Child Custody and Support

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child-custody-support_86488427Child Custody and Child Support

At Daniel J. Siegel, P.C., we help parents through the difficult task of determining the important questions that they have about child support in Arizona. How much will I have to pay? How much will I receive? To learn about how child support is calculated in Arizona, contact Daniel J. Siegel, a Certified Specialist in Family Law and an experienced child support lawyer. You can call the office at 602-274-1099 or email at

How much will I receive in child support?

During your initial consultation, we can provide you with some calculations and estimates regarding what we believe you are entitled to receive (or will have to pay) for child support.

Whether you owe child support or are entitled to receive child support depends on a number of various factors. The two most critical factors in determining the child support amount are:

  1. The gross income for each parent
  2. The parenting time schedule for the child(ren)

The child support is based upon Arizona Statutes and written guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of Arizona, commonly referred to as the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. In addition to the gross incomes and parenting time, the court must consider other things, such as: childcare costs, medical and dental insurance for the children, daycare or school costs, the children’s ages, whether the children have special needs, and other factors described in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.

How is child support calculated in Arizona?

There are a number of factors the court will consider when determining the amount of child support to order in a divorce or paternity case. Some of the factors the court considers include:

  • Which parent has primary physical custody of the child
  • The gross income of each parent
  • Costs associated with day care and education
  • Who pays for the health and dental insurance costs for the child(ren)
  • The age of a child
  • Any special needs of a child

Is a Child Support Deviation Appropriate?

In some special circumstances the court has the discretion to award more or less child support than what the Arizona Child Support Guidelines would dictate. A deviation from the Arizona Child Support Guidelines is based upon the parties’ standard of living during the marriage and the amount of money available to support the child(ren) as well as other statutory factors.

How are child support payments made?

In Arizona, child support is paid via a wage assignment (similar to a garnishment). The child support amount is deducted straight from the payor’s check, generally one-half from each paycheck twice a month. The child support payments are then sent directly from the employer to:

Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE)
Support Payment Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 52107
Phoenix, AZ 85072-2107
(602) 506-3762

The Support Payment Clearinghouse records, processes and sends the payment to the payee at the address listed with the court.

Legal Decision-Making (Formerly Known as Child Custody) and Parenting Time (Visitation) in Arizona

Daniel J. Siegel provides experienced, quality representation in all types of custody cases.  We handle cases where the parties are married, when the parties were never married (paternity cases), and modification cases when one of the parties wants to change a prior court order. If you have questions about child custody or parenting time rights, call Daniel J. Siegel at 602-274-1099 to schedule an appointment.

What Are The Different Options For Parenting Time Of The Child(ren)?

There are several different options that a parent has regarding custody and parenting time. However, the focus for every judge will be what is in the child(ren)’s “best interest.”

If the parents can agree upon what is in the best interests of their child(ren), the Court will generally follow that agreement and adopt it as the order of the court. It is always a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney regarding the Custody and Parenting Plan Agreement to be sure that you have covered all the necessary issues and terms.

What Are The Different Types Of Legal Decision-Making Arrangements?

There are two different types of legal decision-making arrangements.

  • Sole Legal Decision-Making: This is when one of the parents makes all of the major decisions regarding the child(ren) (i.e. decisions regarding education, medical, religion and general welfare).
  • Joint Legal Decision-Making: This is when both parents have equal rights with regard to decision-making and the parents are supposed to co-parent and make major decisions together.

What is a “Parenting Conference”?

Under certain circumstances, the court may order a parenting conference. The Maricopa County Superior Court provides certain programs to assist the court in determining what is in the child(ren)’s best interests.

Generally, the first step in a parenting conference is for a mental health provider to meet with the parents and attempt to negotiate an agreement. If negotiations are unsuccessful, the mental health provider will interview the parents and may then interview the child(ren). The mental health provider may contact other persons that have a significant role in the child(ren)’s lives (i.e. teachers, doctors, etc.). The mental health provider will generally submit written recommendations regarding custody, parenting time and other matters to the court. In rare occasions the parenting conference ends without a recommendation and therefore is of limited use.

What is a “Custody Evaluation”?

Either parent may file a motion asking the court to order a custody evaluation. If the motion is granted, the court will appoint a private psychologist or mental health expert to make determinations and recommendations to the court regarding legal decision-making, parenting time and other parenting issues.

Private custody evaluations are significantly more involved than parenting conferences and limited family assessments. They take longer, are much more involved and subsequently more expensive. The mental health provider will usually get involved with such things as psychological testing of the parents. They will obtain documents from the parties and other sources (e.g., prior counseling records, criminal records, school records, etc.). They will interview the parties more often, and may interview the child(ren) and the parents with the child(ren). They may contact people involved with the child(ren).

What is a Limited Family Assessment?

Private mental health specialists have created a less expensive and more expedient process for providing an assessment applicable to the parenting issues involved in a case. Rather than conducting a full blown custody evaluation, that is often expensive and time-consuming, a limited family assessment may be an acceptable alternative. The parties to a limited family assessment agree in advance about the specific issues and categories that need to be addressed during the assessment. Accordingly, the mental health provider will then limit the assessment to only those topics that are directly relevant to the custody and parenting time issues as recognized in advance by the parties.

