Child Support Basics in Georgia

Georgia's child support model takes into account the total costs of supporting a child as well as each of the parent's incomes.

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If you're a Georgia parent going through a divorce, or if you've never been married to your child's other parent and have decided to end the relationship, you are required to continue to support your child after the split. For most parents, this means having to become familiar with Georgia's child support guidelines.

Georgia uses the "Income Shares Model" to calculate child support. 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. (Ga. Code § 19-6-15 (2022).)

Georgia Child Support Guidelines

To estimate Georgia 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, though, you'll probably need to work through the financial calculations to determine which parent the court will treat as the noncustodial parent. That's because when parenting time is equal, the courts generally (but not always) treat the parent who has the higher income as the noncustodial parent—and therefore require that parent to pay support.

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.

When you're ready, and if a court isn't deciding child support as part of a divorce case, you can apply for child support online.

Calculating Income for Purposes of Child Support in Georgia

The calculation of child support in Georgia starts by determining each parent's monthly gross income. "Monthly gross income" includes most types of income, such as:

  • salary
  • commissions, fees, and tips
  • income from self-employment
  • overtime pay
  • trust income
  • dividend income
  • prizes
  • unemployment insurance benefits, and
  • military pensions.

(Ga. Code § 19-6-15(f) (2022).)

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. (Ga. Code § 19-6-15(f) (2022).)

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 might also be able to deduct an amount for their support.

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 into account.

Calculating Your Estimated Child Support Payment in Georgia

To calculate the basic child support obligation—the total amount both parents would pay to support the child in an intact family—first add the parents' monthly adjusted gross incomes together. Then find this total in the "Adjusted" column in the Basic Child Support Basic Child Support Obligation Table provided by the Judicial Council of Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts. The amount of child support depends on how many children you have, so go across the row until you reach the column for the number of children you have.

To find each parent's percentage share of this basic amount, divide each parent's income by their combined income. The Georgia courts also offer detailed information on how to use the Basic Child Support Obligation Table.

Example: Juan and Julia have one child together. Juan makes $3,000 in adjusted gross income each month, and his co-parent Julia makes $7,000 in adjusted gross income a month, so their combined adjusted gross income is $10,000. Julia is the non-custodial parent. When Julia's adjusted gross income of $7,000 is divided by their combined adjusted gross income of $10,000, the results indicate that she is responsible for paying 70% of the basic child support obligation. When they look at the Basic Child Support Obligation Table, they see that the basic child support obligation for one child in Georgia for parents in their financial situation is $1,259. Julia will have to pay Juan 70% of this $1,259: $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 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.

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.

Deviating from the Child Support Guidelines

Under certain circumstances, Georgia judges can "deviate" from the amount dictated by the child support guidelines. For example, if the guideline amount doesn't accurately reflect the parents' ability to pay or the best interests of the children, the court can order a parent to pay a different amount.

Situations that sometimes justify a deviation from the child support guidelines include:

  • High income. Courts tend to deviate from the guidelines when the parents' combined adjusted gross income is high.
  • Low income of one of the parents. For example, when a noncustodial parent's gross income is minimum wage or below, the court might take into account the parent's ability to support themselves.
  • Travel expenses. A court might consider how to balance the costs associated with traveling for visitation.
  • Mortgage payments. Courts can take into account the costs of providing a home for the child.
  • Extraordinary expenses. Costs associated with having a special needs child or the costs of private school might increase the total support necessary.
  • Parenting time. With joint physical custody (or any parenting arrangement where the noncustodial parent spends significantly more time with the children than the standard visitation schedule of 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.

(Ga. Code § 19-6-15 (2022).)

Any additional expenses that increase the cost of supporting a child are generally prorated between the parents. When a Georgia judge orders a deviation from the guideline amount, they must identify the reasons for doing so in writing.

Modification of Child 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.

Paying Georgia Child Support

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. In most cases, the parent can pay 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 still try to avoid paying.

How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support in Georgia?

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. (Ga. Code § 19-6-15(e) (2022).)

Enforcing Child Support in Georgia

A custodial parent in Georgia who isn't receiving child support payments is entitled to enforce the child support order just like any other order from a court. One way is to get an Income Deduction Order to have payments deducted directly from the obligor parent's paycheck. (Ga. Code § 19-6-32 (2022).) 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.

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