Child Support, Support Enforcement and Custody

 Child Support

Parents have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their children. When the child’s parents do not live together, a court can order the non custodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent. This is not the only scenario in which child support might arise. Less frequently, when neither parent has custody, the court may order them to pay child support to a third party who cares for their child. No matter what situation gives rise to the need for child support, it might help to think of the legal right to child support as being possessed by a child (which it technically is), for his or her proper care and upbringing, regardless of who actually receives child support payments.

Under Arizona laws, the amount of child support is determined by a formula know as the Arizona Child Support Guidelines Formula. Child support orders are issued by the family court judge, who bases the amount of the support on the state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of support that must be paid, based largely on the parent’s gross monthly income and the number of children they have. The formula also considers gross monthly income of the parents, children from other relationships, non custodial parenting time with the children and certain expenses related to the children such as insurances, day care and some educational expenses.

The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons for doing so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not itself justify deviation from the guidelines, because under the law children have the right to benefit from both parents incomes. Child support can be increased if there is a substantial change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer's income or the cost of living, a decrease in the custodial parent's income, or an increase in the child's needs. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.

 Support Enforcement

If the Pinal County Attorney, Child Support Division, is assisting you with establishing paternity and child support, modification of child support or enforcement of child support, your case may be assigned a Support Enforcement (“SE”) case number. SE cases are assigned to the Family Law Commissioner. SE cases are limited in nature. Only issues relating to paternity and child support will be addressed by the Court. The Court may take testimony as to the parenting time of the non-custodial parent. The Court addresses this issue solely for determining how the non-custodial parent’s time with the child affects his/her child support obligation. The Court will not hear evidence regarding custody. However, the Family Law Commissioner does have the authority to refer the parties to Conciliation Services in order for the parties’ to resolve their custody and parenting time issues without further Court intervention.

 Child Custody

When parents divorce, the divorce decree will specify with whom the divorcing couple's children will live (and circumstances under which the other parent will visit with the children). Often, parents work out these arrangements between themselves, either completely voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator. When they are unable to reach a decision, however, or when unmarried parents are unable to agree on who will have custody of their child, the court will make a decision based on the child's best interests.

In a marriage dissolution case involving children or a case involving child custody, the Court must determine ”legal custody” of the children. “Legal custody” establishes which parent has the authority to make major life decisions for the child. The Court may order “joint legal custody”, in which case the parents share custody and neither parent’s rights are superior. Alternatively, the Court may order “sole legal custody”, which means that one parent has “legal custody”.

In addition to determining “legal custody”, the Court will also determine “parenting time.” Parenting time means the condition under which a parent has the right to have child physically placed with the parent and the right and responsibility to make, during that placement, routine daily decisions regarding the child’s care consistent with the major decisions made by a person having “legal custody”. The parent who has the child with them the majority of the time is known as the “primary physical custodian.” If the Court orders the parties to share equal parenting time with the child, then it are known as “joint physical custody.” If each parent has the child in their primary physical custody, it is known as “split custody.”

In awarding custody, the Court is required to consider all relevant factors. The overriding consideration, however, is always the best interest of the child.

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