A previous article discussed the basic rules for calculating child support in Georgia and highlighted “parenting time” deviations which can increase or decrease a noncustodial parent’s presumptive support obligation. In this article, we address another deviation which always increases a noncustodial parent’s presumptive obligation: namely, the “high income” deviation.
A high-income deviation arises from the underpinning general principles for all child support deviations, which require consideration of the best interest of the child for whom support is determined, and which allow consideration of a noncustodial parent’s ability or inability to pay the presumptive amount of child support.(1)
As defined, “high income” applies to parents whose combined adjusted income exceeds $30,000 per month.(2) Such high income parents must have the basic child support obligation for their child set at the highest amount allowed by the statutory table which lists basic child support obligations under parents’ varying income levels.(3) Additionally, a court or jury may award an upward deviation to a parent’s presumptive support obligation, in order to “attain an appropriate award of child support for high-income parents which is consistent with the best interest of the child.”(4)
No automatic right exists for an upward deviation based on high income.(5) Indeed, before awarding an upward deviation, a judge or jury must make written findings or special interrogatory findings that the deviation “is reasonably necessary to provide for the needs of the child for whom child support is being determined.”(6) Those findings must state:
(i) The reasons for the deviation from the presumptive amount of child support; (ii) The amount of child support that would have been required under [the child support statute] if the presumptive amount of child support had not been rebutted; and (iii) How, in [the judge or jury’s] determination: (I) Application of the presumptive amount of child support would be unjust or inappropriate; and (II) The best interest of the child for whom support is being determined will be served by deviation from the presumptive amount of child support.(7)
The statutory findings for a high-income deviation must address each of the above factors. Failure to explicitly cover even one component will result in reversal of the child support award on appeal, and a remand to the trial court to make all required findings of fact before imposing an upward deviation for high income.(8) For factors iii(I) and (II), the findings must explain how the application of the child support guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate and how the best interest of the child is served by deviation from the presumptive amount of child support.(9)
To further the child support guidelines’ fundamental purpose “to achieve the state policy of affording to children of unmarried parents, to the extent possible, the same economic standard of living enjoyed by children living in intact families consisting of parents with similar financial means,” a trier of fact could find that, without a high income deviation, the custodial parent would not be able to provide the same economic standard of living that the children had enjoyed when supported by both parents’ income.(10) The trier of fact could rationalize, for example, that because the statutory table which calculates basic child support obligations – based on parents’ combined income levels – caps income at $30,000 per month, the table’s maximum presumptive child support award alone would not provide a child of divorcing parents earning $60,000 per month with the same economic standard of living enjoyed by children living in intact households earning $60,000 per month.(11) That reasoning should suffice, but it must be explicitly stated in the findings of fact supporting the upward deviation for high income.(12)
(1) O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(i)(1)(A). (2) O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(i)(2)(A). (3) Id. (4) Id.; see also Jackson v. Irvin, 316 Ga.App. 560, 563 n.3, 730 S.E.2d 48 (2012). (5) Jackson, supra, 316 Ga.App. at 563 n.3. (6) O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(i)(1)(B). (7) Id. (8) See Fladger v. Fladger, 296 Ga. 145, 148-149, 765 S.E.2d 354 (2014); and Spurlock v. Dep’t of Human Res., 690 S.E.2d 378 (Ga. App. Ct., 2010), citing Turner v. Turner, 285 Ga. 866, 867(1), 684 S.E.2d 596 (2009). (9) Fladger, supra, 296 Ga. at 148. (10) Id., 296 Ga. at 148-149; and O.C.G.A. § 19–6–15(c)(1). (11) Fladger, supra, 296 Ga. at 149. (12) Id.