In Arizona, child support is typically calculated pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines, which are reviewed by the Supreme Court every four years. The guidelines use an “income share” model intended to approximate each parent’s contribution to the children as if the parents were living together. Though the Arizona Child Support Guidelines are not substantive law, the formula is used nearly universally in family courts.
Calculating Gross Income
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines use the parents’ gross incomes from all sources, including but not limited to salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, recurring cash and non-cash gifts, spousal maintenance, trust distributions, annuities, capital gains, and withdrawals from retirement accounts. Seasonal or variable income is annualized.
**Note: The term “gross income” should not be confused with the tax definition. Some tax deductions, particularly self-employment or corporate tax deductions may be included as gross income for child support purposes if the deductions provide the parent with a personal benefit.
Unemployment; Overtime; Second Job
When a parent is unemployed or voluntarily underemployed, the family court may discretionarily attribute the parent’s earning capacity instead of using the parent’s actual income. As a result, most parents who are unemployed are attributed at least minimum wage unless the parent can prove disability or another compelling reason he or she should not be required to work.
Another good example of income attribution occurs when a parent has specialized education, training, or experience that enables the parent to obtain an income greater than he or she is currently earning. For example, if a credentialed physician voluntarily closed his or her practice to become a freelance graphic designer, the family court could discretionarily attribute the historical earning capacity as a doctor.
Generally speaking, income from working overtime or a second job should be excluded from the child support calculator. There are exceptions, however, when the parent historically worked the same schedule and earned comparable income or when the overtime is a mandatory condition of employment.
Certain credits and expenses must be included on the child support calculator.
• Spousal maintenance paid or received;
• Credit for other child support paid by either parent;
• Credit for other biological or adopted children; and
• Costs to insure the children subject to the child support order
Other credits or expenses may be discretionarily included. Some examples include the cost of childcare, private or special school tuition, and special needs of gifted or handicapped children.
Other than income, parenting time is the single most important factor in calculating child support in Arizona. The Arizona Child Support Guidelines credit a parent with parenting time because it is presumed that the parent supports the child during that time. In other words, the more parenting time a parent exercises, the lower his or her child support obligation will be.
Parenting time for partial days is credited as follows:
• Full Day: 12 or more hours
• Half Day: 6-11 hours
• Quarter Day: 3-5 hours
Periods of time less than three hours may constitute a quarter day if a parent is providing meals during that time.
When the distance between the parents’ homes exceeds 100 miles, the family court may allocate the travel expenses based on the parents’ behavior and their respective financial means. The travel expenses will not affect child support directly.
Non-cash gifts do not count as child support. In other words, clothing, school supplies, birthday or Christmas gifts, toys, etc, do not offset or negate a parent’s obligation to provide child support.