Since 1993, Georgia court orders establishing child support amounts have provided that support payments shall continue until the child turns 18. However, if the child is still in high school past the age of 18, child support will continue until the child finishes high school or reaches the age of 20, whichever occurs first.
In May every year, hundreds of Seniors at every high school in Gwinnett County, Forsyth County, Fulton County, and Hall County will walk across a stage to receive their diploma. Some of these new graduates will be 18 years old or older, and one of their parents may be receiving child support during this last year of high school. When that child is finished with high school, he or she is no longer eligible for receiving child support.
For parents who have more than one child receiving support under an order, graduation may trigger some common questions from parents: “How much child support should I expect to receive for my younger children now that my older child has graduated high school?” “If I have two children and one graduates, does that mean I pay half of my court-ordered child support?”
Unless a court-order explicitly provides for what happens under circumstance of one or more child becoming ineligible for child support, there is no other automated mechanism for recalculating child support for the remaining child(ren) when a child becomes ineligible (such as when the child graduates high school). In Georgia, child support is not calculated pro rata based upon the number of children; therefore, reducing child support in half when 1 or 2 children graduates is not necessarily what the law prescribes.
In families where co-parents have a graduating child who will become ineligible for child support, but other child or children remaining eligible under the prior court order, the parents will need to modify child support to adjust the obligation to the correct amount. A Child Support Modification may be processed through the Department of Child Support Services or through filing a petition with the proper Superior Court. With the help of an attorney, a modification under these circumstances can typically be quickly and efficiently completed. While in some cases financial matters become contested, for purposes of modifying child support, parents may simply agree with each other to exchange current income data, consent to the preparation of a new child support worksheet, and file an uncontested modification to child support that will establish the new child support obligation.
WARNING FOR PARENTS PAYING CHILD SUPPORT: Unless the original child support order addresses your remaining child support obligation after graduation or you obtain a modification of child support when the child graduates, the original Court order remains effective, and, consequently, your child support obligation remains the same regardless of the graduation. Non-payment of the full child support obligation in the order, even after a child graduates, could have consequences, including contempt of court for non-payment of child support or arrearages. If you are paying child support and have a child graduating, the best procedure is to be proactive about making a modification.
Solution For The Future: New Georgia Child Support Guidelines. Newly enacted Child Support Guidelines allow for the filing of multiple worksheets in divorce, or other custody cases, when there are multiple children, so that when the oldest child is no longer eligible to receive child support, the child support order will provide for a second amount calculated only for the children who remain in the home. Per the child support guidelines, this subsequent amount must be supported by a worksheet; thus, the worksheets are prepared at the time the original child support is ordered. This will save parents money in that they will not have to modify child support when one of their children is no longer eligible to receive support. However, the
bill does nothing to prohibit either parent seeking a modification of the amount of support if other circumstances (such as income of the parties or expenses of the children) have changed.