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Child support can be a polarizing subject, especially when the conversation involves lowering child support payments. On the one hand, the child’s needs should always come first, and lowering child support payments will undoubtedly be to the child’s detriment.
However, a parent only has so much income at their disposal, and when there are multiple children who require support, it may be necessary to lower child support payments so that the other children can receive the financial support that they deserve.
If you are a party to a child support agreement and you have another child, the birth of your child doesn’t automatically affect the existing agreement. However, it may provide grounds to modify the agreement in court.
To do that, you’ll need to file a petition to modify the child support agreement and demonstrate that the existing agreement will prevent you from providing reasonable support to your new child.
Determining Child Support
When the court established your original child support agreement, they calculated the child support payments based on a variety of factors listed in the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. Chief among those factors are the child’s needs, both parents’ combined income, and each parent’s individual obligations to other biological or adopted children. If you had any other children at the time, the court should have already taken those obligations into account.
Note that in this calculation, the court considers each parent’s individual income, not their household income. If a parent remarries, the new spouse won’t inherit any responsibility for the child, and their income cannot be considered when calculating the child support payments. There are some states that do consider a spouse’s income or assets in limited circumstances (notably when the spouse is quite wealthy), but Arizona does not.
That calculus changes if you have a child with your new spouse. While your spouse’s income still doesn’t directly affect your existing child support agreement, the court will consider the spouse’s income in determining your combined ability to provide for the new child.
If your spouse has limited income and the existing child support order places an undue financial strain on the household, the court will likely modify the original child support agreement and lower the payments. However, if your spouse is wealthy or has substantial income that is able to cover the entirety of the new child’s financial support, your petition to modify the child support agreement will likely be denied.
Blended Families and Child Support
While the birth of a new child may serve as grounds to modify an existing child support agreement, taking responsibility for step-children through remarriage does not.
Providing financial support for a blended family may have an impact on how much income can be garnished from your paychecks for unpaid child support (we’ll discuss that shortly), but it would have no effect on your perceived ability to provide child support for your biological or adopted children. It’s not uncommon to see a non-custodial parent petition for modification of a child support agreement under the rationale of providing for a blended family, but such petitions are rarely granted.
How to Modify a Child Support Agreement
Child support agreements are intended to last until the child turns 18, or if the child is still in high school then until the child graduates or turns 19, whichever occurs first. The agreement itself is a legally binding contract. It’s difficult to modify, and it’s even more challenging to revoke.
That said, the law provides the court with some discretion to modify or revoke a child support agreement if at least one parent experiences “substantial and continuing” circumstances that warrant a change (ARS 25-503). The court must still place the needs of the child first, but this provides some leeway for the court to help a parent avoid financial devastation.
While there are a number of circumstances that could warrant modification of the agreement, some common situations include job loss, changes in income, substantial changes to a health insurance plan, incapacitation, disability, or new children (biological or adopted).
If your circumstances have changed substantially and the situation is expected to continue (having another child likely qualifies for both of those requirements), you’ll need to file a petition with the court to modify the child support agreement. After you file the petition, you’ll be required to serve a copy of the petition and summons to your former spouse, and file proof of notice with the court. Depending on the situation, the court may schedule a hearing for your case, or may allow the matter to be handled privately.
To successfully lower your child support payments, you’ll need to provide the court with evidence that the current child support order will prevent you from providing reasonable support to your new child. The court will also need to verify your household income (not just your individual income) and determine how much qualifies as “reasonable support” for your children.
If the court determines that you and your new spouse don’t have the means to provide reasonable support to your new child, the judge will likely modify the child support order and lower the payments so that both of your children receive a similar level of financial support. However, if the court believes you and your spouse have the means to support your new child without modifying the existing agreement, your petition will most likely be denied.
The Effect of Additional Children on Child Support Garnishment
If your child support payments are withheld by your employer and paid directly to the state (also known as wage withholding or garnishment), having another child may impact how much income can be garnished from your paychecks. In fact, this rule even applies to step-children, not just biological or adopted children.
Normally, the state can garnish up to 65% of your income to collect unpaid child support. Under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), that limit drops to 55% of your income if you’re financially responsible for providing for another family.
If you’re current on your payments and the income withholding is only to make current child support payments, the limit drops even further to 50% of your income. So, even if the court denies your petition to modify the child support agreement, having another child and supporting a family may still lower your child support payments by placing a cap on your wage withholdings.