In Arizona, parents have a legal obligation to provide basic support to their children. Typically, the parent in whose home the children reside most of the time receives child support from the other parent. Arizona courts typically base child support on a formula that includes each parent’s income, the time the children spend in each home, the number and age of children, the cost of medical/dental/vision insurance, and the cost of child care. The court will not scrutinize how parents spend the child support money.
So when does the obligation to pay child support to the other parent end? Keep in mind that child support is a separate issue and the obligation to pay it does not end because the other parent has violated another court order, such as a parenting time order. Typically, the obligation to pay child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 years and has graduated from high school. For example, if a child turns 18 years old in December of his senior year of high school and graduates in May of the following year, the obligation to pay child support will end after May (the month the child graduates). For a further example, if a child graduates from high school in May and turns 18 years old the following September, the obligation to pay child support will end after September (the month the child turns 18). Does this mean that if a child never graduates from high school, the obligation to pay child support never ends? No. If a child does not graduate from high school the obligation to pay child support ends after the child turns 19 years old. Please also note that the final month of child support is for the entire month - the parent paying child support does not get a pro-rated discount when a child graduates or has a birthday in the middle of the month. For example, an 18-year-old child graduates from high school on May 21. The parent paying child support still has to pay the entire child support amount for the month of May. Finally, in rare cases Arizona courts will order a parent to pay child support beyond graduation from high school, the 18th birthday, and the 19th birthday. Arizona courts will do this in cases involving a child with a disability severe enough that the child will be unable to live independently and be self-supporting and if the child’s disability began before the age of majority.
What are some examples of when the child support obligation does not end? One example is when the other parent violates the parenting time order and withholds the children. Another example is when the Arizona juvenile court severs parental rights. Many people think they can avoid their child support obligation by getting the court to sever their parental rights. However, the obligation to pay child support does not end with severance of parental rights. It does, however, end with a subsequent adoption of the child. Also, child support does not automatically change when one child emancipates but other children are still under the age of 18 years. For example, a father pays $500 per month as child support for his two children. One child turns 18 years old and has graduated from high school. The child support amount does not automatically change to $250 per month. The father must still pay $500 per month until the court changes the child support order. This is because the number of children is only one factor among many that Arizona family courts use to calculate child support. In the example, the father must petition the court to reduce child support, but he should also consider other possible changes in circumstances, such as an increase in income or an increase in medical insurance premiums.
If you have a question about child support, or any other Arizona family law matter, please contact Thomas A. Morton, PLLC for a consultation.