Child support is critical to maintaining a sense of normalcy during the stress that accompanies many divorces and is an important issue that must be decided before finalizing a divorce.
In Georgia, several laws and protections are in place to protect the welfare of children. Here’s what you need to know.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Georgia
- How is Child Support Determined in Georgia?
- What is the Purpose of Child Support?
- Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Georgia?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Verifying Fatherhood
- Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
- Modifying Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Georgia?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Georgia?
Any custodial parent or a person having the child more than half the time or caretaker can collect regular child support from a parent who should contribute.
Both parents must financially support their children, even if the parents were never married, visitation is denied, or either parent lives or works in another state.
Also, child support is gender neutral, meaning that a mother or a father can ask for child support without discrimination.
How is Child Support Determined in Georgia?
Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 19-6-15) provides guidelines for establishing child support amounts.
To help parents determine how much to pay, the Georgia Commission on Child Support has developed the official Georgia Online Child Support Calculator for Georgia’s Child Support Guidelines statute.
Information entered in the calculator determines a presumptive amount of child support that may be deviated from reaching a final child support amount. Printable electronic forms are produced for filing with the court, consisting of a Worksheet and Schedules.
The first step is to decide which parent is the “custodial” parent and the “non-custodial” parent. Generally, the custodial parent has the children more than half the time, while the non-custodial parent has the children less than half the time.
If parenting time is equal, the non-custodial parent will be the parent with the higher child support obligation, which is usually—but not always—the parent who starts with the higher income.
Georgia uses the Income Shares model (each parent pays child support based on both the mother and father’s joint incomes, minus any deductions).
You’ll need to add up each parent’s monthly gross income, including most income types, earned and unearned.
Common examples are wages, commissions, military pensions, self-employment earnings, retirement account payments, disability payments, and investment income.
To calculate the basic child support obligation, add the parents’ adjusted gross incomes and match the total with the column containing the applicable number of children in the Basic Child-Support Obligation Schedule. You can find the current schedule version at the very end of the guidelines available through the Georgia Child Support Commission.
A court may increase or decrease the child support order depending on both parents’ circumstances and the child’s best interests.
Courts may look at the following factors:
- High income of the parents (Combined Income is $30,000/month)
- Low income of the non-custodial parent (earning $1,850/month or less)
- Health-related insurance
- Life insurance (one parent is insured, and the policy names the child as beneficiary)
- 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
States cooperate to establish and collect child support. It does not matter if a parent lives in another state. However, the other state’s child support agency may be involved, which may cause a delay.
What is the Purpose of Child Support?
Child support is the ongoing monetary expenditures and payments to cover a child’s living and medical expenses. It is a recurring payment for a minor child when that parent does not have full custody. In some cases, support may be extended indefinitely, such as when a child has ongoing health or medical needs.
The goal is to protect the child’s welfare with an agreement fair to both parents. This agreement can be reached by the parents or determined by the courts.
Which Agency Oversees Child Support in Georgia?
The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) is responsible for oversight of child support matters in Georgia.
The DCSS mission is to increase the reliability of child support paid by parents when they live apart from their children by:
- Locating parents
- Establishing paternity
- Establishing and enforcing fair support orders
- Increasing health care coverage for children
- Removing barriers to payment, such as referring parents to employment services, supporting healthy co-parenting relationships, supporting responsible fatherhood, and helping to prevent and reduce family violence.
The main office is located at:
2 Peachtree St. NW, 20th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303
It operates Monday – Friday, 8 am to 5 pm.
To contact DCSS by phone, call 1-844-MYGADHS (+1 844-694-2347) and press 1 for DCSS.
Read More: Georgia Divorce Guide
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
There are several steps involved in a Georgia child support case.
Custodial or non-custodial parents may apply for services at the local agency in their county of residence or obtain an application from the DCSS website. A $25 non-refundable processing fee is required at the time of application.
Parents can also call the DCSS office at 1-844-MYGADHS (1-844-694-2347) to get information about opening a case.
Anyone who receives help from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program or receives certain Medicaid benefits can get help from DCSS without applying. All others must complete an application form and pay the application fee.
To get a support order, establish paternity or enforce a support order, DCSS must know where the non-custodial parent lives and works. It may take several months to get child support if you do not know where the other parent lives or the address is out of state.
The more information a custodial parent provides (i.e., the other parent’s date of birth and social security number), the easier it will be to move forward with the case.
Paternity must also be established before a court can order child support and medical support. If paternity has not been established or disputed, DCSS will order a paternity test to be conducted.
A child support order is established based on the Georgia Child Support Guidelines which takes the income of both parents, the number of children, and other factors into consideration.
