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Georgia Case Law Update: Child Support Modification and Contempt case in DeKalb county, Georgia

The Georgia Court of Appeals has entered a decision on November 13, 2008 in regards to the effective date of a modification of child support award. In Hampton v Nesbit(A08A1887) the court of appeals held that the Judge Merck, DeKalb Superior Court, abused its discretion in ordering a delay in the upward modification of child support until such time as the past due child support payments have been made.

In that action, the father had filed a petition seeking joint physical and legal custody of the minor child. The mother counterclaimed for contempt due to father’s past due child support payments. After hearing evidence, the trial court entered an income deduction order against the father which ordered the father to repay the arranges at a rate of $300 per month beginning October 1, 2007 in order to avoid jail time and increased the amount of child support from $525 per month to $800 per month starting October 1, 2008 (at which point the trial court determined that the father should be caught up with his arranges). The mother appealed indicating that the trial court could not delay the effective date of the upward award of modification.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that the trial court did not have the right to fully delay implementation of the upward modification. Specifically, the Court of Appeals focused its attention upon O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(k)(3)(B) which provides:

If there is a difference of 30 percent or more between a new award and a Georgia child support order entered prior to January 1, 2007, the court may, at its discretion, phase in the new child support award over a period of up to two years with the phasing in being largely evenly distributed with at least an initial immediate adjustment of not less than 25 percent of the difference and at least one intermediate adjustment prior to the final adjustment at the end of the phase-in period.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals specifically held that while the trial court did not have authority to completely delay the modification it could have phased in the modification had the statutory requirements been met. Of note, the Court of Appeals also held that past due child support cannot be considered when reducing or increasing income under the child support calculations.

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