A child support order dictates financial support, and the parties named therein are obligated to abide. Child support is intended to ensure the children of divorced or separated parents are adequately provided for and nurtured. An appropriate child support order will see that parents meet all basic needs of the children and maintain a consistent standard of living, relevant to that experienced before the divorce.
What happens when a child support order is unfair or erroneous, or when one parent’s financial situation undergoes a drastic change? The fact is that no one should have an undue burden placed on their finances and families due to an unjust court order. Thankfully, there are avenues to appeal or modify a child support order, much like any other legal ruling. A qualified attorney can help you start the process of petitioning the court to reopen your case and recalculate child support.
Adjustment of Child Support through the Child Support Modification Court
A streamlined way to seek child support order modification in the State of Arizona is through the Child Support Modification Court. This is a special court division designed to process simple child support modification requests in a convenient, expedited manner.
The process begins with the filing of a Petition to Modify Child Support. The filing party must serve the other party notice, such as in a lawsuit or divorce, initiating a designated response period. The second party can either do nothing in this period or respond to request a hearing.
The responding party has 20 days to respond if they live within Arizona or 30 days if they are out of state. The parties will then receive an Order to Appear for a conference and subsequent evidentiary hearing.
Court-appointed officers will work with both parties during the conference to try to reach an agreement regarding an appropriate child support order. If an agreement is reached during these proceedings, it is finalized in writing and signed before the parties leave court.
If an agreement cannot be reached or if the matter remains partially unresolved, the parties will immediately move on to the evidentiary hearing. During an evidentiary hearing, the court’s Judicial Officer will issue a final order. Because the sessions are held back-to-back, with the order issued as part of the proceedings, the Child Support Modification court is typically a single-day process.
How Do You Appeal a Judge’s Decision in Family Court?
The process of appealing a ruling with a higher court is significantly different from the streamlined process of the Arizona Child Support Modification Court. An appeal, in the legal sense, occurs when you take a decision made by the court to a higher court and ask it to review or reopen the case.
Appeals for legal cases in the United States can theoretically travel all the way up to the level of the Supreme Court. However, each court may have specific limits and criteria for which appeal cases they will hear.
Relevant grounds for an appeal are usually related to the courts mishandling the case in some way. For example, if the initial court or judge failed to follow established laws and procedures, the case may be ripe for appeal. In some states, you must have also objected to the grounds upon which you are appealing during the original trial.
To begin the child support appeal process, it is important to work with a qualified attorney who can prepare the necessary documents and petition the correct court through proper channels.
Why Would a Child Support Case Be Dismissed?
There are only a select few reasons a child support case would ever be dismissed entirely. Here are some scenarios where this might be the case.
- Paternity is disproven in a court of law
- One of the parties (e.g., the child or non-custodial parent) is deceased
- The custodial parent is granted a request for no child support action to be taken
- The financial situation of one parent changes so drastically that court-ordered child support becomes irrelevant or not viable
If you believe your child support case should be eliminated due to one of these reasons, or some other extenuating circumstance, contact your attorney. A skilled attorney will follow up with the relevant court personnel or state agency.
Non-Payment and Wage Assignment
If a party who has been ordered by the court to pay child support does not remit their payments to the Arizona Department of Economic Security Support Payment Clearinghouse on the schedule mandated by the court, serious legal consequences may follow. Additional court appearances may be required, and recurring noncompliance can potentially lead to jail time.
If a payor has regular employment, non-payment is impossible, thanks to an automatic wage garnishment process in the State of Arizona. Garnishment occurs via a special family court legal instrument called Wage Assignment.
The issuance of a Wage Assignment (also called an Order of Assignment) is included as part of nearly every child support order in Arizona. It is a simple and automatic way for payments to get from a child support payor to their dependent child. While no one likes to have their wages garnished, the Wage Assignment system serves to make child support payments in Arizona quite painless and convenient for both payor and payee.
After the court issues a child support order and related orders, it will send a notice and the Wage Assignment paperwork to the payer’s employer. In addition to the courts, the state’s Child Support Enforcement Agency also has the power to order Wage Assignments for cases this office is overseeing.
The Wage Assignment directs the employer’s payroll department to automatically deduct the child support from the payor’s check every pay period and to remit that deduction directly to the state’s Support Payment Clearinghouse so that it can be processed, recorded, and disbursed.
Due to processing times between the courts and employers, a delay of as many as 30 days can be expected between the ordering and effective date of a Wage Assignment. In the interim, the payor is legally obligated to submit a payment to the Support Payment Clearinghouse itself. After the Order of Assignment is in effect, payments are automatic, and the payor no longer needs to do anything to remain in compliance with the order other than to keep their current job.
