Georgia Child Support 101: Law Basics
Sometimes relationships do not work out the way you expect. When you have children with your ex-partner or spouse things become more complicated when separating. Following a breakup, children need emotional and financial support from each parent. Due to a relationship breakup, a child resides and may spend more time with one parent than the other; this parent is referred to as the “custodial parent” for purposes of child support. Generally, but not always, the “non-custodial parent” is the person who pays the support. Georgia child support laws can be very confusing, so it is important that you always discuss your specific case with an experienced attorney.
Establishing Child Support
Never assume the non-custodial parent will pay child support. Support may only be enforced if it is either (1) an agreement in writing and signed by the Court or (2) ordered by the Court. A Court order is the only way in which a custodial parent can enforce a child support obligation against the non-custodial parent. Child support is the right of the child and provides essential financial assistance in the raising of the child.
Calculating Child Support
Each and every state has a unique way for calculating child support. Georgia uses an electronic Microsoft Excel calculator. This calculator is based upon an “Income Shares Model” created by the Georgia Legislature with assistance from the Georgia Child Support Commission. The current guidelines require that the total gross income of both parties be considered. In determining the total gross income, the Courts must consider income from all sources before any tax deductions. Gross income includes, but is not limited to, income from employers (salary), bonuses, commissions, income from self-employment, income from rental properties, severance income, income from annuities, capital gains income, unemployment, and social security income.
However, the calculation does not end there. There are a number of other factors that may be present in the child support worksheet. Other factors that may be included are the payment of medical, dental, and vision insurance premiums, costs for extraordinary medical expenses, and extraordinary educational expenses. Depending on the monthly amount paid for extracurricular activities, that amount may also be a factor in the calculation of the support.
Enforcing Child Support Obligations
While most non-custodial parents have no problem contributing to the financial well-being of their children, some non-custodial parents neglect their financial obligations. When a non-custodial parent fails to pay child support as directed, he or she can be held in contempt of Court. The most common form of contempt is when a non-custodial parent is in “arrears” for non-payment. Arrears means that the non-custodial parent was ordered, or agreed, to pay child support and has fallen behind in the payment of their child support obligation. That parent still owes the money under the child support order.
After filing a motion for contempt, the Court must determine that the non-custodial parent is in “willful contempt” of a previous Court order. If the Court makes such a finding, the non-custodial parent can be ordered to: (1) become current on the arrears, (2) pay the custodial parent’s attorneys’ fees, (3) go to jail, or (4) any combination thereof.
Modifying Child Support
When either parent wants to modify or change child support, the Court has some very specific guidelines. In Georgia, child support obligations may only be modified every two years except when: (1) there is an “involuntary” and substantial change in either parent’s income or the needs of the child, (2) the non-custodial parent has failed to exercise Court ordered visitation, (3) the non-custodial parent has exercised more visitation than was ordered by the Court.
When Does the Child Support Obligation End?
In Georgia, by statute a non-custodial parent’s obligation to pay child support ends when either:
- The child reaches the age of eighteen, dies, marries, or otherwise becomes emancipated
- The child graduates from high school if he/she turned eighteen before graduating
- The child graduates from secondary school if he/she is enrolled on a full-time basis after turning eighteen
- The child reaches the age of twenty-one after being enrolled on a full-time basis after turning eighteen in pursuit of his/her high school diploma or GED; whichever comes first.
Additionally, parents may reach a child support agreement that extends payment beyond these statutory requirements.
However, if you have been ordered to pay support in Georgia for multiple children (with all children having been born to the same parent), you may believe that your obligation will automatically reduce by a certain amount or percentage as the support obligation ends, as noted above. While this may appear like a logical and simple calculation (“I had two minor children, now I only have one minor child so shouldn’t I only be required to pay half as much child support?”), unfortunately, the law does not permit an automatic reduction in this manner. You must file for a modification of child support.
While this will article provides you with a basic idea regarding establishing, calculating, enforcing, and modifying child support, it is always best to leave specific inquiries for one of the experienced attorneys at Georgia Trial Attorneys. We are a team of highly skilled attorneys ready to assist you. Call us at (678) 667-8968 to schedule your free consultation.