Child Support Laws for Married Couples in the State of Georgia
By Heather Frances J.D.
Georgia parents are legally obligated to contribute financially to their child’s care, and married parents typically contribute without a court order. However, when parents divorce, courts generally enter divorce decrees that order one parent to pay a specific amount of child support to the other parent so children of the marriage continue to be provided for.
Income Shares Model
In Georgia, child support is the noncustodial parent’s contribution to the expenses necessary for raising a child, paid to the custodial parent. Georgia uses the Income Shares Model of child support to determine the amount of support the noncustodial parent should pay. This model bases child support on the idea that parents should contribute the same proportion of their income toward their child’s upbringing as they would have provided had they remained married. This affords the child a similar standard of living after his parents divorce.
Georgia courts begin child support calculations by determining the gross income of both parents, which is income from any source, including overtime, bonuses, tips and retirement benefits. Next, the court deducts certain expenses, such as half of a parent’s self-employment tax, to create the adjusted gross income amount. Then the court determines the percentage of income each parent contributes to the total. The court applies that proportion to the basic level of support the state determines appropriate for a child to determine how much the noncustodial parent should pay. For example, if a noncustodial parent makes 60 percent of the combined adjusted gross income, a Georgia court may order him to pay 60 percent of the basic support obligation for the child. But the court can adjust this amount by considering the total number of children the noncustodial parent supports, health insurance costs, work-related child care and parenting time.
If a noncustodial parent fails to pay child support as ordered, Georgia’s Division of Child Support Services can help the custodial parent collect the unpaid support. DCSS helps children receive their financial support and also helps promote noncustodial parental involvement in children’s lives. Any parent can apply for DCSS services; parents who do not receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families must pay an application fee before receiving services. DCSS uses various methods to enforce child support orders, including withholding child support from paychecks and unemployment benefits, suspending the noncustodial parent’s driver’s license and filing contempt of court actions.
Court-ordered child support amounts may not be appropriate if a family’s circumstances change, so Georgia courts can modify child support when a parent shows there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the last court order. For example, if the noncustodial parent becomes disabled and unable to work, the court may modify his child support amount accordingly. Similarly, if the noncustodial parent receives a promotion that significantly increases his pay, the court could require him to pay more. To modify support, either parent must file a modification petition with the appropriate court, typically the court that issued the last support order.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.