When you divorce in Georgia, the court determines whether either parent owes child support -- and if so, how much. Once the court orders child support, that order can be changed only if one of the parents asks the court to modify the original order.
This article explains the rules for modification of child support in Georgia. For more information on Georgia family law, see our Georgia Divorce and Family Law page. For all of our articles on supporting children after divorce, see our Child Support area.
Will the court reduce my child support obligation if I lose my job?
If you lose your job, Georgia law gives you the right to immediately file a petition to modify your child support obligation. Although parents generally have to wait at least two years after filing for a previous modification of child support to file a new request, a parent who loses a job or suffers another hardship that results in a loss of at least 25% of that parent's income may file for modification of child support right away, whether or not two years have passed.
The out-of-work parent gets another advantage, too: That parent's child support obligation will stop accruing at the original rate once the request for modification is served on the other parent. The portion of the paying parent's child support obligation attributable to the lost income will not accrue (meaning that debt will not continue to pile up) as soon as the other parent is served.
Will the court increase my ex's child support obligation because he got a big raise?
It depends on the facts, including the size of the raise. Generally, in an action to modify child support, a parent must establish that there has been a substantial change in the income and financial status of either parent, or in the financial needs of the child, since the date of the original support order. If this threshold requirement is met, your ex's obligation to pay child support will be reconsidered under the appropriate child support guidelines.
If my girlfriend and I get married, can my ex-wife seek an increase in child support based on my new wife's income?
It depends on the situation. Generally, in an action to modify child support, a parent must establish that there has been a substantial change in income and financial status of either parent (or in the financial needs of the child), since the date of the original support order. If your ex-wife can prove that your remarriage resulted in a substantial improvement in your income and financial status, there is a possibility that your child support obligation could be increased. On the other hand, your remarriage may result in a downward change in your financial situation, if you have increased financial responsibility for your wife, her children, or other dependents. Therefore, the impact of your remarriage depends on the specific details of your case.
What factors does the court consider when determining whether to increase or decrease a parent's child support obligation?
In an action to modify a child support order, either upward or downward, a parent must prove that there has been a substantial change in either parent's income and financial status or in the child's financial needs since the original child support order was entered. A parent must wait for two years after making a previous request to modify child support to ask for a subsequent modification, unless:
- the request for modification is based on the parent's involuntary loss of income
- the noncustodial parent has failed to exercise court-ordered visitation, or
- the noncustodial parent has exercised more visitation than the court ordered.
Once this threshold requirement is met, your obligation to pay child support is reconsidered under the child support guidelines, based on each parent's income and time spent with the child.
Can I stop paying child support if the child comes to live with me?
Technically, until your child support obligation is legally terminated by court order, you are required to continue paying support to the other parent. However, in this situation, it's quite likely that the court will terminate your child support obligation once you make the appropriate motion for a modification.
How often can I file to reduce or increase a child support obligation?
You can file any time after the original child support order is entered, as long as there has been a substantial change in the financial statute and income of either parent or in the financial needs of the child. Once you file a motion to modify child support, however, you cannot file for modification again until two years have passed, unless an exception applies.
If I file an action to decrease my child support obligation, can my ex-spouse be ordered to pay my attorney's fees?
Generally, in an action for the modification of child support, the court may award attorney's fees, costs and expenses of litigation to the parent who wins (called the "prevailing party"), regardless of who files the case, as the interests of justice require. Whether to award such fees is within the court's discretion, unless a custodial parent files to increase child support based on the other parent's failure to exercise visitation rights. If the custodial parent wins in this type of case, the statute says that the court "shall" award fees.
Do I have to file for modification if my ex and I have agreed that he will pay more child support?
Yes. Until the court modifies the original order on child support, your ex-spouse is not under any obligation to pay the increased amount. If he fails to pay the support he agreed to, you would have no remedy under the original order to enforce your right to payment.
If I file an action tomorrow to increase my ex-spouse's child support obligation, will the increase be retroactive to the date I filed the case?
No. Any modification of child support, upward or downward, is effective as of the date of the order establishing the modification. The only exception is when a parent files to modify child support based on an involuntary job loss or other loss of income. In that case, the portion of child support attributable to the lost income will stop accruing as of the date the parent files to modify child support.
Can I reduce my child support payment when the oldest child graduates without filing a case?
No. Only a court can modify your child support obligation. While a Court would likely reduce your obligation when a child graduates, you must ask the Court to lower the obligation.