Does my child support automatically adjust when….?

I receive several calls weekly from potential clients who have experienced some change in circumstances which would seem to affect the child support calculation in their cases. Perhaps one of several children has turned 18, graduated high school, or moved. Perhaps there has been a change in the financial circumstances of one or both parents due to a raise or promotion, or due to job loss or demotion. Typically they have two questions: does this change my child support, and, does it happen automatically?

In typical lawyer fashion, I nearly always answer the first case with a confident “Maybe…” The Georgia child support guidelines can be complex and the worksheets have lots of moving parts. It’s impossible to guess the affect that one change on the worksheet will have on the final number (what clients are interested in!) without considering the other parts as well. Has there been a change in circumstances for both parents? If so, the changes may substantially wash each other out. In the case of multiple children, the guidelines call for higher support for each additional child, but the increase is not a lockstep double, triple or quadruple. The amount of support for two children isn’t double the amount for one! The only way to determine the appropriate guidelines under the new circumstances is to prepare an entirely new worksheet.

As to the second question, the answer is nearly always “No.” Changes in income may well result in a substantial increase or decrease in the amount of child support, but no change takes place until the proper steps are taken to modify the existing court order. This means that if the non-custodial parent’s income triples because of a great new job after obtaining an advanced degree his child support will remain the same until the custodial parent obtains a new court order reflecting the change in circumstances. This also means that the child support obligation of a non-custodial parent who suffers an unexpected job loss will remain the same, even as he no longer has an income or a greatly reduced income. This often leads to a quickly accumulating child support arrearages by parent who had otherwise faithfully paid as ordered.

The proper mechanism is typically a modification action which seeks to amend the child support calculation with updated information. Unfortunately, in the case of a loss of income due to job loss or demotion, the very last thing a paying parent wants to do is spend money on attorneys and court costs to file a new action. However, without the filing of such an action the accumulation of unpaid child support can be financially devastating and can lead to a contempt action (and possible incarceration!) due to the unpaid support.

If you have questions about your child support obligation, give me a call to discuss your options.

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