In Georgia, Child Support is governed by Statutory Law, which determines exactly how child support is calculated. Based on the statute, the parties are not allowed to simply agree on a dollar amount, however the matter may be negotiated between the parties, therefore, the resolution of child support issues by agreement, rather than by trial, is invariably the best solution.
In determining the amount of child support, various factors are considered including each spouse's monthly income, self-employment taxes, work-related childcare costs and the cost of health insurance coverage for the children. Beyond that, there are other possible deviations that may further modify the amount, upward or downward, but these are not automatically included in the calculation. In a contested case, the court will decide whether any deviation will be applied. In a settlement agreement, the parties may consent to the application of deviations in the calculation. The Statutory Child Support Calculation is represented by a computer program that considers the factors and dictates the final amount.
In Georgia as well as in all other states, parents are required to support their minor children until they reach the age of majority. Georgia law provides an age of majority at age 18, but also provides for ongoing child support up to age 20 if the "child" is still in high school. Georgia law does not require parents to support their children beyond those limits. Georgia law does not require parents to pay for college or technical education. However, the parents are free to agree in a settlement or consent order that they will pay child support beyond the standard limit and/or to pay for college education, and these consent orders/settlement agreements are enforceable.
In a divorce case with minor children, one parent will be ordered to pay child support. When children are born outside of wedlock and the mother brings a paternity/child support case, or the father brings a case to establish paternity and legitimacy, or when the State of Georgia brings a child support case on behalf of a minor child that is receiving state benefits, a child support order will be entered. The parents of the child do not have the legal right to waive child support.
Georgia changed its child support laws in 2007. The old model only took into consideration the non-custodial parents income and the number of children for which child support was being calculated. The new and current model for the calculation of child support takes into consideration both parents income, as well as certain "adjustments" which will be included in the calculation if they exist and may include certain "deviations" which are discretionary and are not automatically included in the calculation.
Georgia's Child Support Calculation is completed by a computer program which is based on an Excel Spreadsheet. All of the pertinent information is entered in the spreadsheet and the program calculates the support amount. As with any such calculation, if "junk" data is put in, the result coming out will also be "junk." Thus, it is ultimately important to ensure that the data used in the calculation is accurate.
The first step in the calculation is to determine the number of children for which support is being calculated. The difference between the amount of support paid for one child compared to two children can be substantial. The difference between the amount of support paid for two children compared to three children is less, and the difference between three children and four children is even less, and so on.
The next step is to determine the monthly gross income for both parents. This gross monthly income is the total amount of pay before any taxes or any other deductions are taken out. Gross monthly income is reflected on Schedule A of the Child Support Worksheets and includes any and all of the following sources of income:
If there is Any Other Income or Imputed Income, an explanation of that income must be provided on the Child Support Worksheets. Imputed Income is most commonly used when one or both parents is unemployed, or when there is no reliable evidence of what a parent's income is. You might think that if you are unemployed and earning no income that you would put a "zero" in the column of information for your income, but this is not the case. The law requires that you be "imputed" with income, or in other words that for the calculation it is pretended that you make an income. That typical imputed amount if based on working a 40 hour work week at Federal Minimum Wage (currently $7.25 per hour), which becomes a monthly income of approximately $1,261 per month. Imputed Income may also be applied when a parent has become voluntarily under-employed, or in other words that parent quit a good paying job voluntarily, and took a lower paying job (or no job) in an effort to pay less child support. That parent will likely be imputed at the higher, previous income level.
Next in the calculation Adjustments to Income will be applied. Schedule B of the Child Support Worksheets includes two basic adjustments. The first of these relates to a parent's income from Self-Employment. That Self-Employment Income is reduced based on the amount of self-employment tax paid by the parent. The second of these Adjustments is based on Preexisting Child Support Orders being paid for other children. To obtain this Adjustment there must be a Child Support Order in place (voluntary payments made without an order in place do not count). There is also a discretionary Adjustment for Other Qualified Children living in the home of the parents, these would include adopted children and biological children residing with the parent, but for which there is no child support order in place. Step-children do not count.
