Attorney General Appeals Ruling in Child Support Case

The Georgia Attorney General's Office recently appealed a Fulton County judge's order favoring several fathers who were to be jailed for non-payment of child support. According to a report issued by the Associated Press, the fathers were seeking judicial review of the practice, which they claim creates a virtual debtor's prison for parents who cannot afford child support payments. They also want the court to provide indigent defendants with attorneys when they are subject to incarceration. (Georgia is one of only four states that does not appoint attorneys for defendants in support contempt cases.) The judge's ruling allowed class-action status to Georgia parents who were facing jail time over child support arrears.

In its brief, the Attorney General described the payment problem as an "epidemic", and that parents are incarcerated only due to "the consequences of their own decision making".

Under Georgia law, both parents bear the financial responsibilities of raising a child. As such, a support order is issued to compel a non-custodial parent to support the custodial parent in raising the child.

Child support is determined by combining each parent's gross monthly income. Gross income includes compensation from regular employment, military pensions, unemployment compensation, and Social Security benefits based on the parent's eligibility. In some instances, the court may impute income (determine an assumed amount of income based on a parent's education level and work history) in establishing a support obligation.

Gross income does not include child support or public assistance received, as well as court-ordered maintenance payments. Income from a parent's romantic partner or spouse is not used in determining support. A court will also consider whether a parent has other court-ordered support obligations in setting support.

Ultimately, the court may consider additional factors that may justify a deviation (upward or downward) from the statutory support guidelines.

Support payments are usually collected through a garnishment order, which requires an employer to set aside (and send) payments to the Child Support Services Division of the Georgia Department of Human Services. However, parents who are unemployed or change jobs frequently may fall behind quickly, which may subject them to contempt proceedings.

If you have further questions about child support, or have been notified by Child Support Services of an obligation, an experienced attorney can advise you.