Child Support Basics in Georgia

Find out how to calculate child support in Georgia and how a support award can be modified or terminated.

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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 and a child support calculator through the Georgia Child Support Commission. Georgia's child support 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 Georgia's 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, military pensions, 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 in Georgia

To calculate 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%. See Ga. Code Ann. § 19-6-15 (2019).

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 childcare. 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 childcare, 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 support payment to get a new payment amount. The noncustodial parent can subtract the $150 paid for health insurance, and the final support amount—called the "presumptive support amount" in the guidelines. 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 an increase in child support include extraordinary educational or medical expenses or other court-approved special expenses for a child, including such things as art or music lessons.

These additional expenses are generally prorated between the parents. A court will consider making a deviation where a noncustodial parent's gross income is minimum wage or below, 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 court may also deviate from the guidelines where the parents' combined adjusted gross income is extremely high.

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. If a court orders a deviation from the guideline amount, it must identify the reasons for doing so in writing.

Collecting Child Support and Enforcing Orders

Once a judge issues a child support order, the obligor parent (parent responsible for providing child support) should pay child support as designated in the order. The obligor parent must pay child support on time, and today, can do so by one of several ways: cash, check, direct deposit, bank transfer, Venmo, or Zelle. It's easier than ever to pay child support, but some deadbeat parents may still try to avoid paying.

A custodial parent who isn't receiving child support payments can contact Georgia's Division of Child Support Services to have payments deducted directly from the obligor parent's paycheck. The Division of Child Support 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. Contact your local DCSS office or a family law attorney for assistance.

Imputing Income for Child Support

If you're legitimately having difficulty finding work or have been laid off from a job, you can request a lower support payment. Unfortunately, there are some deadbeat parents who try to avoid paying support by quitting a high paying job or refusing to look for work. 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 in Georgia

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, one parent's remarriage, 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.

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