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Change in Circumstances
In order for a parent to seek the modification of a prior child support award, he or she must allege and show that there has been a change in the income or financial status of either former spouse or in the needs of the minor child or children. O.C.G.A, § 19-6-19(a) and Wingard v. Paris, 270 Ga. 439 (1999). Specifically, the Official Code of Georgia states the following concerning the modification of child support:
(a) The judgment of a court providing permanent alimony for the support of a spouse rendered on or after July 1, 1977, shall be subject to revision upon petition filed by either former spouse showing a change in the income and financial status of either former spouse. … After hearing both parties and the evidence, the jury, or the judge where a jury is not demanded by either party, may modify and revise the previous judgment, in accordance with the changed income and financial status of either former spouse in the case of permanent alimony for the support of a former spouse, or in accordance with the changed income and financial status of either former spouse if such a change in the income and financial status is satisfactorily proved so as to warrant the modification and revision. In the hearing upon a petition filed as provided in this subsection, testimony may be given and evidence introduced relative to the income and financial status of either former spouse.
O.C.G.A. § 19-6-19(a).
Additionally, the Georgia Supreme Court in the above cited case of Wingard v. Paris held that child support "shall be subject to revision upon . . . showing a change in the income and financial status of either former spouse or in the needs of the child or children.” Wingard v. Paris, Id. at 440.
This requirement of a change in the income or financial status of either former spouse, or in the needs of the minor children, is a threshold requirement that must be met in order to seek a modification of child support in Georgia. See Pearson v. Pearson, 265 Ga. 100 (1995). What this means is if a change in income or financial status or a change in the needs of the children is not alleged in the Petition for Modification of Child support, the Petitioner’s claim may be dismissed if challenged by the Respondent in a motion to dismiss. See Gowins v. Gary, 288 Ga. App. 409 (2007).
It is not sufficient for a Petitioner to simply allege a change in the income of the obligate parent, but the Petitioner must also show that the obligated spouse’s ability to pay the child support has changed. Moccia v. Moccia, 277 Ga. 571 (2004). In the situation where the Petitioner is also the obligated parent, the issue often arises that the petitioner intentionally lowers his or her income or purposefully changes his or her income and financial status in order to seek a downward modification of child support. However, a modification action filed by an obligated parent based on an artificial change in the obligated parent’s income or financial status will not prevail, and may even be dismissed. Stiltz v. Stiltz, 236 Ga. 308 (1976).
Once the required threshold has been met, the obligated party’s child support obligation must then be reconsidered according to Georgia’s child support guidelines. What this means in practice is that once a change in income, financial status or needs of the children is shown and proven, another child support calculation must be conducted using Georgia’s child support worksheet in order to reflect and take into consideration that change in circumstance. Wingard v. Paris, 270 Ga. 439 (1999). For more information regarding the other requirements that must be met in order to successfully assert a claim for modification of child support, see our article entitled “Modification of Child Support: Evidence and Requirements.”