Arizona child support is determined pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Like most family court orders, child support is modifiable. Parents can use the same child support calculator that judges use to determine when it is appropriate to modify child support in Arizona. Child support can only be modified prospectively, meaning in the future after the date of the petition to modify, so it is important to take swift action when child support modification is appropriate.
When Can You Modify Child Support
Pursuant to A.R.S. § 25-503(E), a parent can modify child support in Arizona any time there are “substantial and continuing changes” to circumstances that affect the support order. Common examples of qualifying changes include emancipation of a child for whom support is owed; the birth or legal adoption of another child; changes to either parent’s income, parenting time, childcare costs, or the cost to provide health insurance for the children subject to the child support order. Generally speaking, any change that would increase or decrease the child support calculation by at least 15% is considered “substantial.” Whenever changes like this occur, a parent can file a petition to modify child support. Arizona family courts offer two ways to change support.
Simplified Process to Modify Child Support
The “simplified process” can be used to modify support or to assign to a parent the financial responsibility to provide medical insurance for the children. It requires a parent to file and serve onto the other party a verified petition where the filing party alleges change(s) that affect the obligation by at least 15%. If the responding party agrees with the child support worksheet, no further action is required for child support to be modified according to the petition. If the responding party objects to the worksheet, he or she must file a response within the appropriate timeframe (20 days if served within Arizona, 30 days if served outside of Arizona). Uniquely, the simplified petition does not require the filing party to pay a filing fee. The filing fee is paid by the responding party if he or she objects and requests a hearing. If a hearing is requested, the modification typically will be set for a family court conference and a subsequent evidentiary hearing, if the parties do not agree to modification at the conference. Child support modifications are frequently heard by commissioners rather than the family law judge assigned to the case. Usually, this enables the dispute to be resolved according to a quicker timeline than if the modification was heard by the judge. After the evidentiary hearing, the commissioner will issue a ruling.
The Standard Petition to Modify
The standard process is required for substantial and continuing changes that warrant child support modification but do not affect the obligation by at least 15%. It requires the filing party to pay a filing fee when the petition is filed. Once the petition is filed, an order to appear is issued and it is served along with the petition upon the opposing party who has 20 days to respond if served in Arizona or 30 days to respond if served outside of Arizona. If no response is filed, the filing party may ask for default judgment. If a response is filed, the parties will meet with a family court conference officer. If no agreement is reached, they will proceed to an evidentiary hearing where each parent will have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony related to the child support factors.
Evidence in Child Support Modifications
Evidence is critical for both parents in a contested child support modification. Both parties should complete affidavits of financial information and exchange the disclosures required by Rule 49(C). If a parent suspects the other is concealing income or exaggerating expenses to manipulate child support, additional discovery requests may be necessary. A litigant may need to obtain bank statements, credit card statements, loan applications, tax information and other financial records to prove the other parent’s income. Sometimes it is necessary to obtain this information by subpoena directly from an employer or financial institution to ensure complete and accurate disclosure. Similarly, if there is a dispute about a parent’s expenses, discovery requests may be necessary to obtain additional documentation or records to verify alleged expenses.
While it is entirely possible to successfully handle child support modification without an attorney, it is still beneficial to speak with an attorney, especially if you anticipate the other parent may try to misrepresent his or her financial situation. Our experienced family law attorneys offer free consultations.