After a child support order is in place, the support amount will be deducted from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. State law requires immediate income withholding in most cases. If support payments are not deducted from the paycheck, they should be paid as directed in the court order.
Georgia’s Fatherhood Program can help non-custodial parents who have a case with DCSS and cannot pay child support.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Child Support
Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
Yes. According to Georgia statute O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(i)(2)(G):
“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. If the court or the jury considers the actual payment of alimony, the court shall make a written finding of such consideration, or the jury, in its special interrogatory, shall make a written finding of such consideration as a basis for deviation from the presumptive amount of child support.”
Essentially, alimony payments do not reduce that parent’s gross income when calculating child support, but the payment of alimony may be considered as a deviation from the presumptive child support amount.
The Alimony deviation is discretionary, meaning that the presiding court may adjust the amount of the requested deviation or refuse to allow the deviation altogether if the court finds that the requested deviation would not serve the best interest of the child(ren) involved in the action.
Read More: Divorce Laws in Georgia
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
If either parent can get medical insurance for the child at a reasonable cost, such as through an employer’s group health insurance policy or another group plan, a Georgia court will consider that cost in deciding the child support awarded.
Usually, if the non-custodial parent can get health insurance at a reasonable cost, they will be ordered to obtain it for the child.
The only expenses parents can automatically add to the basic support obligation are children’s health insurance costs and work-related childcare. These expenses are generally pro-rated among the parents.
Paternity must be established before the court can order child support and medical support.
DNA testing is available to alleged fathers if paternity has not been previously established by a court order, marriage, or the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment process. If the parents were not married when the child was born, the biological father could be made the legal father by an administrative or court order.
If the man is unwilling to admit paternity, the mother must sign a paternity affidavit before a scheduled court hearing.
You can get more details on establishing paternity by discussing options with a DCSS agent.
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
If a parent does not obey a child support order, they may be found in contempt of court.
A case is considered delinquent when unpaid support is equal to or greater than the monthly support ordered amount. A 30-day delinquency notice is automatically mailed to the non-custodial parent and is the first step in the legal process. This 30-day delinquency notice complies with standards mandated by federal law.
Non-support is considered child abandonment and is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia with a penalty of a $1,000 fine or up to 12 months in prison when a parent has failed to provide sufficient food, clothing, or shelter for the needs of the child for 30 days.
Non-custodial parents found in contempt of court can face various other enforcement actions. The judge may order the non-custodial parent who is unable to pay to enroll in the Fatherhood Program.
The child support order can also be enforced through:
- Withholding child support from paychecks, unemployment insurance payments, or weekly worker compensation benefits.
- Intercepting federal and state income tax refunds.
- Reporting delinquent parents to major credit bureaus.
- Suspending or revoking driver’s, professional or occupational licenses for failure to pay child support.
- Reviewing and modifying child support orders periodically.
- Intercepting lottery winnings up to amounts allowed by Georgia Law.
- Filing liens to seize matched bank accounts, lump-sum worker’s compensation settlements, and real or personal property.
- Denying, suspending, or revoking passports issued by the State Department.
- Requiring the posting of a bond to secure payment of overdue support.
Enforcement actions may take longer with a non-compliant parent living outside of Georgia, and they are subject to the jurisdiction of the courts and laws of the state where they live. Georgia Child Support Services must rely on authorities in the parent’s state of residence to take enforcement action on a case.
Modifying Child Support Payments
Either parent can ask DCSS to review a child support order three years after the order becomes effective. The exception to this is if a substantial change in circumstances can be shown for orders less than three years old.
The request must be made in writing to the child support office handling the case and can recommend that the amount of support go up, down, or stay the same. The DCSS attorney does not represent either parent, but you may retain your own attorney or represent yourself.
Depending on the nature of the case, a review may take up to six months to complete depending on how difficult it is to locate a necessary party, verify income or assets, or complete personal service of legal notice upon both parties.
If another state is involved, that can also delay the process. That may be the case if the order was entered in another state or if one of the parents lives in another state.
Visitation and custody issues are not part of the review and must be treated separately through other court actions.
If you request a review, you will have to pay a $100 non-refundable review application fee when the review is complete. The fee is waived if you are currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid benefits, or prove that your non-TANF gross income before taxes is $1000 or less per month.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are not deductible by the payer or taxable to the recipient. You don’t include child support payments received when calculating your gross income.
However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as the one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the non-custodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. Parents often alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children.
In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a substantially similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Georgia?
Georgia child support order issued after 1993 establishing child support amounts should provide for support to continue until the child turns 18. If the child is still in high school beyond age 18, support will continue until the child finishes high school or reaches age 20, whichever occurs first.
Support also ends if a child dies, marries, or is emancipated.