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Georgia Case Law Update – Jackson v. Sanders Part 2

In Georgia, child support is determined by plugging various financial numbers into the child support worksheets. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15. While the worksheets take many child related expenses into account (such as health insurance, life insurance, child care expenses, uninsured healthcare expenses), the starting point is always the income of each parent. This amount is also often the most determinative factor and, accordingly, it is important to get it right. Sometimes, parents are forthcoming with information and documentation about their income. Other times, parents are forced to begrudgingly turn over this information through discovery. There are also times where a parent may purposefully give misleading information or fail to respond to requests to turn over documentation. An example of this last situation can be seen in the recent Georgia Court of Appeals case of Jackson v. Sanders. Jackson v. Sanders, A15A0127, Court of Appeals of Georgia (2015).

In that child support modification case, Jackson, the father, appealed after the lower court found that “he presented no reliable evidence of income” and, therefore, he alleged, the court “imputed an annual income to him that was significantly higher than his actual income.” Id. Specifically, the trial court calculated Jackson’s income “under O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(4)(B), applying a four-percent increase to his salary at the time of the 2001 Judgment for each year since that judgment was entered.” Id. After reviewing the evidence presented at the hearing, the Court of Appeals of Georgia agreed with the lower court that Jackson failed to produce reliable evidence of his gross income. However, instead of just affirming the decision, the Court went one step further and held that the lower court applied the statute incorrectly. Under O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(4)(B), the court “may increase the child support of the parent failing or refusing to produce evidence of income by an increment of at least 10 percent per year of such parent’s gross income for each year since the final child support order was entered or last modified and shall calculate the basic child support obligation using the increased amount as such parent’s gross income.” Thus, the Court of Appeals held, the trial court did not increase Jackson’s income enough under the statute.

The Court noted that this is a harsh penalty, but stated that the language of the statute is clear. In a child support case, each parent’s income is clearly relevant and necessary for the proper determination of child support. It is very likely that the other parent will be able to get the documents and information they are looking for through discover, even if you don’t turn it over willingly. Therefore, refusing to disclose the information will look bad in the eyes of the Judge and will likely result in your paying more in child support than if you had just fully disclosed your income in the first place.

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