With the increasing publicity related to celebrities and their custody disputes (Usher, T.O., Mindy McCready and other artists we have posted about), an interesting question arises as to how judges in Georgia handle child support obligations when one parent makes a significantly higher income than the other parent. The purpose of child support is to provide the minor child with a lifestyle that reflects the income of both parents. What do you do when one parent makes ten times, twenty times, or even one hundred times more?
I recently attended a seminar where a panel of judges discussed this issue. A Gwinnett County judge indicated that lump sum child support might be appropriate. Lump sum child support is usually one large payment that, once paid, would completely resolve the parent’s obligation to pay child support in the future. The benefit to lump sum child support would be ensuring that the entire child support obligation until the minor child turns eighteen would have already been paid even if the high-income parent were to lose his or her job later. However, if the high income earning parent were to lose his or her job later, an argument could be made that the lump sum child support was inappropriate because that parent would have had to pay a lower child support payment if his or her income were lower.
A Cobb County judge suggested that another way to determine child support in high-income cases is to use percentages. By way of example, if the child support payment should be 15% of the parent’s net income, then it should not matter whether the 15% is applied to an income of $40,000.00 or $400,000.00 or $4,000,000.00. A Fulton County judge stated that her main concern in such cases is that the money is put to good use and be used for the minor child rather than going to the living expenses of the other parent. This Fulton County judge stated that, depending on the case, it maybe in the best interest of the child to require that a certain sum be set for the minor child and defer accessibility to that fund so the custodial parent does not waste it. Another judge stated,however, that just because one parent earns a significantly higher income than the other does not mean that the child support obligation should be significantly higher as well. This judge wanted to prevent the situation where the custodial parent was essentially “winning the lottery” through child support and stated that a downward deviation is appropriate.