How child support is calculated and modified in Georgia

Noncustodial parents in Georgia are expected to provide for their children. The amount they pay is based on their earnings, the income of the custodial parent, and the needs of the child. Noncustodial parents are required to provide their children with financial support until they reach the age of 18, and custodial parents cannot waive their right to receive child support. Child support payments are not adjusted automatically to reflect increases in the cost of living, but they may be modified from time to time if the needs of the child or the incomes of the parents change.

How is child support calculated in Georgia?

Georgia used to base child support based only on the noncustodial parent’s income, but state guidelines now advise the judges who make these decisions to also consider what the custodial parent earns. It is important to bear in mind that judges have the discretion to deviate from the guidelines and increase or decrease child support. This often happens when the child has special needs and more money is needed to cover health care and educational expenses.

How do you modify child support orders in Georgia?

Custodial or noncustodial parents in Georgia who wish to modify a child support order can pay a $100 fee to have the Georgia Division of Child Support Services review their case. The fee is waived for parents who receive Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Once the review process is completed, which can take up to six months, the DCSS may recommend that payments be increased, decreased or remain the same. Past due child support payments cannot be modified.

What are the guidelines when determining child support?

“Income-sharing” is the approach Georgia courts use to determine child support. The judge considers the parents’ joint incomes, and that amount – minus deductions – will be the base for child support. A support calculator is used after the gross annual income of both parents is determined. Courts in Georgia look at a number of things to determine income, such as:

  • Salary
  • Interest
  • Trust income
  • Tips
  • Commission

That said, every case is unique. How the guidelines are applied will vary depending on the situation.

How should I prepare for a child support review?

Child support reviews are completed more quickly when DCSS personnel are provided with all of the documents they need in a timely manner. Before contacting the agency, parents should gather their tax returns, recent pay stubs and bills for child-related expenses like health insurance premiums and daycare fees. Parents who wish to modify a child support order based on a significant change in circumstances must be able to demonstrate that the change is likely to be permanent.

Will the court lower my child support obligation if I experience a loss of income, such as losing my job?

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.

Does the court take into consideration the best interest of the child when modifying child support?

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.



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