When the parents of a child part ways, there are a number of issues that are generally brought before the Court, ranging from alimony to the division of marital property. However, the well-being of the child remains of the utmost importance and should be paid careful consideration by all parties involved. To ensure the continued development of the child or children in question, the Court will generally declare a certain amount of child support be paid on a monthly basis by the designated party, often referred to in legal proceedings as the “obligor.”
If you are seeking to establish a regular payment of child support, you should consult an attorney prior to taking your case before the Court, even if you and the non-custodial parent have already agreed to a monthly sum. The intervention of an attorney becomes even more important if you and your former partner cannot come to terms on a child support figure, as they will aid you in petitioning the Court to set an amount.
What is child support, and what does it cover?
Child support is assistance, usually financial, which is owed by parents to and for the child’s benefit. Child support covers basic necessities (food, clothing shelter), medical care, uninsured medical expenses, educational fees, childcare, transportation/travel, entertainment, extracurricular activities, and college expenses.
How long does child support last?
In Georgia, child support generally continues until the child turns 18. However, child support can be extended past age 18 under certain circumstances. For instance, if the child is still in high school past age 18, support will continue until the child finishes high school or reaches age 20.
Child support ends when the child:
- Reaches the age of majority
- Gets married
- Is emancipated
- Joins the military
- The obligated parent dies
- The parent who is the child’s legal custodian dies
- Or the obligated parent acquires legal custody of the child
Who will get custody of my child?
When determining custody, a judge will act according to your child’s best interests. They may award sole custody or joint custody. If the judge awards sole custody, they may allow the non-custodial parent visitation rights.
With joint custody, both parents make decisions regarding your child’s welfare. Starting at age 14, children may request to live with the parent of their choice, and the court will honor that choice. They can change custody every two years after that. Visitation rights and custody can be revisited every two years unless there is a significant change in the family’s circumstances.
What are my child’s best interests?
Courts make decisions with a child’s best interests in mind. Factors that help determine a child’s best interests include:
- Each parent’s home.
- Each parent’s mental, physical, and emotional health.
- Each parent’s relationship with the child.
- Each parents ability to provide for the child.
- The child’s relationship with other children in the home.
- The past history of each parent, including any criminal history.
What are Georgia’s child support guidelines?
In 2007, Georgia’s new child support guidelines became effective. Georgia now uses a “Income Shares Model” in child support looks at both of the parents’ income to determine how much child support the noncustodial parent will be ordered to pay.
The court determines both parents’ gross income, which includes both parents’ salary, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, overtime pay, severance pay, pension and retirement income, interest income, dividend income, trust income, worker’s compensation benefits, and other sources of income. Before 2007 in Georgia, child support was calculated based on only the non-custodial parent’s gross income.
The Georgia Commission on Child Support provides an online calculator and two Excel calculators to find child support calculations.
However, Georgia’s Child Support Guidelines are just guidelines, and the court may increase or decrease the child support order based on individual circumstances and the child’s best interest. Factors include:
- High Income of the parents
- Low Income of the non-custodial parent
- Health related insurance
- Life Insurance
- Child and dependent care tax credit
- Travel expenses
- Permanency plan or foster care plan
- Extraordinary expenses, such as medical conditions or education expenses
- Actual parenting time
How is child support calculated?
In order to calculate child support, the court begins by looking at each parent’s gross income and the percentage of the total household income each parent contributes. For example, if the mother makes $1000 in gross income each month and the father makes $3000 in gross monthly income, their total monthly gross income is $4000. The mother contributes 25 percent and the father contributes 75 percent.
The court then looks at the Basic Child Support Obligation (BCSO) based on their total income, which in this example, for one child, would be $779. Each parent’s monthly BCSO is determined by the percent of the household income they pay. Since the mother contributes 25 percent, her BCSO would be $194.75 per month, and the father’s would be $584.25.
The court also adds in the monthly work-related childcare costs and health insurance costs for the child or children and divides those according to income. Those are added to each parent’s BCSO. This is offset by any insurance premiums the parents pay or Social Security they receive. Once these adjustments are made, the final total shows what each parent’s child support obligation is, but only the non-custodial parent has to pay.
How much spousal support can I receive?
There is no set formula for spousal support in Georgia. In general, the court has to find that one spouse has a financial need due to health or lack of employment opportunities, and the other spouse has the ability to pay. Some of the factors a court will take into consideration when deciding about spousal support include:
- Each spouse’s employment prospects, debts, and financial resources
- Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage
- Each spouse’s age and health
- How long the marriage lasted
What if the child’s other parent doesn’t pay?
In the event of the obligor failing or refusing to pay the court ordered monthly sum, a number of measures can be taken to ensure the continued delivery of child support to the obligee. These include the following:
- Wage garnishment – Should the obligor continually fail to deliver child support, a portion of his or her wages can be withheld by the court and passed on to the custodial parent. This is generally referred to as “wage garnishment” and while effective, can be somewhat difficult to secure. Georgia parents hoping to resolve unpaid child support in this manner should seek the help of Caryn S. Fennell to ensure wage garnishment is both obtained and maintained throughout the development of the child.
- License suspension – The Court has the power to suspend the driver’s license of any parent who fails to meet child support payments assigned by the court. In extreme cases, the paying parent may even see their license revoked. The suspension or revocation of a license is recognized as an extreme measure and the Georgia Division of Child Support Services has recently introduced a number of alternatives, but custodial parents may sometimes find it necessary in order to ensure continuous monthly payments.
- Contempt – If an obligor regularly refuses to pay the child support sum decided upon by a judge, he or she can be held in contempt of court and a jail sentence is almost a certainty. Again, this is an extreme measure and custodial parents considering pursuing a ruling of contempt should consult an attorney before choosing to proceed. At The Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell, the well-being of the child is our primary concern. We will help you explore alternative methods of securing payment in order to avoid the child being without one parent. However, if we believe the obligor being held in contempt of court is in the best interest of the child and custodial parent, we will do everything in our power to ensure the Court comes to the same conclusion.
Can you modify child support in Georgia when circumstances change?
When it comes to child support, a number of circumstances can impact the rights and terms of any legal proceedings or orders.
Either parent can request a review of their child support order every 36 months. If either parent wants a review sooner than that, they have to prove that there has been a significant change in circumstances. This applies whether they are seeking an upward or a downward modification of child support.
A substantial change can include:
- A serious accident or illness that causes the parent to be unable to work. This must be expected to last at least one year.
- An involuntary loss of 25 percent or more of the parent’s income.
- Either parent beginning Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits.
- An unexpected windfall, such as winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance.
A substantial change does not include:
- A voluntary change in employment.
- New financial obligations, like the birth of another child or the purchase of a home.
- A change in marital status.
A final word
The issue of child support can create tension between the parents of the child in question. Observing their parents embroiled in a court battle can cause the child a great deal of stress and affect their confidence and relationships in later life, so disagreements pertaining to child support should be solved in as timely a matter as possible. The Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell can be relied upon to ensure a quick resolution to all child support disputes and will ensure a monthly sum is established and paid without fail. Call our law firm today at (770) 479-0248 for a free consultation.