Child Support Awards in a Georgia Divorce

Child Support.

In 2007, Georgia adopted the income shares approach to calculating child support that involves a consideration of both parents' income. (The old model only considered the non-custodial parent's income). This is codified in O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15.  Basically, each party plugs in their income in the worksheet. If both parties are W-2 employees, this is fairly simple. If either party is self employed, it become complex. There are standard deductions and deviations, discussed below. A good divorce attorney should be consulted to make sure all the proper variable have been entered. An experienced Atlanta Child Support attorney is need to prepare this document. It is complex.

Per O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15(c)(1) , the child support guidelines are “a minimum basis for determining the amount of support” and shall apply as a rebuttable presumption in all legal proceedings involving child support (the initial divorce and any modification). The rebuttable amount of support may be increased according to the best interests of the child for whom support is considered, the circumstance of the parties, any grounds for deviation, and “to achieve the state policy of affording to children of unmarried parents, to the extent possible, the same economic standard of living enjoyed by children living in intact families consisting of parents with similar financial means.”

To calculate child support under O.C.G.A. 19-6-15, the parties enter their respective monthly gross incomes (income may be imputed as well), deductions are applied for health insurance premium costs for the children only - based on who is paying the premium (usually around $125-150 per child), any child support obligations actually paid per any prior order for support of other children (alimony is a deviation, not a deduction), and work related child care costs (necessary for the parent’s employment, education, or vocational training) to calculate a “presumptive amount of child support”.

Next, deviations are added to or subtracted, if applicable, and if supported by the required findings of fact and the application of the best interest of the child standard. In considering any deviation, primary consideration is to be given to the best interest of the child for whom the support is awarded. See, Hamlin v. Ramey, 661 S.E.2nd 593 (2008).

Concerning document drafting for settlement agreements or orders, O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15(c)(2) requires that a child support order contain several specific findings including the parents’ gross income as determined by the court or the jury (as of the date of the order), the amount of the noncustodial parent’s parenting time, findings regarding who is to pay for health insurance, the apportionment of the uncovered medical expenses, the sum certain amount one parent will pay to the other, and the manner, frequency and the duration of payment. This minimum information must be in every settlement agreement or final support order.

Examples of deviations under O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15(i) include the following:

1.    Parenting Time.

“The court may order or the the jury may find by special interrogatory a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support when special circumstances make the presumptive amount of child support excessive or inadequate due to extended parenting time or when the child resides with both parents equally.” O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15(i)(2)(K)(i).

In practice, unless there is equal parenting time, this deviation is generally limited. In Hamil, supra, the non custodial father, who had parenting time of appx. 36 per cent, alleged the trial court erred in failing to apply a parenting time deviation. The Court of Appeal disagreed upholding the trial court’s decision not to apply the deviation citing the right of the trial court to consider the best interests of the child in its discretion.

2.    High or Low Income.  Per O.C.G.A. section 9-15-14(i)(2)(a), parents are considered high-income if their combined adjusted income exceeds $30,000.00 per month. “For high-income parents, the court shall set the basic child support obligation at the highest amount allowed by the child support obligation table, but the court or the jury may consider upward deviation to attain an appropriate award of child support for high-income parents which is consistent with the best interests of the child.”

3.    Extra health insurance coverage.  If the court or the jury finds that either parent has vision or dental insurance available at a reasonable cost for the child, the court may deviate from the presumptive amount of child support for the cost of such insurance.

4.    Travel Expenses.  If the parents live far apart, the court may order the allocation of special travel costs (flights for example) or the jury may by a finding in its special interrogatories allocate such costs by deviation.  The court or jury may take into consideration the financial circumstances of each parents as well as which parent moved and the reason therefore.

5.    Payments of Alimony.  Actual payments of alimony shall not be considered as a deduction from gross income but may be considered as a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support. 

6.    Payments of Mortgage and Household Bills.  If the noncustodial parent is providing shelter expenses, for example paying the mortgage and utilities on the marital home, the court or the jury may allocate such costs or an amount equivalent by deviation, taking into consideration the financial circumstances of each parent and the best interest of the child.

7.     Extraordinary Expenses.  Extraordinary expenses are in excess of average amounts estimated in the child support obligation table and are highly variable among families. Extraordinary expenses shall be considered on a case-by-case basis in the calculation of support and may form the basis for deviation based on actual historic expense incurred.  Extraordinary expenses shall be prorated between the parents by assigning or deducting credit for actual payments for extraordinary expenses.

8.      Non specific deviations. Deviations from the presumptive amount of child support may be appropriate for reasons in addition to those established under this code section when the court or the jury finds it is in the best interest of the child.  So, either party may make an argument for a deviation based on the unique financial circumstances of the family and the needs of the children, if the deviation will serve the best interests of the child or children.