Can the Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time Orders Be Modified?

No legal decision-making or parenting time orders are set in stone. A parent can petition the court to modify legal decision-making or parenting time orders previously entered. A parent must wait one year after the last order was entered to change legal decision-making unless the child(ren) are or may be endangered physically or mentally, or unless the other parent has violated the previous order. This one-year requirement does not apply to minor changes in “parenting time”.

Either parent has the right to seek a modification of the existing legal decision-making and parenting time orders. If the parties agree to such a change, the court will generally adopt the terms of that agreement. It is recommended that the parent should consult with an attorney to make sure all necessary issues and terms are covered and included.

Can I Or The Other Parent Move With The Child(ren)?

Whether a parent can relocate with the children out-of-state, or even to the other side of town, depends upon whether such event is covered in the court’s order and/or what is in the best interests of the children. You should always consult with an attorney before moving with the children. You should always consult with an attorney if you think that the other parent is planning to move with the children and if such move may affect your rights or your parenting time.

Can A Child Decide Who They Want To Live With?

This is a very common question. In Arizona, a child’s wishes can always be considered, but is not the one and only deciding factor. Judges generally do not interview children although they have the ability and right to do so. Judges generally prefer that a mental health expert provides information regarding the child(ren)’s wishes. Judges will sometimes allow the parents to tell the judge what the children want, however, this is considered hearsay evidence and the judge may not allow such testimony if the other parent objects.

Daniel J. Siegel is an experienced family law attorney that can answer any questions you may have. Call 602-274-1099 to schedule a consultation.

What is Parenting Time?

This is the same thing as “visitation”. The courts now use the term “parenting time” instead of “visitation” or “access”. Such terms are generally interchangeable.

What Are The Guidelines for Parenting Time?

Maricopa County publishes certain guidelines regarding parenting time. These guidelines are not for everyone, nor do they state which parent (i.e. mother or father) should be considered the primary residential parent. In every case, the court decides custody and parenting time based on what is in the child(ren)’s best interests. Sometimes it is best that one of the parents is the primary residential parent. Sometimes it is best if the parties have equal time.

Arizona statutes provide that the court cannot base its legal decision-making and parenting time decision upon a parent’s gender (i.e. there is no presumption in favor of mothers or fathers>.

How Does The Court Determine Legal Decision-Making And Parenting Time?

Arizona has statutes that set forth specific factors that the court must consider in deciding what is in the best interests of the child(ren). There are other factors, which may not be written in the statutes, but may be important. These factors include but are not limited to the following:

  • Whether either of the parties have primarily provided the care for the children in the past.
  • What the parents want and why.
  • What the child(ren) want and why.
  • How the children get along with each of the parents and others.
  • How the children are doing in each household, and how they do in school and the community.
  • Whether the parents use appropriate discipline and reinforcement.
  • The mental health of each of the parents.
  • The mental health of the children.
  • The physical health of each of the parents.
  • The physical health of the children.
  • Whether the parents have any problems which effect the children’s best interests (for example: drug use, alcohol abuse, physical abuse of the children or the other parent, and criminal history in some cases).
  • Which parent is more likely to work well with the other parent regarding parenting time and other issues.
  • If psychologists or other mental health providers have been involved, the court will consider recommendations from such experts.
  • Whether one of the parties is attempting to alienate the children or is engaging in other inappropriate behavior.
  • Whether there are events or factors which may endanger the children.

What Is A Parenting Coordinator (PC) Or Family Court Advisor (FCA)?

A parenting coordinator is essentially the same things as a family court advisor.

A parenting coordinator (PC) is a mental health expert or other expert appointed by the court after the final custody and parenting time orders are entered. A PC meets with the parents and helps them resolve parenting issues that may arise from time to time. However, the PC is much more than a mediator. The PC also has the authority to make specific recommendations to the court regarding parenting issues. A PC can be a very valuable resource to assist parents that are struggling to effectively communicate or resolve issues on their own.

Model Parenting Time Plans

This publication is made available online by the Arizona Supreme Court. Its purpose is to help parents with their time management when raising children and it’s presented with the challenge of allocating time so that the children benefit. It is designed to elicit agreement from both parents and account for variations in circumstances.

This publication, recommended by Dan Siegel, was compiled by a statewide committee of attorneys, judicial officers and mental health providers. They consulted with nationally-known experts on child development and reviewed current research and guidelines from other communities.

This publication is presented by the Arizona Supreme Court, Administative Office of the Courts, Court Services Division and the Family Law Unit.

  • Model Parenting Time Plans
  • Why These Plans Are Necessary
  • Which Plans Should We Choose?
  • Suggested Time Plans for Parents

Click here for “Planning For Parenting Time.”
For more information about child support calculations, payments and arrears in Arizona, contact Daniel J. Siegel for an initial consultation.

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