Parties to a family law dispute and their lawyers often struggle with the quesiton of what is child support. For example, I once had to argue with a lawyer who tried to convince the court that meals out for the entire family (which included his client, his client's new spouse, his client's step-children, and the parties' other children) were support for the parties' disabled child and my client should therefore pay for them. Naturally, my client prevailed. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently issued a decision on a similar issue. In that case, the parties had previously divorced and had one child. Mother wanted to travel to Japan with the child to visit her family. Father objected that Mother was likely to not return from Japan with the child, Japanese courts would not enforce an order form an Arizona court, and Japan would not return the child because Japan is not a signatory to the parental kidnapping provisions of The Hague Convention. The trial court found Father's concerns credible and ordered that Mother not take the child to Japan. In attempting to fashion a creative remedy, the trial court ordered Father to purchase six round-trip airline tickets every three years so that Mother's family could visit the child in Arizona. Father appealed, arguing that the trial court did not have authority to make that order. Mother argued that the trial court had that authority under Arizona child support laws. The appellate court, in reversing the trial court's order regarding the travel expenses, held the following extended discussion on what expenses are support expenses.
The family court has only the authority provided by statute. Weaver v. Weaver, 131 Ariz. 586, 587, 643 P.2d 499, 500 (1982). Under A.R.S. § 25-320, the court may order a parent "to pay an amount reasonable and necessary for support of the child, without regard to marital misconduct." A.R.S. § 25-320(A) (Supp 2013).1 "Support" means "the provision of maintenance or subsistence." A.R.S. §§ 25-320(R)(5) (Supp. 2013), -500(9) (Supp. 2013). "Maintenance" has been defined as:
Sustenance; support; assistance; aid. The furnishing by one person to another, for his or her support, of the means of living, or food, clothing, shelter, etc., particularly where the legal relation of the parties is such that one is bound to support the other, . . .
Black’s Law Dictionary 953 (6th ed. 1990). It has elsewhere been defined as "means of support or subsistence; livelihood." Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 799 (2nd ed. 1999). "Subsistence" has been defined as "Support. Means of support, provisions, or that which procures provisions or livelihood," Black’s Law Dictionary 1428 (6th ed. 1990), and "the means of supporting life" or "the source from which food and other items necessary to exist are obtained," Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 1302 (2nd ed. 1999). In addition, we have previously interpreted the statutory definition of "support" as requiring a parent "to provide sufficient support to maintain a child at a reasonable subsistence level with food, shelter, clothing, medical care and the like." State v. Buhman, 181 Ariz. 52, 55, 887 P.2d 582, 85 (App. 1994) (interpreting former A.R.S. § 12-2451 (1998), the pertinent parts of which are now found at A.R.S. § 25-500 (Supp. 2013) and § 25-501 (Supp. 2013)).
Requiring Father to pay airfare for unspecified relatives of Mother to visit the Child every three years does not fall within the statutory definition of "support." The court made no determination that visits from Mother’s relatives were necessary for the Child’s welfare or in any way related to maintenance or subsistence.2 The court treated Mother’s request for the tickets as a remedy for restricting the Child’s travel. The travel restrictions imposed by the court, however, were based on what the court apparently found to be legitimate concerns that Mother would abscond with the Child to Japan, in which event Japan was unlikely to enforce the court’s orders. The court offered no reasoning as to its legal basis for the order to pay for the tickets or as to why Father should be obligated to bear the expense.
Mother also relies on the Guidelines, which provide that the court "may allocate travel expenses of the child associated with parenting time in cases where one-way travel exceeds 100 miles." Guidelines § 18. This provision does not support Mother’s position, however, because the travel expenses of Mother’s extended family are not "associated with parenting time." The plain language of the statute does not authorize the court to allocated expenses for travel for other purposes.
We conclude that neither A.R.S. § 25-320 nor the Guidelines authorize the family court, under these circumstances, to order Father to pay for Mother’s family’s round-trip tickets to visit the Child. Mother has cited no other authority in support of the ruling. We therefore vacate that portion of the family court’s order requiring Father to purchase the tickets.
Hopefully, this gives some insight into what travel expenses a trial court may order a parent to pay under Arizona's child support laws. However, this decision is not a published decision, which means that it is not legal authority and only controls that one case. If you have a question about child support, travel expenses, or other child-related expenses and child support, Thomas A. Morton can help you answer it.