How Does Changing Jobs Impact Child Support?
When a court-ordered child support payor begins new employment, they are legally required to take several steps:
- Provide notice of the Assignment Order to their new employer
- Notify the Support Payment Clearinghouse as well as the superior Clerk of Court within ten days of starting the new job. This written notice must include all pertinent employer information, such as address and contact information.
- Make payments to the Support Payment Clearinghouse itself until the Wage Assignment for the new employer has gone into effect.
If one of the parents has a change in career that results in a major change in their income, it is wise to contact a lawyer to determine if they should initiate a petition to reopen and modify the child support order.
If the payor does not have steady traditional employment, they are still obligated to make the court-ordered payments. In this case, the Wage Assignment system cannot be leveraged. The payor must instead make their payments directly to the Support Payment Clearinghouse on the schedule mandated by the court.
Do My Child Support Obligations Change if My Ex Won’t Let Me See My Kids?
In short, no. Child support cannot be used punitively to force another party into compliance with a court order. Custody and visitation disputes, while certainly relevant, are separate from child support matters. Refusing to pay court-ordered child support is a crime, irrespective of any issues going on with parenting time and custody matters.
As mentioned, in most cases, child support payments are automatically processed through the Wage Assignment system. Therefore, withholding payments as a punitive measure or bargaining tactic will not be possible.
If your ex-spouse is not allowing you your court-ordered visitation time or refusing to share custody as per the court’s decision, your first step should be to consult with a lawyer. The exception is if you believe your children are in danger, in which case you should contact the proper authorities first.
Your family law attorney will know which court officers or enforcement agencies to contact to ensure that your rights under the law are upheld. In the meantime, continue paying child support as dictated by the court order.
Parents Worksheet and Child Support Calculator
The State of Arizona offers some online assistance for parents exploring the possibility of modifying their child support order. The Arizona Online Child Support Calculator and Parents Worksheet can help you determine what an appropriate child support payment looks like in your situation. If your child support order seems to deviate drastically from the estimate derived from the online calculator, it may be time to contact an attorney to request assistance with reopening your child support case.
The Language of Child Support Cases
The first step to defending yourself, your rights, your assets, and your children in a court of law is to hire a qualified attorney. The second step is to get informed regarding the child support process. Then, refer to this convenient list of child-support-adjacent legal terms as you expand your understanding of your rights, responsibilities, and options for legal recourse as a divorced parent.
- Arrearage (or “arrears”)—the amount of unpaid child support currently owed by the payor.
- ATLAS Number—a unique identifier number from the State of Arizona’s Child Support Enforcement Agency.
- Case Number—a unique identifier number from the local courts.
- Child Support Enforcement Agency—an agency within the State of Arizona’s Division of Child Support Enforcement. The CSEA is involved in locating parties, establishing paternity, enforcing rulings, and ensuring payments take place.
- Child Support Order—this is the official court order that outlines the parent that must remit child support to the other, in what amount, and how often.
- Child Support Modification Order—an official order from the court amending the original child support order. For example, a modification may increase the amount of child support after a change in a parent’s income.
- Custodial Parent—the parent with custody of a minor child the majority of the time, the child’s main caretaker.
- Non-custodial Parent—a parent who cares for their child a minority of the time, typically the parent who will pay child support.
- Payor—the party who pays child support, almost always the non-custodial parent.
- Payee—the party who receives child support payments on behalf of a minor, almost always the custodial parent or majority-time legal guardian.
- Support Payment Clearinghouse—an institution operated by the Arizona Department of Economic Security which receives, documents, and processes child support payments.
- Request to Stop or Modify—a special legal instrument your attorney can submit to the court to petition the authorities to alter or end a child support order.
- Termination Order—an official court that serves to inform all relevant parties that the child support order will not be enforced moving forward and that payments can cease.
- Wage Assignment—like a garnishment, a Wage Assignment is an order from the court to a child support payer’s employer that requires them to withdraw child support payments from their wages. Wage Assignment remits payment directly to the Department of Economic Security Support Payment Clearinghouse.
Get Help Modifying a Child Support Order in Arizona
The most crucial first step you can take towards modifying an unjust or inadequate child support order is to partner with a skilled legal team with a history of success navigating Arizona family courts.
The Valley Law Group is an esteemed Phoenix family law firm that applies our philosophy of professional integrity, client prioritization, and customized legal strategy to provide unparalleled Arizona child custody law services.
Please reach out anytime for a free consultation to see if we can help you with your legal needs.
Jonathan Roeder, Founder/Director of Marketing of The Valley Law Group, is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.