What should I know about child support?
Child support laws in Georgia
- What is child support?
- What are my rights?
- What are my responsibilities?
- How is child support calculated?
What is child support?
Child support is a court-ordered payment, that is money paid by a non-custodial parent to help support a child. In Georgia, all child support and custody issues must be settled either by court-approved agreement of the parties or by trial. In Georgia, child support is paid until a child:
- Becomes self-supporting
- Reaches the age of 18, or if the child is enrolled full-time in a secondary school, until the child reaches the age of 20
What can a child support order include?
Except in an abandonment warrant proceeding, a child support order can include money to cover a child’s:
- Daily living expenses
- Day care
- Medical/dental expenses
- After school care
- Special needs
- Extracurricular activities
What are my rights?
Parents cannot agree between themselves that child support will not be paid. Parents cannot waive the right to modify child support because it is a right that belongs to the child or children. Your child has a legal right to financial support from both parents.
In a divorce, one parent is usually given primary physical custody of the child or children. This means that the children live with that parent most of the time and visit with the other parent. That other parent has visitation rights. Sometimes, legal custody of the child or children is joint between both parents. In that case, the children live almost equal time with each parent.
What are my responsibilities?
Each parent has a legal responsibility to support his or her children. Generally it is the parent without custody who has the responsibility to pay his or her share of support to the parent who lives with the child. The parent who lives with the child is called the primary custodian. This parent is responsible for using the money for the benefit of the child.
Am I responsible for providing medical support for my child?
Even if your child is eligible for a public health care program, the court might still order you to get other health insurance for your child. Public health care programs for kids include Medicare and PeachCare for Kids.
The child's uninsured health care expenses are the responsibility of both parents. Usually, health care expenses will be divided based on income, unless otherwise ordered by the court. If a parent fails to pay his or her share of the child's uninsured health care expenses, the other parent or guardian may sue for payment.
How is child support calculated?
Child support is calculated on an income share basis, which means the child support is based on the income of both parents. A formula using worksheets determines child support. The amount of child support can be increased or decreased depending on the specific facts of each case.
Georgia courts use a Basic Child Support Obligation table to determine the initial child support amount. The table does not include the cost of:
The parent's work related child care costs
Health insurance premiums
Uninsured health care expenses
These expenses must be added in the calculations to determine child support.
The total amount of child care costs are divided between both parents based on income. That amount is used to determine the initial amount of child support and must be included in the worksheet and the final child support order. If your child care costs vary, the court or jury might remove work related child care costs from the calculation of support. Work related child care costs are then divided based on income and are paid separately. The initial amount calculated by the table can be changed by deviations. Deviations may include (but are not limited to) the following:
The Georgia Child Support Commission has an online calculator you can use based on Georgia’s child support guidelines. It is available for you to use to get a good idea of how much child support your child should get.
What is imputed income and why does it matter?
Imputed income is potential income a parent could earn if he or she tried to work. A parent can present reliable evidence of the other parent's potential income like:
Recent tax return
Other information that would help the court or jury determine the parent’s income
A court or jury, can impute that parent's income based on a 40-hour work week at minimum wage. The court or jury will take into account factors like:
The parent’s assets
Work and earning history
The job market
If a parent is incarcerated, the court will not look at past wages to impute income. The court might impute income based upon the actual income and assets available to the incarcerated parent.
How do Social Security benefits for a child affect child support?
Some children get Social Security Disability Income derivative benefits through a parent. If your child gets these benefits from the non-custodial parent, that will affect the amount of child support you receive. The amount of the benefit is subtracted from the total amount of child support award as calculated by the guidelines. If the amount of the benefit is more than the total amount of the child support award, then the child support owed by the non-custodial parent will be zero. For example, say the child gets $200 of Social Security benefits through the non-custodial parent. If the total amount of child support calculated by the guidelines is $600, then the amount due to you will be $400.
What are income deduction orders?
All child support orders must include a section about wage withholding, unless the parents have a different agreement. Wage withholding means taking child support from the non-custodial parent's paycheck.
Orders that don't contain this provision can be modified to include a wage withholding provision. You can ask the court for this change in a regular modification proceeding or in a contempt proceeding. To do this, the non-custodial parent must be behind in child support payments for more than the amount of one month's support. Copies of the income deduction order must be served by mail on the non-custodial parent and his or her employer.
- How do I get a child support order?
- What can I do to enforce child support?
- Can I make changes to the child support agreement after it is final?
- What if the payor parent becomes unemployed?
How do I get a child support order?
