Child Support Modification—A ‘How To’ Guide
In Arizona, the amount one pays in child support is determined by a standard calculator and application of A.R.S. 25-320 and its associated Guidelines. This “How-To” guide assumes there is already a child support order in effect that you are interested in changing.
The first step to any modification is to run the numbers. The following is a link to the calculator:
The calculator is a fillable PDF. Each blank space has an icon you can click to obtain more information on how to complete that area of the form. You can also reference the packet titled Child Support, Packet #8, available at the Pima County Superior Court Law Library and website. This packet provides step-by-step guidance for completion of the worksheet. If you are unsure about what qualifies as income for child support purposes, you should reference the statute and guidelines identified above or seek legal assistance.
How do I know if I qualify for a modification?
There must be at least a 15% change from the current child support amount or the parent who will be providing health insurance is changing. The court is looking for a showing of “a substantial and continuing change of circumstances.” These two events qualify as the substantial and continuing change of circumstances. The court will not modify child support unless the change of income is continuing.
How do I request the modification?
If you qualify based on the two events explained above, there are three ways in which you can modify your existing child support order.
- Simplified Method:
- This method is considered “simple” because unless the other party requests a hearing, your requests for modification can be granted without going to court. Unfortunately, the simplified petition is not a packet that is available in Pima County for self-represented parties, but there is a packet available on the Superior Court website in Maricopa County. If you use this packet, be sure to cross out the word “Maricopa” and put the correct county name.
- Follow the instructions for completion of this packet. The instructions are very thorough and multiple forms will be needed. Make the necessary copies before you file. When you file the documents, the clerk will take your originals. Then, the clerk will give you three stamped copies. These are your “conformed copies.” One conformed copy is sent to the judge, one conformed copy is for service on the other party, and one conformed copy is for your records.
- Serve the other party. See packet #10, Service on the other party. This step is very important. If you do not serve the other party correctly, your request cannot move forward. After service is complete the other parent gets 20 days, if served in Arizona, and 30 days, if served outside of Arizona, to request a hearing. If the other party doesn’t request a hearing, the judge will sign the blank order and amended income withholding order that you delivered to him or her, and the new orders will be filed and sent to child support for processing. You’re done and your child support is modified! **WARNING** You specified an effective date for your proposed change, but that doesn’t mean that child support and the employer who is processing the new Income Withholding Order will be able to put the new order in place by that date. It is up to you and the other party to make sure the clearinghouse receives the right amount while the order is processing.
- If the other party does request a hearing, then an Order to Appear will be issued by the assigned judge. Pick up the “Evidence Manual-Child Support” from the Pima County Superior Court (or online) and prepare the documents and testimony according to the instructions this packet provides. As always, if you have any questions, you should seek legal advice.
- Traditional Method:
- Pick up and complete Packet #24, Child Support Modification. This packet has all of the documents you must complete, including the Petition, the Child Support Affidavit, and the Order to Appear. Follow the instructions provided in the packet. This method differs from the simplified method because you must attend a hearing to modify the support amount.
- File the completed forms and make sure you have the correct number of copies as specified in the instructions.
- Deliver a copy of the conformed filing and blank order to appear to the assigned judge and wait for the judge to set a hearing date.
- Serve the other party with the petition and completed Order to Appear once you receive it back from the Judge.
- Pick up the “Evidence Manual-Child Support” from the Superior Court and prepare the documents and testimony according to the instructions this packet provides.
- Reach an Agreement:
- The two of you can reach an agreement to modify. The agreement must include (1) the amount of your current order and the date of when it was signed by the judge, (2) the amount you have agreed to along with a supporting child support worksheet, (3) a completed child support order, and (4) an Income Withholding Order. If you have agreed to a deviation (an amount different than the calculator) you would need to include language that explains why a deviation is appropriate in your case and why the deviation is in the best interests of the children. Unfortunately, again these forms are not available in Pima County. You may be able to use forms available from Maricopa County website (https://superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/llrc/fc_drmcs2/) but be sure to cross out any references to Maricopa and write in “Pima County.”
- Once complete, both parties need to sign the agreement in front of a notary and file it with the court. Once the judge receives and reviews it, he or she will sign your new order as long as it conforms with the law.
- It is best to have an attorney assist you with drafting the agreement as there is required legal language and limited forms available for your use.
A few pointers:
- Child support changes take a while to process. There are no guarantees that the child support office will process the new order by the effective date you requested (this is the date you want the new modified order to start). It will be up to the parties to make sure that any deficit is paid directly to the Child Support Clearinghouse in order to avoid an arrearage situation. If you do not receive an Order modifying your original child support before your proposed effective date, then the original Order is still in effect and you must make sure those original payments are being made.
- Do not wait to enforce child support arrearages. If there is a child support arrearage that needs to be paid, try to enforce it before your child turns 18. If your child is over 18, it is possible the judge may determine that the claim is now moot, meaning that the money is no longer necessary for support of that child and you will not be able to enforce payment of the child support arrearages.
- If you have remarried, your new spouse’s income does not count towards child support.
- If you have another child from a different relationship, that child should be included on the child support worksheet. Or, if you have orders to pay support for another child, and are actually paying the ordered amount, that child should be included on the child support worksheet.
- If you or the other parent are not working and are not disabled or caring for someone who is special needs, the judge will likely impute at least minimum wage regardless of the actual income. Impute means that the judge will pretend that you are working a full-time, minimum wage job. In Arizona, minimum wage is $12.00 per hour. So, the judge will pretend that you are making $480 for child support calculations.
- All costs for health insurance and child care are figured on a monthly basis. So, if you get paid twice a month and make payments towards health insurance from both paychecks, you must add these amounts together. The cost of health insurance should only be what is paid on the child’s behalf, not the cost of the entire policy if multiple family members are on the same policy. Also, if you pay more for child care in the summer, you will want to take an average of the child care payments so that the increased expense is accounted for in the calculation.
- If you do not have equal parenting time, you will want to make sure you count the parenting time for the other parent carefully. This must include vacation time and holiday time if not shared equally, in addition to regular parenting time. If you are arguing that the other parent does not use the time they have been given in the most recent court order concerning parenting time, you will have to modify using the traditional method.
- If the Attorney General was present, your case is considered “IV-D” and always will be. This means the state is involved in making sure child support is established and paid. In order to modify, you must also serve the Attorney General, and any attempt to modify by agreement must also be signed by the Attorney General.
Child Support is an area that is meant to be revisited as time goes by and as your circumstances change. Modification is often very straight forward, but legal assistance can help you streamline this process.
Family Law Legal Consulting offers unbundled services in the area of child support modification. After an initial consult, I will help you determine which method makes the most sense in your case. The fee associated will depend on the method required to modify.
FLAT RATE FEES FOR CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION:
- Simplified Child Support Modification: $375.00
- Traditional Modification (Hearing required): $500.00
- Modification by Agreement: $300.00
There are other costs which you would be responsible for, including your filing fee (as of April 2020, this is $89.00) and any service fees necessary in your particular case.
If you think it may be time to modify child support, call Family Law Legal Consulting today to set up a free consultation,(520) 304-1722.