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Georgia Supreme Court reverses ruling of Cobb County Superior Court on child support modification

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The Georgia Supreme Court recently reversed a Cobb County Superior Court’s grant of a child support modification. In Herrin v. Herrin, the father had primary physical custody of the children and the mother was paying child support pursuant to a settlement agreement in the parties’ previous divorce action. Herrin v. Herrin, 287 Ga. 427 (2010). The father filed a petition for modification of child support alleging that the mother’s income had increased. Id. at 428. Following a hearing, the superior court found a “substantial and material change in the mother’s income,” basing its ruling, in part, on the mother’s ability to earn additional income. Id.

On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court stated “[i]n certain circumstances, earning capacity rather than gross income may be used to determine child support, and while a party’s past income is some evidence of earning capacity, it alone is not conclusive, but must be considered along with other relevant circumstances.” Id., quoting Duncan v. Duncan, 262 Ga. 872, 873(1993). The evidence showed that the mother’s income had actually decreased by the time of the modification hearing, that she had tried to increase her hours and find a higher paying job but was unable to do so, and, though she had a real estate license, “she was unable to pursue a career selling real estate because of the depressed real estate market and her inability to fund out-of-pocket expenses required of a real estate sales agent.” Herrin, 287 Ga. at 429.

Looking at all of these relevant circumstances, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the mother and reversed the child support modification, holding that the record from the trial court proceedings “is devoid of evidence that the mother had the ability or means to earn the amount found by the superior court and upon which it based the award of increased child support.”Id. at 427.


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