The philosophy behind the child support laws in Georgia is a radical shift from the way it was ten years ago. Since the bottom line results are often the same as they used to be, most people don’t understand the real difference. This is especially highlighted when the parents share custody 50/50.
Under the old law, child support was entirely an obligation to be paid by the non-custodial parent. You make $2000 a month gross income, and you have one child? Well, then, you are paying 18% of your $2000 towards your child – that’s $360.00 – end of story. That law was written many decades ago, under a scenario when 99.99% of the time it was Mom who was the custodial parent – Mom who didn’t work, or who wasn’t well educated or trained for a career, and who wouldn’t have access to her own fortune.
Times are different now. Custodial arrangements are often different than the every other weekend scenario. Many women have lucrative careers. The legislature decided that it was time to pay attention to things like extraordinary educational or medical expenses.
And so enter the new law. The new law looks not just at the income of the parent who is paying child support, but the parent who is receiving it. If Mom makes five times as much as Dad, she can shoulder more of the financial burden of raising the child. The new law, rather than just looking as a percentage of the paying parent’s income, looks at the whole picture.
In a vastly simplified nutshell, child support is calculated this way. I’ll use a pretend set of parents whose incomes are big round numbers to make the math easy. Let’s say Bob makes $6,000.00 a month, and Sue makes $4,000.00 a month and they have three children between them. This means that between the two of them, there is $10,000.00, with Bob making 60% of that, and Sue making 40% of that. The legislature created a complicated chart. It says that if between the two of them they have $10,000.00, then
$2,000.00 should be used directly for the children*. Since Bob makes 60% of the income, he should be responsible for $1,200.00, and Sue should be responsible for her 40%, or $800.00.
Assuming Sue has primary physical custody and Bob sees his kids every other weekend and maybe for dinner on Wednesdays, Bob would pay $1,200.00 a month to Sue. (There are other adjustments that can be made, but I’m trying not to complicate this topic here.)
But what is Bob and Sue get along relatively well, and live in houses within walking distance of each other, and their teenage children want to spend equal time with them? Bob and Sue agree that they will have a “week on/week off” agreement. Does this mean that no one pays child support since no one is the “non-custodial parent”?
The short answer is “No.” If they both made the same amount of money it would be “Yes,” but since Bob makes more it isn’t. The child support philosophy supported by the current legislation is that the children should have equal access to their parents’ money no matter whose house in which they are spending the night. So, if Bob pays Sue $200.00 a month, then they each have $1000.00 a month to spend directly on the children – Sue has her $800 plus the $200 Bob gives her; Bob has his $1,200, minus the $200 he gives Sue. And the children have just as much food and sneaker and haircut and toothpaste and movie money no matter whose house they are in at any given time.
This is a difficult philosophy for most parents to swallow when they find themselves having to pay child support for a child they take care of half the time. Whether you agree with the philosophy or not, it is the law, and there’s not much you can do about it without, well, quite literally without an act of congress.
As with all child support payments, just remember this: you aren’t paying child support to or for your ex. You are paying child support for your child, to put a roof over his head, to put food in her belly, and to make sure that she has the school supplies she needs. It really is all about the children.
*The number is actually $1992.00, but I’m rounding it up to make the math easy.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only. No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the specific details of your situation.