Georgia’s New Child Support Guidelines Go Into Effect
By: John R. Coleman, Jr.
Coleman, Chambers & Rogers, LLP
This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it in any manner be construed to be, the giving of legal advice.
This article is an update of a previous article drafted prior to the new child support guidelines actually going into effect.
The day has finally arrived, Georgia’s new child support guidelines were implemented January 1, 2007. The new law replaces over thirty years of legislation which previously based child support on a flat percentage calculated from the non-custodial parents gross annual income. Georgia now falls in line with the majority of the states in the United States who also utilize the income shares approach. If you are in the process of considering divorce and have children, the new law will have a substantial affect on your child support obligation. If you were divorced in prior years and are paying child support under the prior child support guidelines, you may be questioning whether your obligation under the new law.
The shared income approach is based upon a utilization of a rate table, which establishes a base number that in theory is sufficient to meet the child’s or children’s needs. For the first time, the new child support guidelines contain a statement of public policy which states: “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. See O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(c). In a nutshell, the new law takes into consideration the income of both parents, as opposed to the previous law, which based child support solely on the income of the non-custodial parents’ gross income. The General Assembly intended for the new guidelines to be guidelines only. The question becomes, will the new law improve the process of calculating child support?
As we have come to realize, the new law is undoubtedly more complicated than the previous guidelines. The new process involves numerous steps to calculate child support, which your domestic lawyer should be well versed. Electronic worksheets are now necessary to determine a child support obligation and must be submitted to the courts. The first step is to determine the monthly gross income (special definitions provided in the statute) of each parent. The second step is determining adjustments to each parent’s gross income. Under the new law there are numerous adjustments to gross income such as: self employment tax, pre-existing child support orders, theoretical child support orders for qualified children and low income reserve adjustments, and if any are made the third step is to combine the adjusted incomes of each parent to compute the Combined Adjusted Income (CAI). The legislature appointed a Special Child Support Commission to develop the electronic worksheets, and the commission did a good job in creating user friendly worksheets that automatically calculate these numbers once imputed. The third step is to take the Combined Adjusted Income and apply it to the obligation tables to determine the Basic Child Support Obligation (BCSO). This is the amount presumed under the statute to be the appropriate amount of child support provided by both parents prior to consideration of any other factors. As mentioned above, the new child support guidelines include a Child Support Obligation Table, codified in O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(o), which outlines monthly child support for up to six children in monthly increments between $800.00 and $30,000.00 per month. After the BCSO is determined, the fourth step is to calculate each parents pro rata share, which is completed through the online Child Support Worksheets, or through the Microsoft Excel Version. Again, the pro rata share of each parent is automatically calculated under these worksheets, which makes the process much easier to apply.
The fifth step allows for parents to receive credit for additional expenses paid for the child or children such as a health insurance premium, work related child care costs such as day care, or after school care, which are automatically calculated as a credit to the parent paying the expense by the electronic worksheets. If you are truly lost at this point, your practitioner should be able to walk you through completing the online or excel worksheets, which automatically calculate these amounts. The prior law allowed for the court to consider special circumstances to deviate from the non-custodial parents child support obligation such as payment of a mortgage, shared custody arrangements, etc., but under the new law these are called deviations which are considered in the sixth and last step. The final amount is increased or decreased based on the deviations. The primary focus when considering deviations is the “best interest of the child standard.” The judge must make a written finding after considering all of the available income of both parents, that the child support is reasonable and necessary to provide for the needs of the child. Under the new law, there will be no deviation in child support if such a reduction will seriously impair the ability of the custodial parent to provide and maintain what is considered to be by the court or jury minimally adequate housing, food, clothing, and other basic necessities. A couple of examples of deviations are: low income, high income, life insurance, additional health related insurance, parenting time, alimony, mortgage payment, foster care plan, or permanency plan, special needs of the child for education, extracurricular activities, or medical.
The new statute is now in full force, and effect. If you would like to schedule an appointment in Gainesville with one of our family law attorneys to discuss your options under the new guidelines, whether it be a divorce, modification, or another action, please contact us at 678-601-2495 or send an email to [email protected] or [email protected] For a helpful website that provides these two worksheets please refer to http://www.georgiacourts.org/csc/, and scroll to the bottom of the website and click on Calculator Worksheets.