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Episode 111 - Georgia Child Support Basics with Pat Buonodono Image

02/13/2019 8:55 am

If you are wondering how child support is calculated in Georgia, then this show is for you. We interview Pat Buonodono, the former staff attorney to the Georgia Child Support Commission. Pat joined the firm in 2018 and enjoys sharing her wealth of information about Georgia Child Support Law. We start with a little history and some background information into Georgia Child Support and how the Basic Child Support Obligation table is calculated. Pat then walks us through the different schedules in the child support calculator. She wraps up the show with an explanation of how anyone can go online and prepare their own child support worksheets at http://csc.georgiacourts.gov/

Transcript

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. Here you will learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to work on your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Well Todd, I'm excited.

Todd Orston:                   I would be also, but my face is blocked by one of these bars so I don't know if people can hear me.

Leh Meriwether:             It's good thing it's radio.

Todd Orston:                   Technical difficulties.

Leh Meriwether:             Good thing it's radio.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, absolutely. Not sure how this whole thing works, but all right. Why are you excited?

Leh Meriwether:             I'm excited because we're going to dive ... We cover all kinds of topics in the show and lately we've been going sort of, not to say non-legal, but focusing on other aspects of a divorce outside of the legal component, but that still impact people. We've had people on that talked about your mental wellbeing and how to get over limiting beliefs and that sort of thing so you can work with your lawyers better. But today, we're going to dive deep into child support.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, I mean obviously, it affects many people and child support, it's not overly complicated, but it's not simple. We've tried, you and I, to explain it in very rudimentary basic fashion, and we've probably failed miserably. Today, my excitement is that we've actually brought onto the show someone who knows what they're talking about.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah. Not that we don't, we really do, but she really knows what she's talking about.

Todd Orston:                   Let's put it this way. I know I do.

Leh Meriwether:             Well fortunately, today with us in studio is Patricia Buonodono.

Pat Buonodono:              Call me Pat, please.

Leh Meriwether:             We're going to call her Pat, because I'm going to mess up your name if I don't. It's a wonderful name, but I am terrible with names. Pat actually, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Georgia State University. She got her Juris Doctorate degree also at Georgia State University College of Law in 1994. She started off with her own practice upon passing the bar and worked primarily in family law and child welfare for 16 years and during that time, she became a registered mediator in civil domestic relations and domestic violence-related cases. Pat served as a fellow for the Supreme Court of Georgia's Committee on Justice for Children's Cold Case Project, which studies cases to improve outcomes and policies regarding children in foster care. Pat began work at the administrative office of the courts as the managing attorney for education for the Committee on Justice for Children and became the director of the Child Support Project and staff attorney to the Child Support Commission in the fall of 2012.

Leh Meriwether:             Pat has participated in 15 to 30 child support trainings each year and has answered questions from the public, attorneys, and judges on a daily basis since beginning work for the Child Support Commission, and Pat actually is one of Georgia's first ever class of child welfare law specialists. She actually had to take her own, a separate bar exam just for it to get that national certification in 2010. Pat, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Pat Buonodono:              You're welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.

Leh Meriwether:             And also thanks for joining the firm.

Pat Buonodono:              Yeah, I really like it at the firm. I love my new staff.

Todd Orston:                   That was close, because if that hadn't been the ...

Pat Buonodono:              It's an awesome place.

Leh Meriwether:             I wrote that in the script.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, all right, good. I'm glad you scripted that.

Leh Meriwether:             But no, seriously, we are excited to have you here. You're such a valuable resource when it comes to child support and we thought ... I couldn't think of a better person to have on the show to talk about child support than you.

Pat Buonodono:              Well, thank you.

Leh Meriwether:             So let's, I want to go back and I always like to give context and a little history to things because sometimes people hear the law and they're like, "That doesn't sound fair. That doesn't sound right," when they hear it in isolation and you go, "Well hang on, let's talk about what got us to this point," and then usually when people hear that and like, "Okay, I may not like it, but I understand why it is where it is today." So let's go back. You were the staff attorney for the Georgia Child Support Commission for six years. What does that mean to be the staff attorney for the Child Support Commission?

