, parenting time, etc.) and the calculator spits out a number.
That number is “presumptive.” In plain English, that means the court is going to use that number whether it makes the parents happy or not … unless they can convince the judge (by agreement or taking the case at trial) that their situation is so unusual it deserves special treatment. This is not easy, and rightfully so, since the whole point of mandatory guidelines is to treat people the same. (You would want to hire an attorney to construct a “deviation” argument.)
Even agreements may not carry the day
A lot of parents try to wheel and deal to reduce child support in return for other considerations. Sometimes those concessions are valid, and sometimes they are wholly inappropriate and disrespectful of the children’s independent financial interests. Just remember the judge isn’t interested in the parents’ personal wants, needs, convenience, or priorities. The judge will care if it appears either parent is trying to cheat their own child of fair financial assistance.
Legal guidance crucial in modification cases
These cases vary significantly in complexity. Some are simple, and may not require a lawyer’s help – especially if you are comfortable with Internet tools like the Arizona Supreme Court’s Child Support Calculator. But other disputes can feel like a maze in the pitch black – especially if one (or both) parties is lying about income or child-related expenses, or insists on a complicated parenting time schedule. In such cases, you may want to speak with an attorney.
Whether you or the other parent seeks support modification, it is important to prepare for the challenges we discussed in this post.