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Arizona Poised to Radically Increase Child Support Payments
The State of Arizona is poised to implement radical changes to its child support guidelines. The result will be sharp increases in levels of child support most dads are required to pay. The result will also be further inducement for mothers to file for divorce, thus increasing the divorce rate. Put simply, it is the intention of the new guidelines to ignore the actual cost of raising children and focus on transferring income from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Because the new guidelines would mean such steep new obligations and because they frankly aim to transfer income from one parent to the other irrespective of the needs of the child, the process of amending the guidelines has been very hush-hush. There have been only two poorly publicized public hearings on the guidelines in the four years they've been under consideration. Although the state was poised to implement them, word leaked out, a challenge was made and a four-month grace period allowed in which to raise challenges to the new rules. That period will end this October. I've received a lot of email traffic about this, and, because the good folks in Arizona know more about the issue than I do, I've decided to publish one of the emails as the blog post below. It's written by a woman who prefers that her name not be used, but whose new husband stands to see his payments to his ex increase by over 76%. Here's what she told me. The premise of the new guidelines, which they are calling Child Outcome Based Support (COBS), is that the child should have a roughly equal standard of living in both the custodial parent and non custodial parent households. Sounds good, right? The new guidelines are based on a paper, published by Professor Ira Ellman, who is a voting member of the Child Support review committe. He and his wife published this some years back. It is a direct application of the American Law Institute child support principles. Professor Ellman was a member of ALI back when this theory was first put out, in 1998. The new COBS has nothing at all to do with the actual cost of the child; that is not even considered. All that is considered is the income of dad, the income of mom, and the disparity between the two. If Dad makes more, he is obligated to give a higher amount to mom so that the two earn closer to the same. They accomplish this by taking the gross income of the non custodial parent, and the gross income of the custodial parent. In situations where the custodial parent makes more than the noncustodial parent, support levels would go down, albeit slightly, but that is a small number of cases. In MOST cases, the noncustodial father is making more money than the custodial mother. That is true in every state but particularly ominous under these new guidelines. Under the new guidelines, in situations where Dad makes more ( 80% of all cases in Az), a larger portion of dad's income will be taken to move the income in both homes toward the middle. The more money dad makes and the less money mom makes , the higher the percentage of after-tax income will be required in support. This is directly in opposition to the current "Income Shares" system, used by many states, in which support is based on the marginal cost to add the child to the household. In Income Shares, the amount of support required as a percentage of income, goes DOWN, as the person paying support increases his income. The fact is, the more money someone makes, the lower the percentage of it that's required to provide for children. The theory is that the children suffer by having less in the custodial parent's home, and so the noncustodial parent should give her enough so that there is rough parity in both homes. Of course, by doing so, every person in the custodial home benefits, and every person in the noncustodial parent home suffers. The guidelines assume that every custodial parent is a single parent and the only income available is her earnings, and that the noncustodial is also single and not supporting anyone else. Arizona law does NOT allow the income of a new spouse to be added. They are considering a "may" clause, in which a new spouses contribution to living expenses can be added, but that's a "may" not a "shall," and open to interpretation by the judge. Also, adding in a spouse's contribution to rent , etc, only reduces the required payment by about 50 dollars for every 20k of income added - if you can even get the judge to agree to it. In situations in which there is a large disparity between dad's income and mom's, the new amounts are so large that they are obviously alimony in disguise. In fact, the Committee doesnt even attempt to sugar coat the fact that this amount will benefit everyone in mom's home and detract from everyone in dads. It's alimony without even the tax benefit of alimony. Its not deductible because it is supposedly child support. The following examples are directly from the current guidelines and from the new COBS calculator. I left parenting days out, since there is an adjustment in both systems (Income Shares and COBS) for that. However, as well as increasing support awards dramatically. COBS also cuts the credit for parenting days by about one third. For example, in a situation where mom is making $2,000 per month and dad is making $10,000, under the current Income Shares, the support payment would be 1215, divided 82/18. The support payment would be $996 per month (82% of 1215). For two children the payment would be 1500. Under the new COBS guidelines, the support payment would be $2,125 dollars. For two children, it would be $2,425. This is a link to the new Calculator, although all of this information and the theory behind it, are found at the Arizona Child Support review committee website. This site contains the methodology behind this new system, which dates back to the suggested reforms of the American Law institute, from over a decade ago. They were rejected at that time because equalizing standards of living was presumed to be against the intent of child support. The link to the Arizona Child support review committee page is http://www.azcourts.gov/cscommittees/ChildSupportGuidelinesReviewCommittee.aspx The link to the new calculator is http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/74/CSGRC/SIMPLIFIED%20COBS%20Calculator%20Locked%20Draft%204-6-10.xls As for the legality: The COBS was designed by Professor Ira Ellman, who is a member of the ALI and was one of the formulators years ago, of the standard of living equalization method of child support, which every state has rejected. His wife wrote the economic program. Both are voting members of the board who approved this. I am not sure if it is fully legal for someone to be able to vote on a system they designed. Professor Ellman is also personally benefiting by this; having been the keynote speaker for the Divorce Lawyers of America conference in May of 2010, in which the topic of his speech was the new AZ guidelines to equalize standards of living. (Keep in mind that these haven't had final approval and he is already being paid to speak of them.) There has only been one public hearing, for two hours, a week before it was due for final approval. It had been taken to the judiciary before anyone had even heard of it. It was approved by the AZ judiciary on March 25th, before anyone was informed, and then on June 4, they had another public hearing. It was then sent to the AZ judiciary for final approval on June 25th. People who found out about it after March 25, lobbied to have it delayed, and a final approval has now been delayed until October, since the court agreed that not enough public input had been received. The entire thing was under the table and very sneaky. If you look at the original work of the committee, it appeared they were going to just update the Income Shares model. They made a drastic tack in the direction of COBS after the updated Income shares was presented. No papers in AZ have picked up the story, despite repeated attempts. The governor's office is not returning any communication, nor is the judiciary. This still must be finally approved by the Supreme Court, but NO ONE out there knows about it, except for a very few. I can assure you, the average support-paying father here has no idea. Its been kept very hush hush. This will keep the courts in Arizona busy, and the lawyers employed for a very long time, since it will come as a shock to most fathers on January 1. The few that do know about it, have been trying to make a statement, but with only one public meeting before the Judicial final approval meeting, they have been blindsided. I was not present at the meeting on June 24 for final approval at the court, but from what has been told to me, the few that showed up were denigrated as being "fathers rights radicals", as if no sensible person would oppose this. I am not a member of a fathers rights group and I am horrified by the implications of this. I suspect most of the other fathers out there, going about their daily business, will also be shocked and appalled when this hits the fan. It has been a long-standing aim of the American Law Institute, to help solve the problem of poverty after divorce, for women and children, to take large amounts from the former husband to balance the income in both homes. They feel that is the best way to reduce child poverty etc. So far, they have been rejected in every state. It looks as if Arizona is going to be the first to follow their ideals, and if they succeed here, I suspect other states will follow. Fathers everywhere will find themselves punished for making more than their ex, and marginalized in the lives of their kids by financial disaster. Thank you for helping to find a way to wake people up before it is too late. If this happens here, its a matter of time before it happens elsewhere. If you want to express your opinion about the new guidelines, go here.