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Case Law Update: Wetherington v. Wetherington, 291 Ga. 722 (2012)

In Georgia, the threshold requirement for a modification of child support is showing a change in the parent’s financial status or the needs of the minor child.  Once the court has determined that such requirement is met, it then must reconsider the amount of child support utilizing the child support guidelines set forth in O.C.G.A § 19-6-15.   The Supreme Court of Georgia recently heard a case where it reversed a trial court’s ruling that did not meet these requirements.

In Wetherington, the parties entered into a settlement agreement which was incorporated into a final judgment and decree of divorce.  The settlement agreement stated that Husband had an income of approximately $300,000, while Wife had an income of approximately zero.  Husband agreed to pay $7,000 per month in child support for the parties’ two (2) minor children, an amount more than the presumptive amount of child support pursuant to the child support worksheets.  Not long after the parties were divorced, Husband filed for a downward modification of child support due to a decrease in his income.  After hearing evidence, the trial court found that Husband’s income was 80% of his income at the time of the final decree, and reduced his child support to 80% of $7,000, or $5,600 per month.

Husband appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Supreme Court of Georgia.  Husband argued that the trial court erred in failing to consider whether he had a substantial change in final circumstances since the time of the decree of divorce and in failing to consider the child support guidelines set forth in O.C.G.A § 19-6-15 when calculating his new child support award.  The Supreme Court agreed, stating that “the trial court erred in failing to determine whether there had been a change in Husband’s financial circumstances since the original child support award that would warrant a modification of child support . . . and in not calculating any modification that was required based upon the parties’ current financial circumstances and the child support guidelines.”  The Supreme Court reversed the child support award, and remanded to the trial court to make a determination of whether there had been a substantial change in circumstances and if so, to determine an appropriate award under the child support guidelines.

The law in Georgia regarding modifications of child support can be complex.  If you are considering filing for a modification of child support, please contact one of our experienced family law attorneys.

 

Courtney H. Carpenter

 

 

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