After the completion of Schedule B we will have arrived at the Monthly Adjusted Income for both parents. These two amounts are combined to give us a Total Monthly Adjusted Income. Each parent contributes a certain percentage of the Total Monthly Adjusted Income, which sets out each parents Pro Rata Contribution. This Pro Rata Contribution ratio plays out in various aspects of the calculation to follow. If by chance the parents' adjusted incomes are identical, then there is a 50:50 responsibility. If one parent's income is twice the other's then there is a 66:33 responsibility.
With the Total Monthly Adjusted Income calculated we take that amount to a Table and the Table provides us with the Total Basic Child Support Obligation. The Table was crafted by the legislature and is their estimation of how much support a child should receive considering the amount of income generated by the parents. The higher the total income, the higher the Total Basic Child Support Obligation becomes. Each parent is responsible for a portion of the Total Basic Child Support Obligation based on their Pro Rata Contribution to the total income. If for example the Total Basic Child Support Obligation is $1,000 and the parents' incomes are identical, they would each be responsible for $500 of the Basic Obligation, and if one parent's income was twice the other's the wealthier parent is responsible for $666 and the other parent for $333 of the Basic Obligation.
There is a Schedule C in the Worksheets, but it is "blank" and reserved for potentially other factors that may be included by the legislature at a later date.
Next in the calculation are two more Adjustments, which will adjust a parents Pro Rata Share of the Basic Obligation and these Adjustments are reflected in Schedule D in the Worksheets. The first of these is related to Work Related Child Care Expense paid by a parent. The second of these is related to the provision of Health Insurance for the child or children by a parent. These expenses are shared by the parents based on their Pro Rata Contribution to the Total Adjusted Income.
After the Adjustments provided for in Schedule B and Schedule D are applied, we arrive at the Presumptive Amount of Child Support to be paid by the non-custodial parent.
Next in the calculation is where discretionary Deviations may be applied to the calculation and they are reflected in Schedule E of the Worksheets. The possible Deviations listed in the Worksheets include the following:
The total amount of applied Deviations will reduce a parent's obligation to the Presumptive Amount of Child Support.
The last factor to be applied in the calculation is whether the child or children receive Title II Social Security benefits as a dependent of one or both of the parents' accounts. The amount of benefits received by the child or children acts as a set off against that parents obligation to the Presumptive Amount of Child Support.
With all of the above steps completed we will arrive at the Final Child Support Amount, which is the amount the non-custodial parent shall pay to the parent with physical custody of the child or children.
The Worksheets also include a line item that sets out each parents' responsibility for uncovered medical expenses incurred for the child or children. This obligation is based on the parents' Pro Rata Contribution to the Total Monthly Adjusted Income (or as otherwise ordered by the Court).
If you are involved in a Child Support Case, or contemplate being involved in one in the near future, whether as an initial case or as a modification case you should strongly consider using the services of an attorney to ensure the calculation is completed properly and the data points for the parent's incomes and the other factors are accurate.
Below are several specific Child Support Calculations based on fictitious individuals and I will change various factors in the calculations so that you may see what difference those factors make.
Example One - The Number of Children Being Calculated For:
The parents have one (1) child and the Mother is the custodial parent. The Mother's Gross Monthly Income from Salary is $2500 and the Father's Gross Monthly Income from Salary is $3500. There is no Work Related Child Care and no Health Insurance for the child, and there are no other Adjustments or Deviations applied. The Combined Monthly Income is $6000. The Presumptive Amount from the Table is $987 per month. The Mother's rounded Pro Rata Share is 42% and the Father's is 58%. Based on the Pro Rata Responsibility, the non-custodial parent, the Father shall pay $576 per month. $576 is approximately 58% of the Presumptive Amount of $987. If the Father in this dynamic was the custodial parent, the Mother would pay $411.
What if these parents have two (2) children, and all of the factors are otherwise the same? The Pro Rata Responsibility remains the same, but the Presumptive Amount form the Table for two children is higher than it is for one child. With two (2) children the Presumptive Amount from the Table is $1384. Based on the Pro Rata Responsibility the Father will pay $807 per month. If the Father was the custodial parent in this dynamic the Mother would pay $577.
