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Spike in Modification Requests in Arizona
Child support modification requests are up in Arizona this year, largely a result of the economic recession. Requests are coming in from both custodial and non-custodial parents.
Child support modification requests are up 65 percent in Arizona this year compared to last, largely a result of the economic recession. The same forces that are pushing the child support modification requests are threatening the long-term financial stability of parents, with authorities increasingly tapping into retirement funds and unemployment benefits to avoid child support modifications.
The requests for child support modifications are coming in from both custodial parents, who lose jobs or suffer other financial hardships and want an increase, and non-custodial parents who, due to the same sorts of pressures, want their payment obligations decreased. Veronica Ragland, assistant director of the state's child support enforcement division, told azstarnet.com that in Pima and Santa Cruz counties alone, judges have signed off on 1,400 child support modifications this year.
To qualify for a child support modification, if three years haven't elapsed since the last order of support issued, the petitioner must show a substantial and continuing change of conditions that would result in a modification of 15 percent or more based on the Arizona Supreme Court child support guidelines. When a parent has suffered a substantial economic change in circumstances such as a job loss, such a demonstration isn't difficult. However, getting that support payment changed may be more of a challenge for parents whose financial resources aren't thoroughly depleted.
Economic Difficulties Lead to Financial Hardship
As of October, 9.3 percent of Arizona's workforce was unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The maximum weekly unemployment check in Arizona is $240, or $1,032 per month, plus another $108 of federal compensation paid with economic stimulus funds. This amount ($1140) is not sufficient to cover the average monthly Arizona mortgage payment of $1,251, not to mention the average monthly grocery bill of $423 per month (according to national data). When other obligations are taken into account along with child support, housing and groceries, it is obvious that tapping unemployment benefits to satisfy existing child support obligations may thrust the unemployed into homelessness or other economic hardship.
According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, the maximum amount that can be taken from an unemployment check to satisfy a child support obligation is 40 percent.
Requiring the use of pension funds to pay child support similarly may create a ripple effect that extends the economic hardship, particularly for those parents who are nearing retirement age. Trading the future to meet today's obligations may be appealing to under-budgeted agencies seeking to ensure that all sources of income are exhausted before families with children turn to public assistance for support. However, the possibility looms that many of those workers with no choice but to cash out their pension funds to pay child support will end up on public assistance themselves in their later years.
However, parents unable to meet their support obligations have little choice but to pony up their unemployment or pension funds, unless they qualify for a court-ordered modification. Falling behind on required child support payments can lead to harsh penalties, including 10 percent interest, a rate that is currently outrageously above market. Unpaid child support is also grounds for suspending drivers' licenses.
Speak to an Attorney
If you are facing financial hardship and seeking a modification of child support payments, it is important to consult with a family law attorney to learn more about the modification process and your legal options.
Arizona recognizes what is termed a "covenant marriage," which is a higher standard of marriage. Unlike no-fault, where the grounds for the dissolution of the marriage are irretrievable breakdown, covenant marriages may be ended on grounds of 1) adultery, 2) conviction of a felony which mandates prison or death; 3) abandonment for more than one year, 4) commission of domestic violence against the spouse, child or relative, 5) living separately and continuously and without reconciliation for over two years, 6) living separately for over 1 year after a legal separation is obtained; 7) habitual use of drugs and alcohol, or 8) both spouses agree to the dissolution.
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Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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