CHILD SUPPORT BASED ON PARENTING TIME AND THE NEEDS OF THE CHILD

Arkansas has consistently been behind the curve as it relates to child support guidelines. For years, Arkansas maintained a "Percentage of Obligor Income" model that only considered the noncustodial parent's income with a set percentage per child. It could not account for different custody schedules and resulted in excessive child support as the payor's income went up. After years of delays by the Arkansas Child Support Committee (composed of judges and attorneys), the Legislature forced them to adopt the Income Shares model in 2020. This model was already in use by most states and is able to factor in the income of both parents and account for parenting time. The model also assumes that as parental income increases, a smaller percentage is spent on the child.

Not surprisingly, the guidelines eventually released by the Child Support Committee are a stripped down version that still do not account for parenting time. The consultant report used by the committee to formulate the guidelines even included 20 pages on how to account for time spent with the child, including specific formulas used in other states. The Arkansas guidelines only apply to parents having less than 141 overnights per year, with no difference between 0 and 140. Above 141 nights, child support is "at the discretion of the court."


With no guidelines for joint custody, nearly all of these cases will need to be decided by a judge, increasing legal fees and parental conflict. This benefits attorneys, not children. The Arkansas Bar Association's article on the new guidelines even stated that joint custody will now be the most litigated issue and that attorneys should argue what benefits their client - ie, the parent, not the child.

Not accounting for differences between 0 and 140 overnights per year for noncustodial parents is also unrealistic. A noncustodial parent who has his or her child 25% of the time spends more money than a parent who does not see the child at all. The custodial parent also ends up paying less. Failing to account for parenting time creates a "visitation penalty" for the noncustodial parent and is not representative of the child's true costs.


Although better than the old model, the new guidelines still have no set cap on child support. Instead, they state that for combined parental income over $30,000 per month, the court may use its discretion "to meet the needs of the child and the parent’s ability to provide support." Time will tell if this functions as a cap or if judicial discretion continues to be abused.

The new child support guidelines in Arkansas were outdated from the minute they came out. Arkansas Advocates for Parental Equality supports their revision to properly incorporate parenting time and joint custody, as well as impose an upper limit. There must also be parents on the Child Support Committee instead of only lawyers and judges who continue to serve their own interests.