Child Outcome Based Support Model: An Unfair Solution to Child Support Disparity in Arizona? Doug Daly comments on COBS Model

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The Arizona Judicial Council has decided against implementing the COBS model in 2011, but the proposed change to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines is still on the agenda. The COBS model would supposedly create the same standard of living in both households, but it is more advantageous to the child to allow the judge discretion when setting child support.

This COBS model takes the focus away from the child’s needs and puts it squarely on the parents’ economic situation which is counter-productive in determining the best interest of the child.

There has been considerable debate and controversy over the implementation of the new Arizona Child Support Guidelines that were slated to take effect in 2011. The attorneys and judges involved in family law cases feared the new guidelines would cause higher child support payments for obligors and encourage parents who receive child support to abuse the system.

Due to the fear of a massive influx of child support modifications, the implementation of the proposed Arizona Child Support Guidelines has been put off for the time being. However, it is still important to understand the proposed changes to the guidelines because they are still on the agenda and might be implemented within a few years.

Federal law requires states to have child support guidelines that are applicable state wide and take into account the non-custodial parent’s income. The Arizona legislature reviews the Arizona Child Support Guidelines approximately every 4 years to make sure that the guidelines are still appropriate and the legislature only makes changes to the guidelines when necessary.

In June 2010, the Arizona Judicial Council tentatively approved a modification to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines. For a number of years, there have been discussions to make the child support guidelines uniform across the board. Under the current system, sometimes non-custodial parents with higher incomes contribute a smaller percentage of their income to child support compared to non-custodial parents with lesser incomes. Legislators want to have child support payments more uniform across the state, and they also feel that separate households with equal incomes are in the best interest of the child.

The proposed Child-Outcome Based Support model (COBS) supposedly targets parents with dramatically different incomes so in that situation, the non-custodial parent might see a significant increase in child support payments. The increase in child support payments for parents with disproportionate incomes would theoretically put the child in a better situation because there would be less of an economic disparity between the two homes. At the same time, parents with equal or near equal incomes will have relatively the same child support as under the current Arizona Child Support Guidelines. In some instances, the review board claims lower income parents will see a reduction in child support payments.

One proponent of the COBS model on the Guidelines Review Committee claims that lower income non-custodial parents allot roughly 14-16% of their income to child support whereas higher income non-custodial parents allot only 6-7% of their income to child support. Under the new model, both low income and high income non-custodial parents will contribute around 11-15% of their net income to child support. In this way, state wide, the child support should be consistently uniform.

Phoenix divorce lawyer, Doug Daly, feels that the COBS model will not actually result in uniformity and will cause considerable increases in child support payments for non-custodial parents. Doug Daly comments, “There will have to be a review of all the current child support orders and there is a high chance that significant modifications will occur in order to comply with the COBS model. It will be difficult for some parents especially in light of the economy. This model takes the focus away from the child’s needs and puts it squarely on the parents’ economic situation which is counter-productive in determining the best interest of the child.” Apparently the judges in Maricopa County and the Arizona Judicial Council agreed that the change would be too drastic. The Arizona Judicial Council decided to consider implementation of the COBS model at their October 2011 meeting.

Currently the Arizona Child Support Guidelines are based on the Income Shares Model which tries to ensure the same amount of money is spent on the child as if the parents are still married and living together in a cohesive unit instead of in two separate households. Doug Daly explains the Income Shares Model further, “The income based model involves several factors to calculate child support such as the number of children, the amount of parenting time and the income of the non-custodial parent. So far it’s a pretty good system because the needs of the child are the major component in the child support calculation.”

In the end, it is a prudent thing not to go ahead with implementing the COBS model at this time. Instead of implementing the COBS model, the Arizona Judicial Council revised Section 20 of the current Child Support Guidelines to read “In cases with significant disparity of income between the custodial and noncustodial parent, a deviation may be appropriate.” With this language in the guidelines, the judges in Maricopa County are able to use their discretion when awarding child support. In the cases where the non-custodial parent earns more than the custodial parent, the judge can increase child support if it is in the best interest of the child.

Even though the COBS model is not being implemented this year, it is still under review. At first glance, Doug Daly sees several ways that the COBS model can be abused. He says, “Some custodial parents may abuse this model because the parents’ financial situation is weighted more heavily in determining the child support than the best interest of the child. Custodial parents may try to use the COBS model to elevate their entire household rather than just providing for the child’s needs.”

Currently the only changes that will be implemented this year, by March 2011, is the changed language in Section 20 allowing judges’ discretion to deviate from the current guidelines if it is in the best interest of the child and the parents have a significant disparity in income. Also the self support reserve is raised to $903.00 per month and there is some updated economic data. Phoenix child support lawyer, Doug Daly is in full agreement with the Arizona Judicial Council’s decision. He said, “There have been ongoing discussions for a number of years on whether to change the Child Support Guidelines. Every case is different though, so letting the judges have discretion to decide a case individually makes the most sense.”

Regardless of the pros and cons of the COBS model, it might still become part of Arizona law. Only time will tell whether the COBS model will improve the quality of life for children and make child support payments more affordable. The courts will gradually test out the system to see if it will work before it will replace the Income Shares Model. Parents and lawyers still need to be aware of the COBS model because it represents a trend in how the Arizona legislature might modify the Arizona Child Support Guidelines in the future. Parents with a current child support order in place would be well advised to seek a lawyer who understands both the current Income Shares Model and the Child Outcome Bases Model.

Doug Daly is a Phoenix family law attorney and founding partner of the Daly Law Firm with offices located in Scottsdale and Phoenix. His practice focuses on family law matters such as divorce, martial property division, child support and child custody in Maricopa County and surrounding areas. He provides clear legal analysis of family law problems for his clients.

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