For most people, child support makes a substantial difference to their budget and planning, yet it can be hard to predict how much child support you will get if you do not know how Georgia courts calculate child support. Child support is based on a formula, but it is also subject to the court’s discretion. In this blog, Porchlight explains in detail how Georgia courts calculate child support.

Monthly child support payments are set according to statutory guidelines that take into consideration both parents’ income, the cost of health insurance for the child, child care expenses, and sometimes deviations for certain other expenses. The courts use an online Child Support Calculator published by the Administrative Office of the Courts to calculate child support. While the Calculator calculates a child support obligation for each parent, only the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. Even though the calculations are performed automatically by the Child Support Calculator, it is helpful to understand what those calculations are, since they determine your child support amount.

First, the Calculator determines the Basic Child Support Obligation. The Basic Child Support Obligation is set by statute in O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 and is based on what the Georgia Legislature has determined two parents making the combined total income of the parents would likely spend on the number of children those parents have together. So, for example, if Parent A earns $6,000 per month and Parent B earns $4,000 per month, together, both parents earn $10,000 per month. If this family has one child, the Basic Child Support Obligation is $1,259, according to the schedule in the statute. You can check out the schedule here, at the end of the statute. While the Basic Child Support Obligation does increase with each child, that increase is less than the support amount for the first child. So, if this family had three children, for example, the Basic Child Support Obligation would only increase to from $1,259 to $1,992.

Second, the Basic Child Support Obligation is then divided between the parents in proportion to their incomes. In our example, Parent A is responsible for 60% of the child support obligation ($6,000 is 60% of $10,000) and Parent B is responsible for 40% of the child support obligation ($4,000 is 40% of $10,000). Going back to the one-child scenario, if Parent A is the non-custodial parent, he or she would pay $755 (60% of $1,259) to Parent B.

Third, health insurance costs and child care costs are added to the Calculator and divided proportionally between the parents, with credit given to the parent who is paying that expense. (Though in some situations, child care may be left out of the Calculator and addressed separately to account for the changing child care amounts as the children grow.) The combination of the Basic Child Support Obligation, health insurance, and child care determines the Presumptive Amount of Child Support, which is what a parent will pay if no deviations are applied. In our example scenario, if Parent A pays $300 per month in health insurance premiums for the child, then Parent A is responsible for $180 (60% of $300) of the health insurance and Parent B is responsible for $120 (40% of $300) of the health insurance. But because Parent A pays all $300 of the health insurance, that $300 payment is credited toward his or her child support obligation. So Parent A’s Presumptive Amount of Child Support is calculated as follows: $755 + $180 – $300 = $635, and Parent A pays $635 to Parent B.

In some cases, once the court has calculated the Presumptive Amount of Child Support, no further calculations are needed, and the court orders this amount of child support. In other cases, the court may decide to apply a deviation to the Presumptive Amount of Child Support, such as for low income, high income, dental and vision insurance, life insurance, travel expenses related to parenting time, the amount of parenting time, or for other appropriate reasons. Depending on the type of deviation, the court may divide the expenses proportionally between the parents and give credit to the parent who pays the expense, just like health insurance and child care, or the court may apply the deviation as a dollar-for-dollar increase/decrease to a parent’s child support obligation.

While this formula may seem relatively straightforward, the numbers that go into the formula are often disputed. For example, not every parent has a fixed salary, so determining their monthly income can be challenging. A parent’s income can also be reduced due to child support obligations from previous relationships. If one parent is a stay-at-home parent, both that parent’s income and potential future child care expenses could be open for debate. Furthermore, because the court has broad discretion on whether to include deviations and for many types of deviations, how much of a deviation to include, deviations can greatly impact the child support amount. It is important to have an attorney who can advocate for the right numbers to be used in the Child Support Calculator and to help you navigate the process.

Porchlight can assist you in determining the right amount of child support, particularly in cases where one of the party’s incomes is not straightforward or where there are potential deviations. For help with your child support action, call Porchlight at (678) 435-9069.