In 2007, Georgia began using child support guidelines that follow the "income shares" model, by which each parent's contribution is determined primarily by looking at the percentage of the couple's total combined income each parent contributes. The court uses this division as a starting point to determine how much child support the noncustodial parent will have to pay.
This article explains how Georgia courts determine child support. For all of our articles about Georgia child support and other family law issues, see our Georgia Divorce and Family Law page.
The Basic Child Support Obligation
The starting point for setting child support in Georgia is for the court to come up with the "basic child support obligation." First, the gross income of each parent is determined. This includes: salary, wages, commissions, self-employed income, bonuses, overtime pay, severance pay, pension and retirement income, interest income, dividend income, trust income annuity income, capital gains, Social Security disability payments, worker’s compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, judgments from personal injury claims or other civil cases, gifts, prizes, alimony from partners from a different marriage, assets which are used for support of family, fringe benefits that significantly reduce living expenses, and any other income. Variable income such as commissions or bonuses must be averaged over a reasonable period of time.
Gross income may also include imputed income: income the court treats the parent as having earned if the parent either provides no evidence of income or is willfully unemployed or underemployed.
After the gross income is determined for each parent, there are three deductions that may be made:
- If the parent has self-employment income, the court will deduct one-half of that parent's self-employment taxes.
- If either parent is paying child support under a preexisting child support order, the amount the parent is paying will be deducted from that parent's gross income.
- If either parent is supporting his or her own children living in the home, and these children are not the subject of this child support determination, the court has the discretion to reduce that parent's gross income after calculating a theoretical child support order. This final adjustment will be difficult to obtain since the court must find the failure to do so would cause a financial hardship on the parent and that such adjustment is in the best interest of the child in the case at hand.
After these adjustment are made (if applicable), the parents' incomes are added together to arrive at the combined adjusted income. Next, the court can look up this income level on Georgia's Child Support Obligation Table to determine the amount of the basic child support obligation. Each parent's pro rata share of the Basic Child Support Obligation corresponds to each parent’s percentage of the adjusted gross income. If the wife’s adjusted gross income is $60,000 and the husband’s adjusted gross is $40,000, for example, the pro rata share of the wife and husband would be 60% and 40% respectively. The total basic child support obligation is multiplied by each parent's percentage to come up with that parent's child support obligation.
You can find online calculators to help you come up with these figures at the website of the Georgia Child Support Commission.
Health Care and Other Costs
Next, if there are health insurance premiums that must be paid for the children for whom support is being calculated, or work-related child care costs, these costs are divided between the parents based on their percentage of the combined gross income, calculated above. The pro rated basic child support obligation, with any adjustment for health insurance premiums and work-related child care costs, is called the "presumptive amount of child support." If there are no deviations (explained below), the noncustodial parent owes the custodial parent this amount. (Because the children will be living with the custodial parent most of the time, the law presumes that parent will be spending money directly to support the child, on everything from groceries to rent, utilities, school supplies, and so on.)
Georgia's child support statute allows a judge to make specific deviations (changes to the presumptive child care amount) if the facts warrant. These include:
- Low or high income. If the paying parent's income isn't sufficient to pay the child support amount, or that parent's income is high enough to justify an increase in the child support award, the court might make a deviation.
- Parenting time. The more time the noncustodial parent will spend with the children, the more likely the court is to make a downward deviation. As noted above, the law presumes that a parent pays directly for expenses while the child is in his or her custody.
- Insurance. The court can deviate for other health-related insurance and life insurance.
Other facts that might just a deviation include child and dependent care tax, visitation-related travel expenses, alimony, mortgage expenses (if the noncustodial parent is providing for the cost of the home where the child resides), and permanency plans or foster care plans. Additionally, there is a catch-all (non-specific) deviation that allows any deviation the court or jury finds may be appropriate and in the best interest of the child.
Modifying a Child Support Award
To obtain a modification of a preexisting child support award, Georgia law requires that there must be a significant change in the parent’s financial status or the needs of the child. With a few exceptions, a parent cannot seek modification within two years from the date of the final order on a previous modification by the same parent.
Unless either parent seeks a modification, child support will continue as ordered until it terminated. In Georgia, a parent owes child support until the child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries, or becomes emancipated. The court may extend the support when the child is attending a secondary school until age 20.