Even after you and your co-parent split, you both remain legally responsible for taking care of your children. Based on your child custody arrangement and income, Georgia courts will consider who owes child support and how much. As in all other decisions involving children, courts will put the greatest emphasis on the best interests of your child.
This makes the process of determining child support deeply personal. No two families are the same, and no two families have the same needs. You want to make sure you work with a lawyer who understands your unique situation and caters solutions to what works best for you.
Determining child support can be stressful, especially if you and your co-parent cannot agree and you end up litigating the issue in court. Whether you’re going through a divorce, asking for a child support order modification after the prior court order, or trying to enforce a child support order, Joseph Cheeley and his team at Cheeley Legal can help.
How Is Child Support Determined in Georgia?
Parents are responsible for supporting their children until they either reach the age of 18 (or 20 if they haven’t graduated high school), marry, pass away, or become emancipated.
Georgia follows the “Income Shares Model” when calculating child support.
One of the most important parts of calculating child support is determining income. Georgia courts will add up each parent’s income and then decide how much of that total income should be spent on support of children each month, based on State guidelines. Each parent will be responsible for a part of that, determined by their proportion of total family income.
For example, if both parents make approximately the same amount of money, courts expect them to pay an equal amount of financial support for their child. However, if one parent makes 2/3 of the total combined income, they must pay 2/3 of the child support.
Income can be trickier to calculate than you might expect, especially if a parent is a stay-at-home parent, self-employed, gets paid in tips, bonuses, or commissions, or receives income from social security, retirement, disability, workers’ compensation, or unemployment. Other common forms of income could include trust income, corporate dividends, prizes, military pensions, or work benefits that offset expenses like housing, meals, or a company car.
Child support payments received for other children, assistance from governmental programs do not count as income.
What is and is not included as income is a difficult determination, so it’s important to contact a seasoned child support lawyer to get an accurate financial picture.
Most Important Factors in Determining Child Support in Georgia
Georgia state law offers guidelines for courts to follow when determining child support. These are not hard and fast rules. Ultimately, a court or judge may increase or decrease child support payments based on your individual circumstances and the best interests of your child.
These “deviations” could be caused by the following circumstances:
- The parents have exceptionally high income (over $30,000 per month combined) or one of the parents has low income (earning less than $1,850 per month)
- The amount of actual time each parent spends with the child
- Vision, dental, or life insurance benefits
- Alimony (spousal support), unusually high rent, or mortgage payments
- The cost of traveling related to custody or visitation
- Extraordinary expenses related to education or medical conditions
- The supporting parent has other children they’re supporting
A support order may cover food, clothing, shelter, health insurance, medical care expenses, education expenses, child care costs, travel expenses, and extracurricular activities.
Child support can come in multiple forms – financial or custodial. If a child lives with one custodial parent, that parent “pays” their share by providing for the child’s daily living needs. The non-custodial parent provides support by making payments to the custodial parent.
If you and your co-parent share near-equal 50% physical custody, Georgia courts will generally treat the higher-earning parent as the “non-custodial” parent who pays child support.
How Is Child Support Calculated With Multiple Children?
What if you or your co-parent have other children you also support? That can change the math.
- If your co-parent pays child support for another child under a previous court order, Georgia courts will subtract those payments from that parent’s total income.
- Courts may (but do not have to) lower a parent’s income based on expenses related to another child who lives with them. This does not apply to step-parents.
You want to make sure you do what’s best for your child – and that means getting the full amount of support that they deserve. That’s where a good family lawyer comes in.
Whether you’re trying to reduce the amount of child support you owe, or you’re trying to get your co-parent to pay a larger share of child support, an experienced attorney can help you put forward the strongest possible case in your favor.
Can Parents Agree on Child Support Amount in Georgia?
For one, a parent cannot waive child support on behalf of their child. This is because the right to child support belongs to the minor child, not their parents.
However, you and your co-parent could come to a mutual agreement on child support, as long as the terms comply with Georgia’s guidelines and Child Support Calculator. An experienced lawyer can help you save time and negotiate an agreement that passes these standards.
What Happens if a Parent Doesn’t Pay Child Support in Georgia?
If you have a legal court order for child support, you can enforce that like any other court order.
If your co-parent fails to pay their child support obligations, your lawyer can file an Income Deduction Order to take payments directly out of your co-parent’s paycheck, or file a motion for contempt against the other parent.
It’s always best for parents to approach child custody and support matters in good faith. But some parents may take out their animosity by being difficult in any way possible – for example, by quitting their high-paying jobs to lower their income.
Georgia courts frown on this type of behavior. If a parent is under- or unemployed for a legitimate reason, that’s one story. But if there’s a deliberate attempt to influence child support payments, courts may order support based on that parent’s potential income.
How Can You Modify Child Support Orders?
Life circumstances change. After a child support order has been put into place, you may need a modification. You could request a modification if you can show a change in either parent’s income or the child’s needs.
How a Child Support Lawyer Can Help
Calculating child support can get complicated, especially when emotions get involved. Even something as simple as “income” might require investigation, especially if your co-parent decides to act in bad faith and try to hide their full income from you.
Georgia courts put the best interests of your child above all else in child custody and child support proceedings. The process can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a dedicated advocate on your side. An experienced lawyer who not only knows the law but has experience handling these sensitive situations can make all the difference in your case.