Child Support: Is that really all I get?
Imagine all of your dreams came true and you are getting married to a big named celebrity. His name is Leo. You and Leo decide to have a baby. We will call her Susie. Leo tells you not to worry about money, and insists you stay at home with Susie instead of working. Ten years flies by. During that time Leo, Susie, and you have traveled the world. You stayed at the most expensive resorts and always flew first class, if not in your private jet. Susie has been overly spoiled. You and Leo spent at least $50,000 a month on Susie. Susie got anything she wanted.
Unfortunately, you found out Leo was spending his so-called “filming time” in the Bahamas, on a yacht, with a bunch of 21 year olds. Fed up with his adulterous behavior, you decide to file for a divorce. You meet with an attorney and explain your story. You understand that Leo is a good dad, and want him to be involved equally with Susie. However, you are utterly terrified at how you are going to continue to financially take care of Susie once you are out on your own. You have not worked in over a decade. Even when you did work, you worked as a cocktail girl at a local dive bar. You never had the opportunity to go to school. You are now 45 and doubt you’ll be rehired as a cocktail girl. What are your options?
The first thing your attorney will tell you about is the Arizona Child Support Calculator. Child support is not just a magic number that you, the other parent, or the judge comes up with. Instead, child support is calculated using the Arizona Child Support Calculator. So what is this calculator, and how do you use it?
If you are representing yourself or you are just curious, you can access the Arizona Child Support Calculator online. You can click here to access the calculator. The calculator is going to require you to fill in a number of items. Some of these items include your income, the other parent’s income, the child’s age, parenting time arrangements, health insurance costs, and childcare costs. Once you enter in all of the required information, the calculator will generate the number for child support. This number will be the required amount that either you or the other parent will have to pay.
Lets pretend you were in the above situation, and are going through a divorce with Leo. The most important thing to you is ensuring that your daughter gets to continue living the same life with you, as she did when you and Leo were together. However, your attorney has some bad news for you. He informs you that there is a limit to how much child support you can get from Leo. In fact, by splitting the time you and Leo have Susie equally, the child support Leo will pay you comes out to only around $1,000. This is devastating news to you. You have no employment currently, and will not be able to continue doing the things with your daughter you used to be able to. Is there anything you can do?
Absolutely. There is a law in place that allows the judge to order the other parent to pay you more in child support than what the calculator suggests. However, this process is not simple, and it is usually in the judge’s discretion whether or not to award more child support.
Arizona created child support guidelines to explain how child support is calculated and what types of things the judge will consider in determining if he or she should award more child support than recommended. The guidelines state that the judge can award a higher amount of child support based on the following:
The Arizona Child Support Guidelines, Appendix paragraph 20 further provides:
- The court shall deviate from the guidelines, i.e., order child support in an amount different from that which is provided pursuant to these guidelines, after considering all relevant factors, including those set forth in Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-320, and applicable case law, only if all of the following criteria are met:
- Application of the guidelines is inappropriate or unjust in the particular case,
- The court has considered the best interests of the child in determining the amount of a deviation. A deviation that reduces the amount of child support paid is not, by itself, contrary to the best interests of the child,
- The court makes written findings regarding 1. and 2. above in the Child Support Order, Minute Entry or Child Support Worksheet,
- The court shows what the order would have been without the deviation, and
- The court shows what the order is after deviating
Now that information may seem overwhelming and very confusing. If you are not used to the law or reading legal definitions, it is not expected that you would understand it. So lets put it in a clearer language so you can understand how and why you should receive more in child support.
First, the court must look to see if the amount of child support you are awarded from the calculator is fair. For example, in the case where you were married to Leo, it would not be fair for you to receive only $1,000 per month in child support when Leo makes over $25 million in a month and you are unemployed.
Second, the calculated child support will not change if it is not in the best interests of the child. This would usually apply only in situations where someone was asking for a lower amount of child support. For example, if dad makes $10,000 per month and mom makes $1,000 per month, it would not realistically be in the child’s best interest for dad to pay mom $50 a month in child support.
The court has to make a written finding regarding the above. This means the court has to state why it is fair, unfair, and in the best interests of the child or not. Lastly, the court will have to state what the amount should have been, and what the new amount will be. They call this change in the amounts “deviation.” You will likely hear a judge say he is deviating upward (increasing child support) or deviating downward (decreasing child support).
Now keep in mind that if you are the parent asking the court to deviate the child support upward, you have to prove to the judge it is in the best interests of the child. The other parent does not have to prove anything, since they likely want they lowest amount of child support as possible. So what other things will the court look at if you are requesting an upward deviation?
The court will look at the following (remember you will have to prove these things to the judge):
- What types of benefits did the child have during the marriage? For example, did the child go on expensive vacations, indulge in expensive entertainment, live in a lavish house? In general, did the child have a high standard of living during the marriage?
- The financial resources and needs of the child. For example, can the child be financially supported with the amount of child support awarded?
- The financial resources of the parent receiving child support. In the situation with Leo, mom has little to no financial resources, as she has no income. This would be in her favor for a higher amount of child support. If mom is a doctor and makes a substantial income, this factor would rule against her.
- What would the standard of living be for the child if the parents remained together?
- The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs. A child who has historically been to a private school will likely require more expensive schooling in the future. Also, a child who has special needs may require more medical expenses.
- How much can the parent paying child support actually afford? In Leo’s case, the number should be quite high.
- Did one of the parents spend excessively or conceal funds during the marriage. For example, did Leo spend over 70% of community funds on the girls in the Bahamas? This would look poorly on Leo.
Once the judge evaluates each of those factors, he or she can make a determination if your child support will be higher or lower than what the calculator came up with. Thus, do not feel as though you will be stuck with a low amount. There are definitely ways for you to win this argument. Lets go through some Q’s and A’s you might have about this issue.
- Can I always request an upward deviation of child support?
At any time you are establishing child support for the first time or having it modified, you can ask for it to be deviated upward. However, keep in mind that you might not always qualify for the deviation.
- If the other parent and myself make similar incomes, is it likely the court will award me an upward deviation of child support?
Probably not. There would have to be a special circumstance. For example, if you and the other parent’s incomes are similar, but the other parent continues to receive a large inheritance every year, then you might be awarded an upward deviation.
- How do I get a downward deviation of child support?
It is extremely uncommon to be awarded a downward deviation of child support without an agreement between you and the other parent. You would have to show that it is in the best interests of the minor child. It is very unlikely that the court will find it to be in the best interests of the child to receive less child support without some agreement between the parents.
- What if I don’t agree with the child support calculation?
With the exception of above, you don’t have much leverage unless you can negotiate with the other parent. Usually, the court is pretty strict on the amount.
- This child support stuff is so confusing to me, and I need help, what should I do?
You should consult with an attorney. An attorney will be more familiar with the law and help you in attempting to obtain a child support deviation.