Pat Buonodono:              So what that means is I do a lot of trainings. I did a lot of trainings with my associate, Elaine Johnson, who was there, she knows more about child support than anybody in the world. She was there when they built the first calculator and she's just, she knows the law inside and out. And so what we did there was, we would bring issues that come to our attention to the attention of the commission, things that might be changed legislatively or through superior court rules and so they would then discuss those and decide how they wanted to go forward with those.

Pat Buonodono:              First thing I had to do is get a commission appointed, because when I took the job, my predecessor, who did a great job at it, had passed away and there was somebody who came in and she was there only a couple months and decided that wasn't for her, so she left and so we just had to start, I had to start bothering the governor's office and saying, "Hello, we need a commission." [crosstalk 00:05:47].

Leh Meriwether:             Well, let's take a step back. Where did the Child Support Commission come from? Is it something that's ... Where did it originally come from?

Pat Buonodono:              It's in the statute. It's 19-6-15-30 and it calls for the appointment of the commission by the governor. It talks about the breakdown of the members. There has to be one member from the court of appeals, three Superior Court judges, we had to have an economist because of the federal reviews that were required, and two representatives, two senators, and then there's some citizens, and everybody else is attorneys.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay, and what is the primary role of the Child Support Commission?

Pat Buonodono:              Child Support Commission helps make the law regarding child support. So if there is an issue that has to be handled legislatively, then the Child Support Commission works with legislative counsel to get that in front of the legislature and then our representatives are the ones who sponsor that bill and or our senators.

Todd Orston:                   So this is an ongoing thing. In other words, obviously, we have worksheets, we have the calculator, the commission is in place, they've done their job to get us to where we are now, but there's obviously a continuing or there is continuing work to make sure if issues pop up or if something needs to be changed, modified, revised in some way, the commission can handle it?

Pat Buonodono:              Yes. There are always things that come up that they have to discuss and then decide, "How do we change the law around this?" Last year, there were a lot of changes that were mandated by federal rule that required, for example, in a contempt action, the court has to look very closely at the defendant's ability to pay. If a defendant is incarcerated, they cannot be considered voluntarily unemployed anymore, and things like that.

Todd Orston:                   And that was a big ... Yeah, that was a big issue, because we handled, and I'm sure you did too, we handle cases all the time if somebody was incarcerated, then there was an issue there where they can't say, "Well, I can't pay." Their defense, pardon me. Excuse me. Their their defense was, "I'm in jail. How am I supposed to pay?" And unfortunately, the law didn't really support that, and that was a big change.

Pat Buonodono:              Well, there's a lot of opinion about well, you chose to break the law so maybe you should be responsible for that, but the federal government came down very strongly with this rule and said it must be followed and I was kind of surprised that when we got a Republican president, it didn't change, but it didn't change, so there it is. And so those are the guidelines that they have to work within and the child support agency, which is child support enforcement to most people, is not the Child Support Commission. That's DHS and they do the enforcement, but they're the ones who really have to abide by this federal rule. But in order to make it fair to everybody across the state, we just had to make it a state law, and so that's how all that gets going.

Todd Orston:                   Wow.

Leh Meriwether:             So the federal government that gives money to the state governments, this is more federal versus state laws, we as a state can make our own laws when it comes to here's how we're going to determine child support, for the most part, and then the federal courts or the federal government says, "We'll provide money to help with," I'm guessing maybe child support enforcement, "We may provide money to help with that, provided that you include the following things in your statute."

Pat Buonodono:              Right.

Leh Meriwether:             "And if you don't, well, fine, we just won't give you any money."

Pat Buonodono:              And the Child Support Commission was actually funded by the federal government.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              And then DHS governs the contract between the administrative office of the courts where we were housed and DHS.

Leh Meriwether:             So there's a lot going into coming up with the child support guidelines. I mean, it's not just a bunch of legislators show up three months out of the year and just come up with some new rules. There's a lot of research, there's federal mandates that are coming down, you all are doing research, and I heard that one of the people on the commission was an economist. Was that ...

