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Georgia Case Law Update – Scott v. Scott

When calculating child support in Georgia, the first piece of information is each party’s gross monthly income. For some people this is very straightforward – they make the same amount on each paycheck so it is easy to calculate. For others, especially those who are self-employed, it can be a bit more complicated. In the case of Scott v. Scott, the Georgia Supreme Court shed some light on how it viewed the income issue, especially as it relates to fringe benefits. Scott v. Scott, S15F1079 (2015).

In that case, the trial court found that the husband, who worked for his parents’ farming business, had a gross monthly income of $5,229.39. Over half of this figure was fringe benefits, including $1,177.40 for use of a truck provided by his employer/parents, $100 for car insurance premiums, $400 for gas, $30.32 for averaged tax and registration payments for the truck, $1,000 for living in his parents’ house, $350 for the power bill (paid by parents) and $75 for cell phone (provided and paid for by parents). Id. The husband appealed, alleging that the trial court erred in classifying all of these items as fringe benefits for purposes of monthly income. Under Georgia law, fringe benefits received in the course of employment “shall be counted as income if the benefits significantly reduce personal living expenses.” O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(1)(C)As such, the main issue is whether the benefit was “received by Husband in the course of his employment.”

The Georgia Supreme Court looked at each fringe benefit individually. As far as the truck and its associated expenses, the Court held that they were fringe benefits to be included in the husband’s income, except for the gas expenses. Both the husband and the other employees used the truck in the course of their farming work. However, the husband was the only one permitted to drive the truck home at the end of the day for his personal use. As such, it reduces his living expenses since he does not have to purchase alternative transportation. According to the Court, the gas should not have been included because the testimony showed that the husband purchased his own gas when he used the truck outside of work.

With respect to the house and associated power bill, the Georgia Supreme Court held that this amount should not have been included as a fringe benefit as there was no evidence presented “to support the finding that the use of the house owned by Husband’s parents was granted ‘in the course of employment.’” Certainly, the husband receives a benefit by living in the house, but it is not a benefit of employment and, as such, should not be included in income.

With respect to the cell phone, the Georgia Supreme Court held that it was properly included as a fringe benefit. The evidence from the trial court established that other employees also received this benefit and, thus, it was received “in the course of employment” and not just as parents to son.

For any fringe benefits that may impact gross monthly income, it is important to go through them individually, as the Georgia Supreme Court did in this case. Whether each expense should be included as a benefit is very fact specific and, as this case shows, everything cannot be lumped into one pile. A good starting point is to look at what the employer provides for each employee. If everyone gets a benefit, it will most likely be deemed “in the course of employment.”


Case Law Update
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