Thursday, 14 April 2016 16:24

Miscellaneous Child Support Issues: Overpayment, Automatic Modification, and Imputing Part-time Income to Full-time Income

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The Arizona Court of Appeals has recently issued some decisions regarding a few miscellaneous child support issues.  These cases include a parent attempting to recover an overpayment of child support, a court that modified child support after it modified parenting time even though neither party asked the court to modify child support, and a parent who worked part time at an hourly rate who had full-time income attributed to her at the same hourly rate as her part-time income.

In the first case, the children’s father overpaid child support because the mother started receiving SSI on behalf of one child.  Meanwhile, the oldest child emancipated.  The father waited one year to terminate child support.  The father argued that his child support obligation should end because one child had emancipated and the other child received SSI.  He also argued that the mother should pay back the overpayment caused by her receipt of SSI.  The court denied the request for reimbursement because the father had waited so long to terminate child support, it was within the court’s discretion to not order reimbursement, and Arizona law precludes a retroactive reimbursement (meaning that an order for reimbursement under these circumstances would amount to a retroactive child support modification, which Arizona law does not allow).

In the second case, the mother asked the court to modify joint legal decision making regarding school choice.  The father filed a counter-petition seeking equal parenting time.  Neither parent asked the court to modify child support.  The trial court granted the father’s request for equal parenting time and modified child support accordingly.  The mother appealed.  The Court of Appeals ruled that Arizona law requires the Family Court to enter a child support order pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines every time it enters a parenting time order.  Therefore, every time a court modifies parenting time, the court must also address child support, even when neither party has asked the court to do so.  This reminds me of a case I handled several years ago.  In that case, the opposing party had asked to modify parenting time to decrease my client’s time with the child.  Her petition backfired because the court ended up increasing my client’s parenting time.  The judge then proceeded to modify child support.  When the opposing party objected that she had not asked for a child support modification, the judge said that modification of parenting time and modification of child support go together, like peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, and chips and dip.

In the third case, the mother, whom the court had ordered to pay child support, lost her job due to "performance issues" in 2007 and remained unemployed until 2013.  In 2013, she began to work part-time for $11.60 per hour.  In calculating child support, the trial court used $11.60 per hour and 40 hours per week for the mother’s income.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had implicitly found that the mother had not provided any reasonable basis for not having full-time employment.  The only evidence that she had offered was her statements, which the trial court could accept or reject.

As you can see, not every issue in a child support matter is so easy to resolve.

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