Incomes Above the Guidelines

by Annette Burns on August 17, 2005

Child Support- Can we get support "above the guidelines" for incomes over $20,000/ mo?

I sent out a question to the Maricopa County Bar Family Law Section in December, 2004 on this issue. Here’s the responses I received:

The original Question was this: "Has anyone had any recent experience with a judge ruling on a child support issue where either the combined parties’ incomes are over $20K/ mo, or where one party’s income is over $20K by itself? I’m wondering if there’s consistency with the judges stopping at the top of the guidelines absent additional evidence of legitimate needs above that amount. I actually had someone argue the "extrapolation" of the guidelines to me the other day!"

I received several responses with information. Most said that judges are generally stopping awards of child support at the top level (presently $1840 support for one child), with that amount allocated between the parents based on the parents’ actual incomes (not cutting off those incomes at $20,000).

In other words, if Dad earns $5000/ mo. and Mom earns $25,000/ mo., the total child support for one child would be the top of the Guidelines amount of $1840, allocated 16.7% to Dad and 83.3% to Mom.

I want to clarify what I meant by "extrapolation" of the guidelines. I meant an automatic extension of the guidelines above the $20,000 level, by ordering a certain percentage of the payor’s income. I did not mean it in terms of any order which exceeds the maximum guidelines amount after a hearing and findings that the child needs more.

Most people who responded pointed out that a judge has discretion to hear testimony (burden on the payee) as to why child support should exceed the top guidelines amount, based on the needs of the child and the other factors in the statute. I didn’t hear from too many people who had success in getting a judge to hear testimony on that issue. Two different respondents said they have orders from one Maricopa County judge which far exceed guidelines amounts, based on income in excess of $20,000/ mo. One person who responded said that she is aware of three different occasions when a judge "extrapolated" above the guidelines, but I’m trying to clarify whether the judge ordered an amount above the guidelines based on testimony about actual needs of the child, or whether the judge used a percentage of the payor’s income to issue an above-the-guidelines order, which would be what I meant by "extrapolation".

It seems clear that the amount by which the income exceeds $20,000 is pretty important. If a judge is dealing with an income of $25,000 or $30,000 per month, staying with the top guidelines amount is more likely. If monthly income is far above $20,000, one can make far different arguments.

One person who responded pointed out that it’s helpful to talk to an economic expert who actually worked on the guidelines about the economic basis for guidelines. It does not appear that the economists would support an extrapolation of the guidelines above the $20,000 income level. The percentage of income that is spent on the children is presumably a "bell curve" which curves downward (a lesser percentage of income) as income increases.

At least three people pointed out that the actual difference in the child’s lifestyle between the two homes is important. If the high income earning spouse is actually spending huge amounts on the child while in that parent’s home, the recipient can make a better argument that child support should help increase the recipient parent’s household as well.

This is a summary of the information that’s gone through me, and I will forward anything else I hear.

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