In Georgia, if my income increases, am I barred from obtaining a downward modification in child support? The short answer is no, now for the complete story……
According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated regarding child support modification: "Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, a parent shall not have the right to petition for modification of the child support award regardless of the length of time since the establishment of the child support award unless there is a substantial change in either parent's income and financial status or the needs of the child." O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15.
Upon reading the above cited statute, many take this law to mean that an obligated parent may not seek a reduction in the amount of their child support obligation unless their income has decreased. However, this is not necessarily the case. Nothing in the statute requires a decrease in the obligated parent’s income. The statute only requires a “change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child.”
In fact, the Supreme Court of Georgia gives even more guidance on this exact issue in its ruling in Miller v. Tashie, 265 Ga. 147,149 (1995). In Miller, the Georgia Supreme Court specifically pointed out that there is no precedent that holds that “an increase in income would bar a petition for modification or even that such an increase would absolutely preclude a trial court's conclusion that the financial status of the obligor parent had changed in such a way as to warrant reconsideration of the amount of the support obligation.” Id. Based on this observation, the Court held that dismissal of a modification petition on the ground that an increase in the obligated parent’s income barred the petition was reversible error. Id.
The Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling in Miller is quite clear, an obligated parent is not barred from seeking a reduction in the amount of their child support obligation simply because of an increase in income. However, in order for an obligated parent to prevail in a child support modification action, the obligated parent, or petitioner must show that there has been some change in his or her financial status.
According to the Georgia Supreme Court, financial status is more than income. Moccia v. Moccia, 277 Ga. 571, 572 (2004). Financial status encompasses an individual’s overall financial circumstances. Id. Thus, even if an obligated spouse’s income increases, he or she may still be able to obtain a downward modification of child support if they show that for some reason, be it changed living circumstances, increased financial obligations, debt, or other hardship, that their financial status has declined.
By A. Latrese Martin, Law Clerk, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC