Arkansas has consistently been behind the curve as it relates to child support guidelines. For years, Arkansas maintained a "Percentage of Obligor Income" model. This method only considered the paying parent's income and had a set percentage per child. This basic model assumed that 1 parent had the child and the other paid child support. It was unable to account for various custody schedules or how much financial responsibility the custodial parent should have. Since it applied a set percentage, it also resulted in excessive child support as the payor's income went up. The Percentage model was generally viewed as unfair, not representative of modern society, and not reflective of a child's true costs. It wasn't until 2020 that Arkansas reluctantly switched from this outdated model, but even then it was a half-hearted attempt.
The Arkansas Child Support Committee claimed to be exploring a change to the more inclusive Income Shares model in the early 2010's. This model, which is used by the majority of the states, has several advantages over the Percentage model. Although its calculations are more complex, it takes into account the income of both parents and is able to account for various custody schedules. Additionally, it includes the assumption that as income goes up, a smaller percentage is spent on the child, leading to a leveling off the child support. Despite promises, no progress was ever made by the committee, so State Rep. Mark Lowery introduced a bill in 2019 to force the change. Surprisingly, the bill had the support of the judiciary and passed easily, setting a deadline for March 1, 2020. Although over a month late, the new guidelines were finally released in April 2020, but they were not as promised and fell short of everyone's expectations.
The biggest problem with Arkansas's limited version of Income Shares is that it is still unable to account for various custody schedules. Most states using Income Shares have formulas that cause child support to decrease as visitation time goes up. This accounts for the increased expenses incurred during that parenting time and the decreased costs from the other parent. Failing to account for parenting time creates a "visitation penalty" and is not representative of the child's true costs. The consultant report used by the committee to formulate the guidelines actually included 20 pages on how to account for time spent with the child, including specific formulas from other states. It is unfortunate that the Arkansas committee failed to use any of them.
Not only do the Arkansas guidelines not account for various custody schedules, but they can't even account for joint custody. The Arkansas formula only applies 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." Guidelines are necessary to reduce variation between courtrooms and provide a starting point for a final amount. With no guidelines, more cases will need to be decided by a judge, increasing legal fees and parental conflict. This only hurts families and children while supporting lawyers. Seeing as joint custody has been "favored" in the state since 2013, the lack of guidelines also indicates that it isn't being ordered like it should.
The new child support guidelines in Arkansas were outdated from the minute they came out and it's already time to revise them. Arkansas Advocates for Parental Equality supports the revision of Administrative Order 10 to properly incorporate parenting time and joint custody. We also request the the Child Support Committee include parents on the committee instead of only lawyers and judges who continue to serve their own interests. A calculator for the new model can be found here.
Below you will find the names and business contact information (if available) for the members of the Arkansas Child Support Committee. This list can also be found here on the Arkansas courts website. These are the people responsible for revising Administrative Order 10. If you have an opinion, let them know.