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Auto Adjusting Child Support
Many parents often believe that child support will automatically terminate or adjust when one child reaches the age of majority or due to the occurrence of some other event effecting child custody or child support or the financial circumstances of the parents. However, this is not the case. Georgia law requires that any child support award be calculated pursuant to Georgia’s Child Support Guidelines. See generally O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 (b). Thus, in order to modify an order of child support, the parent seeking the modification must petition the court for a modification of child support pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 (k).
What this means, put plainly, is that child support cannot be automatically modified or adjusted based on an event that may (or may not) happen in the future. Just as an initial child support finding must be made based on the financial circumstances of both parents at the time child support is calculated, any modification must also be based on the financial circumstances of the parents while also considering the best interest of the minor child/children involved. Only if the parents’ financial circumstance or the circumstance of the minor child involved change substantially may a child support order be modified. Id. With this being said, in most cases a presiding court may not order child support to automatically adjust based on a future event because doing so would “eliminate the statutory requirement that a trial court receive actual evidence of a ‘substantial change’ in either party’s financial circumstances before making a modification determination.” Singh v. Hammond, S12A1576 (2013).
Under some circumstances however, parents may agree for the automatic reduction of child support as the children for whom support is being provided reach the age of majority. For example, a couple with three children may agree to a reduction in the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation when the oldest child reaches the age of majority, another reduction when the middle child reaches the age of majority and the termination of child support when the youngest child reaches the age of majority.
If parents do agree to such an arrangement in a Settlement Agreement or Marital Dissolution Agreement, they must do so in accordance with the child support guidelines. It is not acceptable for parents to agree to a reduction of child support on a simple pro-rata basis. A new child support calculation must be conducted to determine the correct child support amount for the remaining minor children. See Scott-Lasley v. Lasley, 278 Ga. 671 (2004). Practically speaking, for a court to approve such an agreement, in a case involving three minor children, the parents would have to present the court with three different Child Support Worksheets, with each worksheet corresponding to the non-custodial parent’s obligation for three children, then two children, and finally one child.