The Laws Dictating Child Support in Georgia

Although the method to calculate is common, the state laws aren’t

Like most other states, Georgia has moved to the income shares model for calculating child support. Attorneys, courts and parents have indicated this model is most fair because it considers both parents’ incomes, instead of previous models, which relied strictly on the non-custodial parent’s income.

Although the model is the same across most states, there are unique aspects to Georgia child support law. Knowing those aspects is key for unmarried and divorced Georgia parents.

How to calculate child support

The Georgia Child Support Commission offers parents a free online calculator to decipher their child support payment. A description of the method used for calculating the basic child support obligation (BCSO) is as follows:

  1. Determine gross income of each parent
  2. Add parents’ gross incomes together for a combined income
  3. Find combined income total for the amount of children in table
  4. Calculate each parent’s ratio of the combined income total
  5. Multiply the ratio of income by the child support amount in the table

By way of example, if a custodial parent earns $400 monthly and non-custodial parent earns $600, the parents’ combined income equals $1,000 per month. The guidelines show there will be a $239 monthly child care obligation for one child. Because the non-custodial parent earns 60 percent of the combined income, that parent will pay 60 percent of the child support obligation, or $143.40 each month.

What is gross income for support purposes?

Determining each parent’s gross income is the first step in the child support calculation—and is often one of the major areas of disagreement for parents. Gross income will generally include income from all sources, whether that is salary and wages, overtime pay, bonuses, fringe benefits or other non-employment income like investments or rental properties.

Parents can reduce their gross income by deducting certain adjustments allowed under the law. Those adjustments include payment or support of another child, income from a non-parent custodian, and half of self-employment taxes for self-employed parents.

The court can impute income to parents

If a parent is unemployed, under-employed or dishonest in reporting gross income, the law allows the court to assign income to that parent. Previously, Georgia courts could impute minimum wage earnings from a 40-hour work week to an under-employed parent. However, a recent 2018 law change gives more discretion to the court. The court can now look at many factors to arrive at a more accurate amount to impute, including:

  • Earnings history of the under-employed parent
  • Average market wages in the industry the parent works
  • Available jobs the under-employed parent qualifies for in local area
  • The under-employed parent’s assets and living situation

Can a parent pay less or more than guideline support?

Georgia child support law presumes that payment of the guideline support amount is in the best interest of the child. However, if a parent can show that the guideline amount is unjust or inappropriate, the court may agree to deviate to a higher or lower amount of support. In Georgia, there are mandatory and non-mandatory deviations under the law. The two mandatory deviations are work-related child care expenses and health care premiums. Each parent will be ordered to contribute their ratio toward those expenses.

Non-mandatory deviations can be ordered in the discretion of the court. A court can agree to adjust the basic child support obligation for many reasons, including:

  • Child’s extraordinary health care, education and/or activity expenses
  • Parent’s payment or receipt of alimony
  • Parent will face economic hardship paying guideline amount
  • Extraordinary travel expenses for non-custodial parent to exercise parenting time
  • Payment of life insurance policy for benefit of the child

And any other reason a parent can claim the court should deviate from the guidelines because it’s in the child’s best interest. If a parent feels the guidelines are unjust, or is dealing with a co-parent who feels the guidelines are unjust, they should first consult with an experienced Georgia family law attorney. That attorney can evaluate their case and help ensure a parent is paying or receiving a fair amount under the law.

For more information on this area, see our overview of family law.

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