Things to Consider About Child Support Laws in Georgia
Our experts weigh the most critical aspects of Georgia child support laws. These factors can affect child support payments and modifications.
Divorce is challenging and emotionally draining for every member of the family. While parents want to protect their children from pain, they also want to ensure they can provide for their needs well into the future. That’s why in Georgia, child support laws ensure that both parents provide for their children financially after divorce or separation. These laws aim to protect the child’s best interests while providing the financial backing they need to thrive.
Let's look at what these laws entail—how child support is calculated, factors affecting payments, how to modify an existing order, and things to consider when establishing a parenting plan.
How Is Child Support Calculated in Georgia?
In Georgia, generally, child support laws require the noncustodial parent to pay a reasonable amount of the child’s living expenses to the custodial parent. Besides a monthly or weekly amount, this can also include medical, dental, and insurance expenses, as well as costs for child care.
While parents may agree to support college expenses for children 18 and older, Georgia law only permits a support order for children over 18 and past high school age if the parties both agree. Without an agreement, children who reach the age of 18 and are graduated from high school are considered “aged out” for purposes of paying child support.
Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor attorney Belinda Martin advises that the start of this process will involve your attorney completing a detailed spreadsheet that the court must use to set child support. These are built using each party's gross monthly income and other factors like health insurance, childcare costs, and any specific costs associated with the children.
To calculate the amount of child support, the law considers the following additional factors:
- The combined income of both parents
- The individual income and earning potential of each parent
- The number of children who require support
- Time spent with the child or children
The court uses a formula based on the Basic Child Support Obligation Schedule to determine the amount of child support. Thus, the court must have accurate information regarding both parents’ income to determine a fair amount. The state presumes that the amount the judge calculates under state guidelines is suitable; you may, however, argue that a different amount is more appropriate for your situation.
“Child support can be collected either directly paid by one party to the other or paid by an income deduction order. That is taken directly out of someone's check through the state of Georgia and then given to the Payee.”
— Belinda Martin, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
Factors That Can Affect Child Support Payments
Child support refers to financial payments only—not legal or physical custody. While physical and legal custody can sometimes impact the support amount, the rulings are separate.
Although the court uses the Basic Child Support Obligation Schedule as the primary formula for determining the amount of payables, it does recognize that every family is different. The court sometimes deviates from the guidelines to avoid an unjust or inappropriate ruling.
Besides the parents' individual and combined income and the number of children, the following factors can influence payments.
Parenting Time and Custody Arrangements
The time each parent spends with the child or children can significantly impact support. Typically, the non-custodial parent (who spends less time with the children) makes payments to the custodial parent.
The judge can, however, alter the amount if there is a deviation in parenting time. For example, the Child Support Obligation Schedule may determine that the non-custodial parent pays $1000 monthly to the custodial parent.
Let’s say the parents agree to a 60/40 parenting time split. This is more than every other weekend and one-night weekly visitation schedule. Since the non-primary parent will cover more costs with increased child visitation, the judge might lower the amount to $800.
If parenting time is equally split, payments can still be ordered to be paid by the person with the higher salary, but could also result in neither parent paying child support.
The judge also takes health insurance and childcare into consideration. These figures are added to the obligation when necessary and divided according to the formula.
Modifying an existing order will require a substantial change in either a parent's or child’s situation. If a parent becomes disabled and can no longer earn a living, the court can amend the formula to account for these circumstances.
Similarly, if the child develops special needs, has unusual educational expenses, or has additional medical expenses, the judge will also consider this.
In most cases, the court will also consider the standard of living before divorce or separation.
5 Tips for Parents to Consider When Establishing a Parenting Plan
Creating a parenting plan can be daunting to parents currently navigating the steps and emotions of a divorce. For this reason, try to prepare as much as possible for this part of the journey to ensure you establish a parenting plan that is in your children's and yourselves' best interests. Below are five handy tips to assist you while preparing for discussions about your children and their future:
- Collect all your information on what your financials look like. Have your pay stubs, W-2s, tax returns, and bank statements ready.
- Get statements from whoever pays for the child's health insurance. The costs in question should only relate to the child; HR departments can generally tell you what your costs for just the children are in your health insurance premiums.
- Provide statements of what you've been paying and understand what that's going to look like going forward. Are there any services in your life that may increase?
- Anticipate the extra costs of separating a household, and what earnings will look like after separation.
- Understand the concept of ‘parenting time”. In the case of a parenting time deviation, where an agreement can’t be reached, the judge will discern how to divide visitation—and can impose a deviation to standard visitation based on extenuating circumstances.
“As an example, in a parenting time deviation, the judge could say, okay, I know the calculator says you're supposed to pay $1,000 a month, but because you're getting extra time, I'm going to take that down to $800.”
— Belinda Martin, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor
What to Do if You Need to Modify an Existing Child Support Order
Georgia law allows either parent to apply for modification of the initial child support ruling if significant circumstantial changes arise after the divorce. This can include loss of a job or income, illness, disability, increased income, or increased child expenses. It can also change if the initial custody order changes.
For the court to grant the changes, you must meet specific requirements. You will need to:
- Provide information to prove a significant change in circumstances
- Substantiate why the modification is in the child’s best interest
- Draft and file the petition according to Georgia law
Hiring an attorney can help you navigate the litigation process, ensure you meet the requirements, and be aware of any legal effects of the modification.
Since the primary concern and consideration of support and custody is always the child’s well-being and best interests, the court will additionally consider several factors, including the following, when making a modification ruling:
- Maintaining stability
- Sibling relationships
- Impact on the Child’s social development
- The child’s preferences
- Cooperation of each parent in the child’s everyday needs
- Ability to provide adequate child-care arrangements
Child Support Experts That Ease the Process
The state of Georgia necessitates that both parents support their children after a divorce or separation until the child is 18 years old. Establishing a child support agreement can add stress during an already difficult time; while parents want to give their children the best support possible, they often worry about the impact of financially-crippling payments or the inability to support the child sufficiently.
At Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, we know that every family is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Our accomplished legal team specializes in divorce and family law.
With up-to-date knowledge of Georgia law and years of expertise behind us, we will help you navigate the best path for your child’s well-being. From child support and custody to parental rights and asset allocation, we’ll streamline the legal process, helping you avoid pitfalls and complications.
Need guidance or assistance through the legal processes of determining, appealing, or modifying child support payments? Get in touch today.