The following article appears at Divorcenet.com and was written by Susan Bishop. If you have a child support case in Cobb County or nearby metro Atlanta counties and need advice or assistance with your questions or case, please call us at 770-425-6060.
In order to calculate child support, Georgia uses very specific guidelines based on an “Income Shares Model.” This model estimates the total amount that parents would spend on a child in an intact family unit, and then splits this amount proportionately according to the parents’ incomes. Parents can access the current guidelines through the Georgia Child Support Commission. The guidelines are quite complex and detailed; this article provides only a brief overview. If you’re having trouble navigating through all of the forms, or have specific questions, you should contact a lawyer.
Using Guidelines to Calculate Child Support
If you’re trying to estimate child support, you can use the worksheets and calculators provided by the Georgia Child Support Commission. The first step is to decide which parent is the “custodial” parent and which is the “noncustodial” parent. Generally, the custodial parent has the children more than half the time, while the noncustodial parent has the children less than half the time. If parenting time is equal, you may not be able to determine which parent is custodial and which is noncustodial before first working through the financial calculations. In this case, the noncustodial parent will be the parent with the higher child support obligation, which is usually—but not always—the parent who starts out with the higher income. Although the worksheets and calculators will give a support amount for both parents, only the noncustodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. This is because courts assume that the custodial parent’s support amount is going directly to costs of supporting children.
Calculating Income and Deductions
To complete the financial calculations, add up each parent’s monthly gross income, which includes most types of income, whether earned or unearned. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, retirement account payments, disability payments, and investment income. If you’re self-employed, you can deduct necessary costs of doing business from your gross receipts to get your gross income, but be aware that the allowable deductions are very limited and do not include everything allowed by the IRS. The manual worksheets include a separate form for calculating self-employment income. Gross income doesn’t include child support received for children from other relationships or public assistance, but it does include significant work-related benefits that reduce personal living expenses—such as housing, meals, or a car.
You can deduct child support you paid in another case and half of any self-employment taxes you paid from your gross income. If you have natural or adopted children from another relationship living with you, and those children are not subject to a child support order, you may also be able to deduct an amount for their support. There is a separate worksheet for estimating this amount.
Basic Child Support Obligation
To find the basic child support obligation, add the parents’ adjusted gross incomes together and match the total with the column containing the applicable number of children in the Basic Child-Support Obligation Schedule. You can find the current version of the schedule at the very end of the guidelines available through the Georgia Child Support Commission. To find each parent’s percentage share of this basic amount, divide each parent’s income by the combined income. For example, if the parents’ combined adjusted gross income is $10,000, with the noncustodial parent earning $7,000 and the custodial parent earning $3,000, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for 70% of support and the custodial parent for 30%. The basic child support amount in the schedule for one child when the parents’ combined monthly income is $10,000 is $1,259, so in this example the noncustodial parent would pay the custodial parent 70% of $1,259 or $881.30.
Adjustments for Child Care or Health Insurance
The only expenses parents can automatically add to the basic support obligation are costs of children’s health insurance and any necessary work related child care. These expenses are normally pro-rated between the parents. In the example above, if the noncustodial parent pays $150 for health insurance and the custodial parent pays $350 for child care, 70% of the $500 total amount, or $350, would be the noncustodial parent’s responsibility and 30% of the $500 total, or $150, would be the custodial parent’s responsibility. The amount of $350 would be added to the noncustodial parent’s $881.30 support payment to get a new payment of $1,231.30. The noncustodial parent can subtract the $150 paid for health insurance, and the final support amount—called the “presumptive support amount” in the guidelines—will be $1,081.30. The noncustodial parent will pay this amount to the custodial parent.
Deviating from the Child Support Guidelines
If the presumptive support amount doesn’t accurately reflect the parents’ ability to pay or the best interests of the children, the court can deviate from the amount. Specific conditions that sometimes justify a deviation include extraordinary educational or medical expenses or other court-approved special expenses for a child, including such things as art or music lessons. These expenses are generally prorated between the parents. A court will consider making a deviation for extremely low income where a noncustodial parent’s gross income is $1,850 or less per month, but will also take into account the impact of a reduction on the custodial parent’s ability to provide the children with basic necessities. A deviation for extremely high income may be appropriate where the parents’ combined adjusted gross income exceeds $30,000 per month.
If you have joint physical custody, or any parenting arrangement where the noncustodial parent spends significantly more time with the children than the standard visitation schedule (alternate weekends plus some summer and holiday time), the noncustodial parent can request a deviation. There is no standard parenting time adjustment, but Georgia courts typically adjust the payment downward to account for a noncustodial parent’s increased direct expenses. A court that orders support in an amount that differs from the guidelines must specify the reasons for doing so in writing.
If you are legitimately having difficulty finding work or have been laid off from a job, you can request a lower support payment. Unfortunately, there are some parents who will try to avoid paying support by refusing to look for work or by quitting a high paying position for a lower paying job. Courts don’t tolerate this kind of behavior and will sometimes order support based on the income that a parent could earn with reasonable effort, rather than just the income of the lower-paying job. If a parent is temporarily underemployed or unemployed for a reason that will eventually benefit the children—for example to obtain training for a higher-paying position—the court will take this reason into account.
Modification or Termination of Support
A parent that wants to modify (change) an existing support order must show some change in long-term conditions that materially affects either a parent’s income or a child’s needs. If the court has already modified an order, a parent must ordinarily wait two years before asking for another modification. The court will waive the waiting period in certain situations, including involuntary job loss, significant change in parenting time, or a noncustodial parent’s failure to exercise visitation.
If you have a support award that a court entered before 2007, and a revised calculation (based on post-2007 Georgia law) would result in an award that is at least 15% higher than what you’re receiving now, you can request a modification. Depending on the amount of the difference, the court may order the new amount phased in over a time period of up to two years.
Georgia child support generally ends when the child turns 18 unless the child is still attending high school full-time, in which case it continues until the child turns 20 or graduates from high school, whichever happens first. The obligation may continue longer if a child is disabled and not capable of self-support.
Enforcing Child Support
The Division of Child Support Services of the Georgia Department of Human Services (DCSS), is responsible for helping families obtain child support payment orders, locate absent parents, establish paternity if necessary, and secure compliance with child support court orders. If your child’s other parent has stopped making child support payments, or isn’t making full payments on time, you should contact a lawyer or the DCSS for assistance.