step 1: identify your issues

child support

property division

alimony

legal custody

parenting time

child support

The purpose of child support is to carry out Georgia’s policy of ensuring that the children of unmarried parents, to the extent possible, have the same economic standard of living enjoyed by children living in intact families consisting of parents with similar financial means.  Georgia uses the Income Shares Model of child support. This means that child support is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together.

Calculating child support in Georgia is designed to be both basic enough to apply to all divorces and flexible enough to reflect the realities of a specific family’s situation.  The Child Support Worksheet is the required method for calculating child support.  If you plan on hiring a lawyer or using a mediator or financial planner, they will use the Child Support Calculator and Worksheet to determine your presumptive child support amount for you.  The information below is offered to help you understand the process and estimate how much child support you would pay or receive in a divorce.

The Georgia Child Support Worksheet

To complete the financial calculations in the Worksheet you will need both your and your spouse’s monthly gross income. Gross income is the amount of money you earn before payroll taxes and other deductions are taken out. If you and your spouse are not working together and you don’t have that information you can still complete the worksheet with the best information you have to get an approximate amount of child support.  You can find the annual amount of gross income on your joint tax return or you can look in your bank account for direct deposits from your spouse’s employer (periodic net income) to work from. 

Below are a few examples of the amount parents would pay to support their children based on their combined incomes under the Georgia income shares model:

Using the chart, if you and your spouse have monthly combined income of $3,000 and have 3 minor children the State of Georgia presumes that you will spend $1,020 each month supporting your children.  How much of that $1,020 each of you will be responsible for providing depends on how much income each of you earn and any adjustments made to that amount based on your particular situation.

How Child Support is Divided Between Parents

The chart above shows the total amount of child support presumed necessary for the number of children based on your combined incomes.  How that support gets split and which parent receives it depends on which parent is designated the “custodial” parent.  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.

Generally, the custodial parent is the parent who has the children more than half the time.  If parenting time is equal and you cannot agree on which parent is custodial, the noncustodial parent will be the parent with the higher child support obligation, which is usually the parent with the highest gross income.

What the Presumptive Amount of Child Support Covers

Once you establish spousal incomes and determine who the custodial parent is you should be able to enter that information into the Worksheet to get the presumptive support amount.  The child support obligation table assumes that families have certain ordinary child rearing expenditures given the parents’ combined adjusted income and number of children. You can think of ordinary expenses as those for food, clothing, shelter, health insurance, basic education expenses, as well as some amount for childcare expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, visitation travel costs, and extracurricular activities.

It is important to remember that this presumptive amount of support is applicable to all Georgia families. Typically, as a family’s income increases, the amount spent on the children increases.  If you are paying for private school, tutoring, college counseling, lessons, and overnight summer camps you should not expect the presumptive amount of child support to cover these extraordinary expenses.  Sometimes these extraordinary expenses can be the basis for deviating from the presumptive amount of child support.

A court in Georgia recently found that under state law a custodial parent is responsible for child-rearing expenses unless the settlement agreement and supporting documents, including the child support worksheet, expressly state that the non-custodial parent is responsible.  Where it is not clear who is to pay the expense, and a non-custodial parent exercises his or her final-decision making authority for a decision that has costs associated with it, then the custodial parent will likely be responsible for those expenses.  This can be avoided by (1) including known expenses in the child support worksheet on Schedule E; (2) adding language into legal custody that although the parent may have final decision making authority on that issue they cannot bind the other parent to pay for expenses related to that decision; and (3) making sure the settlement agreement expressly states what extraordinary expenses (current or future) the non-custodial parent will be responsible for including private school tuition, religious costs, and extracurricular activity fees and costs including travel.

Deviations from the Presumptive Amount of Child Support

The child support worksheet allows for the presumptive amount of child support to be adjusted to take into account certain extraordinary expenses.  These types of expenses vary from family to family.  The court will consider deviating from the presumptive amount of child support to account for these extraordinary expenses on a case-by-case basis so that the final amount of child support is applicable to the family actually incurring the expense.

If the presumptive support amount doesn’t accurately reflect the parents’ ability to pay or the best interests of the child, the court can deviate from the amount.  Specific conditions that sometimes justify an increase in child support include extraordinary educational or medical expenses.  These additional expenses are generally prorated between the parents.

A court will also 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 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 parenting time deviation.  

There is no standard parenting time adjustment.  The amount of any reduction in child support would reflect the noncustodial parent’s additional obligation for the children’s daily living expenses because the children will be spending more time with the noncustodial parent.

There is additional information about the most common non mandatory deviations in the Guide To Completing The Georgia Online Child Support Calculator.

You and your spouse can work together to come up with a child support amount that works for your family but you must operate within the guidelines of the Child Support Worksheet.  You will be required to explain why your deviation from the presumptive amount is in the best interest of the child in order to receive court approval.  Typically, family law judges will honor the terms of a plan that both parents have agreed to, however, a judge may fail to approve child support if it appears to be detrimental to the child.

child support faq

Typically, child support is paid until a child reaches the age of eighteen or until the later of the child completing high school or turning 20. The parents may, by agreement, provide that child support continue for a longer period.

Just like alimony payments, child support payments are based on a family’s situation at the time of divorce but can be adjusted upward or downward based on significant changes in circumstances after divorce.  Child support is modifiable by agreement of the parents or a judge can hold a hearing and order the amount of child support to be changed if one party files a motion for modification.

The amount of child support does not automatically adjust when one child turns 18. The parties can jointly file a revised child support worksheet for the remaining children or a judge can hold a hearing and order the amount of child support to be changed if one party files a motion for modification.

You have a couple of options to enforce the payment of child support.  First, you can include in your child support worksheet that payment will be made automatically through an income deduction order.  This will require your spouse’s employer to take the money owed to you in child support (and alimony) from their wages and send that amount to Georgia’s Family Support registry and the Support Registry will then pay you.

Second, if you and your spouse do not believe an income deduction order is necessary you would need to you can file a motion for contempt (failure to pay) and ask the judge to force your spouse to pay or go to jail.

Finally, you and your spouse could agree to modify the amount of child support going forward.  Your spouse will still owe you the unpaid past amounts.

6 Steps to A Modern Divorce

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