Pat Buonodono:              Yes, that's Dr. Roger Tutterow, who's at Kennesaw State, and he gives us guidance about some of the things that we do and then every four years, we had to do a federal review of our child support tables and in order to do that, we would get information. He would help us choose counties that we would get child support worksheet orders, child support orders from, and then we compiled all the data and those would go to a forensic economist who's actually [inaudible 00:10:43] to make recommendations.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow. That's exciting. Well, up next, we're going to continue to break down a little bit of this history, and then we're going to get into the basics of the child support worksheets and how they work to help set child support for mothers and fathers.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             Well today, we are talking about child support and we are very fortunate to have Pat in the room with us because she was the previous staff attorney for the Child Support Commission. And in the last segment, we were talking about what that commission does. We started to touch on some changes to the law recently. We didn't quite get to finish there, and I'd love to just hit on those, just because some new things have come up, they were requirements by the federal government, and I kind of want to hit on those before we get into the child support worksheets themselves, and because one of the new things was accountability court. Can you tell us what that is?

Pat Buonodono:              Yes, the parental accountability courts are just like any other kind of accountability court like drug treatment court or family treatment court, only, we're not dealing necessarily with drug issues, but with a chronic inability to pay child support and usually if somebody's not paying child support, just they just don't, it's because they're either overwhelmed by the amount of their order or they don't have the education they need or they do maybe have a drug problem or an alcohol problem, something like that.

Pat Buonodono:              So what the accountability courts do, it's just intensive work with a coordinator, the court coordinator, and they find out what this person's barriers are to paying child support and help them overcome those, and it's a very successful program. There's one in each judicial circuit in Georgia. The goal is to have one accessible to every person in the state who needs it. This is a program that's run by DHS, and they're doing a great job with it.

Todd Orston:                   So is the system going to differentiate between those who are unable to comply with child support orders and those who are unwilling to comply? Do you know what I'm saying? In other words, is the intent for this to be one of those programs where it's anyone who's struggling to pay, whether they are doing it willfully or they just find themselves unable to pay, this is going to be the court that sort of jumps in and deals with all of those nonpayment issues?

Pat Buonodono:              Well, what happened was originally when they did this as a pilot, and I think for the first couple of years, only people who were facing jail time for contempt were taken into the program. Now they're being more aggressive about getting out to people who are struggling, who have big child support arrearages and trying to get them on course.

Todd Orston:                   So what if a case is filed in the Superior Court, let's say a contempt is brought, how would it get transferred from, let's say, a superior court judge? Let's say we brought a contempt action against someone, could that case ultimately be transferred to this court?

Pat Buonodono:              It could.

Todd Orston:                   Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              I know that there's one in Cobb County and I know that there's one in the Blue Ridge circuit, but I'm not sure exactly where it's located.

Leh Meriwether:             And I have heard before this new parental accountability court, I had heard of cases where someone would fall a little behind, they'd lose their job, they'd fall behind in child support, the mom would bring a contempt action, Dad would come to court, "Judge, I just got a job. I need some time to get caught up," and then the judge would still, "Well, you're behind, so you're going to jail," and then he would lose that new job he just got because he didn't show up to work the next day.

Pat Buonodono:              Right, and that doesn't help anybody in the family.

Leh Meriwether:             Right.

Pat Buonodono:              And a lot of times, what we find is that when these cases become successful, all of a sudden you're developing a new family relationship between this dad and his kids. Because if he's not paying child support, a lot of times, whether it's right or wrong, Mom withholds visitation. So what happens is paying and pitching in to help raise the kids, they start getting visitation time. And sometimes, I've heard of some programs where the judges will have volunteer attorneys and as a reward for doing really well in their program, they'll appoint an attorney to file legitimation for them.

Todd Orston:                   Oh wow.

Pat Buonodono:              So it's a great program.

Leh Meriwether:             That's great. All right. So let's break down. There was one thing that seems to be impacting us right now is we used to have a child support calculator, that was an Excel spreadsheet.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             But the new law has moved away from that to where all the child support worksheets, it's an online calculator that everyone has to use now. What led us to that?

Pat Buonodono:              A number of things. First of all, the judges started asking us why they couldn't do their child support worksheets on an iPad, and they wanted-

Leh Meriwether:             Really?

