Back in the day, anyone with a calculator or a savant-like ability to do math in his or her head could figure out what child support should be in the state of Georgia. There were ranges of percentages of gross income of the paying parent, and you just took one number, say, $3000.00 a month, and took 18%-22% of that for one child. In 2007 the legislature passed what I refer to as the “Lawyers Employment Act of 2007” and created a child support worksheet, supported only on Windows Excel, so too bad so sad iPad and Droid users.
It took me a long time to embrace this change, largely because it took me a long time to understand it. As a general rule, I chafe against anything dictated by the legislature. But now that I have seen this in operation for a few years, I am a big fan.
Rather than just saying “20% of Dad’s gross income is X”, the new child support worksheet takes into account other children that the parent(s) might be financially responsible for, the income of the parent who receives child support, and makes adjustments for things like health insurance, child care, and any extraordinary expenses.
I’m going to use large numbers and incorrect presumptions just to make the math easy, but here’s how it works:
Let’s say Dad makes $6,000.00 per month (gross – for these purposes, no one really cares what your take home is) and Mom makes $4,000.00 per month. This means that between the two parents there is a $10,000.00 pot of money with which to take care of the kids. Dad makes 60% of the pot, and Mom makes 40% of the pot. There is a complicated looking chart, which looks like a tax table, and which the spreadsheet ‘looks at’ automatically, and it says something like (remember: these numbers are simplified for the purposes of a clear explanation and are not correct) “If there is $10,000.00 between them, then $2,000.00 should be spent directly on the kids. Since Dad makes 60%, he should be responsible for $1,200.00, and since Mom makes 40%, she should be responsible for $800.00.” This would mean, overly-simplified, that Dad should pay $1,200.00 in child support.
But then there are the deviations. Just like your tax return, a child support worksheet has schedules – all the way up to “E”. These schedules make pro rata adjustments for things like medical insurance, child care necessary for employment, private school, or any number of things that might affect how much it costs to raise your particular child. There are income adjustments for whether or not the payor pays child support for another child, and whether or not the payor is financially responsible for another child, and any number of other things. There can be deviations for extra parenting time, or particularly high or particularly low income of one parent.
Once you have put all this data in the appropriate place in the worksheet and checked all the right boxes, the worksheet spits out a number called “Final Child Support Amount.” This is what is going to be paid. Period. End of story. It must match the number in the child support award, or the judge will not sign off on the order.
This might sound like an overcomplication of the simple “take 20%” rule. And in some ways it is, as the Final Child Support Amount is often dangerously close to what the percentage would be in the old rule. However, there are benefits to this convoluted method. Firstly, it takes an entire category of argument off the table. The child support is what the worksheet says it is, and there is no arguing if it should be the top, middle, or bottom of a range. Secondly, it takes into account the receiving parent’s (usually the mother’s) income. When the child support laws were first written, women didn’t always work, and when they did, they did not have nearly the earning potential as men. Nowadays, not discounting the very real problems of income disparity and the glass ceiling, women have a great deal more opportunities. It is not all that unusual for women to earn more than their (ex-)husbands, or be better educated. It is only fair that this be taken into account. Plus, some children are simply more expensive to raise than others – some have special medical or educational needs, some have ridiculously expensive extra curricular activities, some will only thrive in a private school environment. All of that needs to be taken into account one way or another. So, rather than give people twenty more categories of things to argue about during a divorce, the legislature took the problem in hand and gave us a formula. A barely comprehensible formula that sometimes contains voodoo math, but it spits out a round number no matter what.
With so much uncertainty in this life – especially in matters of divorce and child custody – isn’t it nice to know that the legislature, at least once, took a burden off you shoulders?
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.