If you have children and you're facing divorce, count yourself lucky if you live in Arizona. The state's statutory child support guidelines address a wide variety of circumstances, so few issues are left to chance. This can cut down on disputes between you and your spouse. The law does allow judges to deviate from the statutory guidelines, but certain rules regulate this as well.
Federally Mandated Guidelines
In 1984, the federal government mandated that all states implement child support guidelines. Each state has the right to elect a model or formula for calculating support and each state can apply its own rules regarding how long support lasts, how it's collected and account for special circumstances. The majority of states – including Arizona – employ the income shares model. Another 10 states and the District of Columbia use a simpler formula based only on the noncustodial parent's income, known as the percentage of income model. Three states use a more complicated version of the income shares formula, called the Melson model.
Arizona's Income Shares Model
The income shares model works on the premise that children should enjoy the same benefits post-divorce as they would have if their parents had remained married. First, the court adds both parents incomes together; then it calculates what percentage of this total amount each parent must contribute to the costs of raising the children. The percentages are based on what each parent contributes to the total income. For example, if parents' combined income is $3,200 a month, and if one parent earns $2,400 of that and the other earns $800, the first parent would contribute 75 percent toward the costs of the children's care and the other would contribute 25 percent. Arizona courts do not typically include overtime in a parent's income unless consistent overtime was a factor during the marriage. If a parent also supports children from another relationship, Arizona's statutory formula deducts this from his income. Arizona law allows judges to increase child support by 10 percent for children older than 12 because the costs of supporting teenagers are greater.
Child Support Add-Ons
Federal law also requires that each state's child support guidelines address issues of health care. Some states calculate health care as part of the child support amount; others add these costs to the basic support figure. Arizona does the latter, apportioning the cost of either health care or health insurance premiums between parents according to the same percentages they contribute to their combined incomes. The state also allows judges to add on costs of child care and special or extraordinary education needs, particularly if parents agree that such schooling is necessary. Arizona's statutes also address travel costs for parenting time. The court will divide travel expenses between parents if children must travel 100 miles or more each way.
Arizona law allows judges to deviate from the income shares guidelines in unusual circumstances. If a judge does so, however, the statutes obligate him to explain in writing how he arrived at his decision and the factors he took into consideration. All deviations must be in the best interests of the child. The law doesn't allow the court to tweak support to benefit either parent at the child's expense.