Financial circumstances are rarely guaranteed; for many, they can change often and quite drastically. Most people don’t understand how or when they are eligible to modify child support orders to reflect the change in finances, which can end up costing you money and stress down the road. We here at the Weingart Family Law Firm have put together a general 5 step guide to understanding child support modification in Arizona. Please remember that every circumstance is different; our family lawyer recommends speaking with a child custody lawyer to understand your options.
Tips for Modifying Child Support in Arizona
Step 1: When Can You Modify Child Support Orders
No one pays attention to either parent’s financial situation throughout a child support order. It falls upon you or the other party to file for any changes in financial circumstances, regardless of whose income changes. You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. This includes modifications to your child support. If there has been a significant decrease in your income or a significant increase in the other party’s income, you may be eligible for a child support modification. The court holds both parties responsible for reporting a change in finances, so don’t just sit back and expect things to happen automatically.
Step 2: Time Is Of The Essence
If a change in income happens to either party, you must file for child support modifications. Usually, modifications made to child support will only be applicable after the date the modification is filed. So if you lose your job on August 1st but don’t file paperwork for a modification till September 1st, the changes to child support will only go back to September 1st, not when you lost your job. Of course, there are always exceptions for extenuating circumstances that courts will consider; the Weingart Family Law Firm offers FREE 30-minute consultations to help you know all your options.
If another party is making more money, it might be beneficial to wait to establish a consistent income stream.
Step 3: Establish Court Orders
Finding common ground between the parties will always help save you some money (see our blog on How A Little Civility Can Save You A Lot Of Money); however, without court orders, any modifications to child support between parties can be considered invalid. This can land you in contempt of court if, for some reason, the other party disagrees with the changes made or “forgot” any changes to payment amounts. Child support modifications are not always binding. If a judge finds that the agreed-upon number does not provide enough support to the minor child, the court may disregard that. Never assume that a modification or stipulation is binding until a judge signs it and is adopted as a court order. Otherwise, the last child support order is technically the ruling order. Protect yourself. Otherwise, you could wind up in an even worse situation than before.
Step 4: Manage Your Records
Adjustments to income, changes to job status, unexpected expenses. Keep a record of anything and everything that could pertain to your finances. When filing for a motion to modify child support orders, the Court and the opposing party/ opposing attorney will ask for documentation; without it, there is very little chance any changes will be made. The same goes for keeping a record of all child support payments made before or after any changes. It’s especially important to note that you should never make a child support payment in cash unless receiving a signed receipt from the other party, preferably notarized. At any point, the receiving party may deny payments were made, and it is your responsibility to provide documentation of that payment otherwise, again, you may find yourself in contempt of court for not paying child support. Keeping records of everything ensures that you can prove any changes to your financial circumstance and that payments are made on time. For this reason, our Phoenix divorce lawyer suggests that all payments be made by income withholding order which will go through the clearinghouse.
Step 5: Child Support After the Children Reach 18
Arizona Law specifies that a child may still be the subject of an enforceable child support obligation if the child is still in high school when the child turns eighteen (18). Therefore the paying parent may have to continue paying child support until the child (now adult) graduates from high school. The other circumstance is if a child has a disability that will require a parent to care for the adult child. For more information on child support, please see Arizona Revised Statutes §25-320.
Step 6: Consult With An Attorney
Child Support is not a matter to be taken lightly; it’s something that will affect you for years to come. Even when finances are tight, it’s still advised to consult with an Arizona child support lawyer before going to court. Don’t leave things to chance when there are people who can help you. The Weingart Family Law Firm offers FREE 30-minute consultations to help see if you have a case or not.