Establishing custody is the most vital issue faced by divorcing parents or unmarried couples who separate. Once the custodial and noncustodial parents are determined, setting a fair child support amount becomes the priority.

Unlike custody decisions, support payments are determined by a standardized formula, which is viewable on the Georgia Child Support Commission’s website. However, calculating these obligations is much more complicated than plugging in a few numbers.

Beginning the support process

Either parent can begin the application for child support either in person or online. However, to reach the best possible outcome for you and your child, it’s advisable to consult with an experienced family law attorney before starting an application.

Once a request is processed, the Child Support Services Division of the Georgia Department of Human Resources will assist the custodial parent in receiving their initial payments or collecting past-due amounts owed by the noncustodial parent.

How are payment amounts determined?

Georgia uses an income-sharing approach to set the amount of support. Courts consider income for both parents minus any deductions. Using a complicated formula, judges determine gross annual income by adding:

  • Salaries, wages and tips
  • Interest earned
  • Commissions
  • Income from trusts
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Workers’ compensation payments
  • Social security benefits
  • Disability benefits

What are child support deviations?

In some cases, a judge can order more or less child support than is recommended by the formula, depending upon the needs of the child, agreements between parents or a number of other factors. These so-called “deviations” include:

  • Actual parenting time
  • Extraordinary health care costs, such as insurance
  • Costs related to a child’s disability
  • Spousal support
  • Life insurance policies listing the child as a beneficiary
  • Mortgage payments
  • Travel expenses

While either parent can request a deviation from the support calculation, custodial parents typically ask for an increased amount, and noncustodial parents usually request to pay less.

Courts put the child’s needs first

Just as in custody disputes, family courts consider deviations and determine child support payments based on the child’s best interests. These include financial resources, and educational as well as emotional and physical needs of the child. They also attempt to weigh whether the guidelines determining payments are fair to the supporting parent.

What this means is that the process is far from cut-and-dry. A knowledgeable lawyer will work to ensure that courts receive accurate accounting from both parents when determining income. They can also negotiate with the other parent to help you maintain greater control over the process while meeting your child’s needs. Lastly, they can help you file for a modification to a support order if your circumstances change drastically.