There are several types of court cases where a judge can order child support, including a:
- Legitimation action
- Paternity action
- Child support enforcement action by the Georgia Division of Child Support Services
- Criminal abandonment warrant
- Separate maintenance action
- Temporary protective order under the Family Violence Act
What can I do to enforce child support?
There are many legal actions you can consider if the parent that does not have custody is not paying the child support that the court ordered.
File a "Contempt Action" in court. A parent who is behind in child support is in contempt of the court order. The parent can be ordered to pay what is owed (including the legal costs you have to pay to file the contempt action). The contempt action must be filed in the court that ordered the child support to be paid.
Get an income deduction order. An Income Deduction Order is the most effective way to collect child support. This orders the non-custodial parent's employer to withhold the amount of child support from that parent's paycheck. If you already have a child support order and it does not contain a paragraph about income deduction, you can go back to court. The court can change the language if the other parent is behind in child support payments for more than the amount of one month's support.
Contact child support enforcement. The Georgia Department of Human Resources has a Child Support Enforcement Division ("CSE"). CSE can help you get the court order enforced. CSE can also help you get a portion of the non-custodial parent's tax refund if you request it by August of each year.
If the absent parent is receiving workers' compensation benefits, CSE can:
- Contact the Workers' Compensation Board
- Get information about the case
- Pursue collection of child support through garnishment of that parent's Workers Compensation benefits
CSE can also collect child support from the absent parent's unemployment compensation.
Get a lien. If you know the absent parent owns real or personal property, talk to an attorney. An attorney might help you get lien on the land and the house or levy personal property.
A lien is a claim you have on someone's personal property (car, boat, T.V., etc.) or real property (house or land) for payment of a debt (such as child support). When a lien is placed on real or personal property, the lien must be satisfied (paid off) before the absent parent can sell the property.
To levy is to seize (take) personal property in satisfaction (payment) of a legal claim.
File a writ of fieri facias (fi. fa.) where the non-custodial parent has property. Another way to enforce an order for support is to get a fi. fa. (a writ of fieri facias). You can get a fi. fa. form from the clerk of the court who issued the order. You can then file the fi. fa. and record it on the general execution docket of the superior court of any county in the state in which you have reason to believe that the absent parent may own real estate (house and/or land). A recorded fi. fa. is used to place a lien on property (real estate or automobile) and allows the proper law enforcement officer to levy on other personal property. However, these procedures are complicated, and you should contact a private attorney for assistance.
File a garnishment. If the absent parent is at least 30 days behind in the amount of support he or she owes, you can file a garnishment. You can garnish bank accounts, Social Security benefits and tax refunds. If the absent parent was injured at work, you can call the Workers Compensation Board (404) 656-3692 and get the name and address of the insurance company. You must tell them the name of the employer and the date of the injury. You can then file a garnishment against the insurance company. SSI and TANF cannot be garnished.
Request that a court deny or suspend the other parent's license. If the parent is 60 days behind on child support but can pay, the court can deny or suspend his or her:
Can I make changes to the child support agreement after it is final?
Parents cannot waive the right to modify child support because it is a right that belongs to the child or children. Child support orders can be changed based on a change in the income or financial need of either parent. Child support can be changed based on the changing needs of the child. Sometimes if a child support enforcement agency is involved, either parent can have the order reviewed without going to court. Sometimes a parent can request a change in child support when there are major changes to the child support laws.
What if the payor parent becomes unemployed?
Child support might be decreased if a parent:
- Suffers an involuntary termination of employment
- Has an extended involuntary loss of average weekly hours
- Is involved in an organized strike
- Incurs a loss of health
- Becomes incarcerated
- Has similar involuntary adversity resulting in a loss of income of 25 percent or more
It is not considered an involuntary termination of employment if the parent quit without good cause.
- Please use this petition for poor parents who have been jailed for nonpayment of child support debt following civil child support contempt proceedings initiated by the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS). The only relief requested in the petition is release from incarceration due to an inability to pay.
- Use the Georgia Commission on Child Support’s online calculator to help you calculate the cost of child support.
- Learn about the step by step instructions for calculating child support under Georgia's 2007 child support law.
- Read our brochure on child support to learn more.
- If you have questions about collecting child support, read our brochure.
- Visit our page to learn about frequently asked questions about Georgia’s new child support law.
- Read this guide for more information about the Child Support (CSE) Program and services that are available to you.
- View the University of Arizona's document that explores the myths and realities behind changing identities for survivors of domestic violence (this link opens a PDF that may not be accessible for all users).
- Visit the Division of Child Support Services for additional information about the child support enforcement process.
This article is adapted with permission from an excerpt of An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). Reviewed and updated by Georgialegalaid.org, September 2019.