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Modification of Georgia Child Support Turns on Judicial Discretion

The Great Recession officially ended in 2009. The after-effects continue to be felt, however, in the uncertain economy that has followed.

In this altered economy, income or asset reduction due to job loss or other factors happens much more frequently after a divorce settlement than it used to in the past. For people who make or receive child support or alimony payments, the issue of reducing the payments has therefore become a very important one.

This article will discuss the process for child support modifications in Georgia. This is the process used in Forsyth County, Fulton County and throughout the Atlanta metro area.

Modification of Child Support

Many ex-spouses with hefty child support payments wrongly assume that a downward modification of the payments should be pretty straightforward after a notable loss of income. In practice, though, Georgia judges approach such requests on a case-by-case basis, weighing the facts and circumstances. It is by no means a guarantee that a modification will be given in any particular case.

Georgia Statute 19-6-15(k) specifies that, to seek a modification of a court's child support order, there must be a "substantial change in either parent's income and financial status or the needs of the child."

What does "substantial" mean"? In the case of involuntary loss of income, the statute defines a substantial loss as a loss of 25 percent of income or more.

Even if the income loss is that large, however, there is a two-step process that must be followed to seek a modification of the child support amount. First, it is necessary to establish each party's income and identify deviations from the amounts the original award was premised upon.

Best Interest of the Child

In addition, there must be a showing that the modification being sought would be in the best interest of the child. This determination is solely within the judge's discretion.

In other words, a modification is not a mechanical process. It isn't just about plugging in the new numbers into an equation and having preloaded software spit out a solution.

Instead, judges must balance conflicting considerations. The spouse who has been ordered to pay a hefty amount of child support may be struggling to pay it after being downsized from a job. But the child for whom the payment is meant may be harmed if the custodial parent's source of support is reduced by too much.

After all, many custodial parents make much less money than their non-custodial counterparts. In some cases, a reduction in child support could make it hard for the custodial parent to pay the rent or other bills.

Yet if the child support amount is not modified, the non-custodial parent could be severely impacted as well. It is hard for these parents to move forward with their lives when child support payments take up large percentages of their income.

Georgia Alimony Modification

There is also, of course, the related issue of alimony reduction. Here, too, Georgia law requires a showing of substantial change in financial circumstances before a party can seek a modification on that basis. And here, too, it is up to a judge to decide whether a modification will be granted.

Overall, then, the issue of modification is more complicated than it seems at first glance. The modification decision is often a hard one for judges - as so many decisions are in the Long Slump that has followed the Great Recession.