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  • Bruce Steinfeld

Essentials of Georgia Child Support Laws

Parents rarely think about child support until there is a divorce or separation. Georgia imposes on both parents the obligation to provide for the financial support of their children. This obligation also applies children born to married couples as well as those born out of wedlock. Calculating the amount parents must pay to satisfy their support obligation may appear challenging, but it helps to have a general knowledge of the laws and methods used to ensure that parent fulfill their legal obligation toward their children.

Financial obligation of parents for their children

Georgia child support laws begin by recognizing that each parent shares joint and several obligations for the maintenance, protection and education of their children regardless of whether the parents live apart or they reside together as a family unit. The legal responsibility to support a child continues until one of following events occurs:

  • The child reaches 18 years of age

  • The death of the child

  • The legal emancipation of the child

Minor is considered to be emancipated through marriage, by serving on active duty in the military or by court order after the filing of a petition asking to be emancipated.

Parents may agree or a court may order extension of the obligation to pay child support until the child reaches 20 years of age in order to give the child time to complete high school. The child must be enrolled and attending high school for a court to have discretion to extend the support obligation.

Determining the amount of child support

Child support may be established by court order or through a written agreement achieved through negotiations between the parties. As a general rule, the child support obligation negotiated by the parties conforms to the child support guidelines found in the Georgia support law.

Flexibility in setting terms that a court may not be authorized to order is one of the benefits of a negotiating an agreement as to child support instead of asking a judge to make the decision. For instance, child support normally ends when the child reaches 18 years of age, but parents may want the support to continue until a child graduates from college. A support agreement gives them the flexibility to go beyond what the law permits judges to grant.

If parents reach an agreement on child support that includes imposing obligations beyond what the law authorizes a court to impose, the party agreeing to take on the obligation must comply with it. For example, a parent signing a written support agreement that includes responsibility for a child?s college tuition in addition to basic support payments cannot avoid the obligation by challenging it in court. Georgia courts treat the agreements as contracts and will not undo what the parties freely and voluntarily negotiated even they contain terms beyond what the law permits judges to impose in child support cases.

When parties cannot agree on child support, the parties may submit the dispute to the courts for determination. Courts apply a number of factors in addition to the child support guidelines to arrive at the amount of child support to be paid by the noncustodial parent. Some of the factors that could persuade a judge to deviate from the guidelines include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Extraordinary expenses for child?s education

  • Expenses related to child?s extracurricular activities

  • Extraordinary health care required by the child

  • Travel expenses of the noncustodial parent, such as a parent residing in another state having to travel to participate visitation or parenting time

  • Life insurance premiums paid on policies with child as beneficiary

Courts may also take into consideration the economic hardship a strict adherence to the guidelines would impose on the parent ordered to pay the child support.

Making changes to child support

Someone making child support payments according to a support agreement or as ordered by a Georgia court cannot make changes in the amount paid without first obtaining the written consent of the other party to amend the original support agreement or by petitioning the court for a modification. Although parents may negotiate changes to a support agreement as often as they wish, court actions to modify a child support may not be filed within two years of a previous order either granting child support or modifying it. Parents may circumvent the two-year restriction for filing modification petitions if the parent who does not have custody has failed to exercise visitation as ordered or has exceeded the visitation time ordered by a court.

A modification petition may also be filed within the two-year period if the paying parent experiences an involuntary loss of income. The statute mentions labor strike, involuntary termination of employment or health issues as examples of situations constituting an involuntary loss of income.

Getting help with child support issues

An experienced Atlanta family law attorney can be a trusted source of legal advice and skilled representation when child support issues arise. Whether negotiating an agreement to avoid or minimize litigation or protecting your interests in court proceedings, the assistance offered by an attorney may prove invaluable to achieving a favorable result.

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