What if these parents have three (3) children? The Presumptive Amount from the Table goes up to $1587 per month and the Father would pay $926 per month. If the Father was the custodial parent the Mother would pay $661.
What if these parents have four (4) children? The Presumptive Amount from the Table goes up to $1770 per month and the Father would pay $1032 per month. If the Father was the custodial parent the Mother would pay $738.
As you can see, with all of the other factors remaining the same, the monthly support amount went up $231 for the second child, then it went up $119 for the third child and finally went up $106 for the fourth child. Thus, as the number of children increases, the additional amount of child support per child decreases.
Example Two - Work Related Child Care, Health Insurance and Self Employment Income:
Using the same basic information from the first example, one (1) child, the Mother is the custodial parent, the Mother's Monthly Gross Income is $2500 from Salary and the Father's Gross Monthly Income is $3500 from Salary. The Presumptive Amount from the Table is $987 and the Pro Rata Responsibilities are the same, 42% for Mom and 58% for Dad. With the Mother as the custodial parent the Father pays $576 per month.
Now we add to the calculation that the Mother pays $500 per month, twelve (12) months per year in Work Related Child Care expense. Understand that the Mother is actually paying the $500 per month out of her pocket to the care giver. Based on the Pro Rata Responsibilities the Mother is responsible for 42% of the $500 total for Child Care, which is rounded to $208, and the Father is responsible for 58% of the $500 total for Child Care, which is rounded to $292. Thus the Father's Child Support Obligation per month goes up $292 and instead of paying $576 per month, he now must pay $868. Thus the existence of a substantial Work Related Child Care expense can cause a substantial increase in the Child Support Obligation.
Now we remove the Work Related Child Care expense and include the provision of Health Insurance for the child, as provided by the Father at a cost of $100 per month. Remember that the Father is paying the $100 per month out of his pocket for the Health Insurance coverage for the child. Again, the Pro Rata Responsibility spreads the cost of the Insurance between the two parents. As such the Father's support does not go down by $100 per month, but instead he is deemed to be responsible for 58% and the Mother for 42% of that total cost. Thus the Father's support amount is reduced by $42 per month from $576 down to $534.
Now we remove the Health Insurance and include the factor that the Father's income is entirely from Self-Employment. He is still earning $3500 per month, but because it is income from Self-Employment he income will be adjusted downward based on the $217 per month FICA tax and $50.75 per month for Medicare tax. Thus his income is adjusted downward to an amount of $3232.25. This reduces the Combined Adjusted Monthly Income to $5732.25, which in turn corresponds with a lesser amount of Presumptive Child Support from the Table of $968 per month. This also changes the parents Pro Rata Responsibility to rounded amounts of 44% for Mom and 56% for Dad. In this calculation the Father shall pay $546 per month in Child Support.
Example Three - Deviation for Visitation Travel Expenses:
We return to the facts in the initial Example One. One child, the Mother earns $2500 from Salary and the Father $3500 from Salary, which gives us a rounded Pro Rata Responsibility of 42% for Mom and 58% for Dad, the Amount from the Table is $987 per month and the Father would pay $576 per month in Child Support. But in this example the Father resides in Georgia and the Mother and child have relocated to California. In order for the Father to exercise Visitation he must use airline travel to fly his teenage child back from California and he does so four (4) times per year. The roundtrip ticket is $600 for each trip, which is $2400 per year and provides an average of $200 per month. These Deviations do not rely on the parents Pro Rata Responsibility, unlike the Adjustments. Presuming the parents agree and the Court approves the entire amount of the Deviation in the amount of $200 per month, the Father's Child Support payment will be reduced dollar for dollar based on the airline ticket expense and his Monthly Child Support amount goes down to $376 per month. The Father is still spending the same amount of money each year, but a portion of that goes to pay for the airline tickets that became necessary because of the Mother's relocation.
If you would like to discuss your Child Support Case please feel free to contact me for a free consultation.
J. Taylor Hopkins, Esquire
Hopkins Law, LLC