Pat Buonodono:              Yes, they wanted to use their tablets to do the child support. So we started looking into it and figured out that we could feasibly do it. People were using the wrong versions of the child support worksheet. Every time any kind of change that impacted the worksheet happened, there would be a new version. I think we're up to 9.5, we had people who were still using versions in the sixes and sevens, so they weren't getting correct calculations.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, we periodically would deal with some attorneys using the wrong form, and the changes to the form, and I know you can speak to this much better than I can, that can affect how the calculation works.

Pat Buonodono:              It can.

Todd Orston:                   So we're not we're not talking about just the look of a form, we're talking about the actual, the meat of it, the the calculation built into that form.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Todd Orston:                   And so yeah, I actually like the idea of there being a single form, everybody has to use it, so that we can get rid of the the problems associated with the wrong form being used.

Pat Buonodono:              Right. Plus the Excel version just got very expensive every time they came out with a new version of Excel, we would have to hire somebody and make it compatible with the earlier versions and yeah.

Todd Orston:                   Wow.

Pat Buonodono:              So there was just a lot of expense involved in that.

Leh Meriwether:             The other thing that I thought about too is you had mentioned, I know we're going to get into a little bit more in a minute, but so the Georgia, the Child Support Commission with the help of these economists, figures out the BCSO, or the basic child support obligation table, which is at the very end of the old child support worksheets, it's in the child support statute.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             And they're required to look at that, is that every four years?

Pat Buonodono:              Uh-huh.

Leh Meriwether:             And so that table it's based on an economic review of the state of Georgia and they look at it and they said, "If your joint household income is, let's say, $10,000 a month between Mom and Dad, and if you have two kids well, the average cost to raise a child and those circumstances is a thousand dollars a month," I'm just, I don't know if it is, I'm just throwing a number out there.

Pat Buonodono:              Yeah, I think it's higher than that, but anyway.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, just easy math. So but that changes, so every time the BSO changed, the worksheet had to change, too?

Pat Buonodono:              Right, but there hasn't ... Actually, since we went to the shared income model, our BCSO has not changed.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Pat Buonodono:              Not since 2005.

Leh Meriwether:             That is a long time.

Pat Buonodono:              It is.

Leh Meriwether:             And they're looking at it every four years?

Pat Buonodono:              Every four years.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Todd Orston:                   Well, it kind of makes sense, because you're looking at all different socio-economic levels, so there are always going to be ... There's going to be a portion of the populace that has a lower income, some that have a higher income, so things probably aren't going to swing economically in the state so much that it's going to necessitate totally changing the table.

Pat Buonodono:              Right. In this past review that we did in 2018, I think the forensic economist just found that in our cases where household income was over $20,000 a month, our numbers were a little lower than other states, but ...

Leh Meriwether:             Huh.

Todd Orston:                   Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              And I don't know if they made a recommendation to the legislature to change anything or not.

Leh Meriwether:             So when it comes to the upper income levels, our child supports and worksheets are too low?

Pat Buonodono:              A little bit, yeah.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay. Hmm. That's interesting.

Pat Buonodono:              According to her. I don't necessarily think so.

Todd Orston:                   We have some clients who don't think that, either, so ...

Pat Buonodono:              Yeah, I'm sure.

Leh Meriwether:             All right. So let's quickly jump in and just start off at a 50,000-foot view. At the basic, basic, basic level, how do you calculate child support in Georgia?

Pat Buonodono:              Okay. Well, you talk about the income of the parents, the number of kids, and by the way, the calculator only goes up to six children. Once you hit six kids, that's the highest it's going to go. So you take both parents' income and it combines the income and then it prorates how much each parent earns of the household income and then it makes some adjustments, or if you have other children, especially if you have a court ordered child support for another child, but if you have another what's called other qualified child living in the home that may be a dependent on you ... For example, I just helped some grandparents get guardianship of their grandson, and so that would be an other qualified child. It's not their child, so that would be another qualified child and you get an adjustment for that.

Todd Orston:                   But that's also, just to be clear, qualified because there's a formal guardianship in place not just grandson is living with Grandma and Grandpa and there's no formal guardianship in place.

Pat Buonodono:              Right, and the parents are unable to pay child support at this point. So that's another reason.

Leh Meriwether:             So they take those data points, plug the number of children, the combined gross income of the two parties, plug it into the ... and then it goes into the BCSO.

Pat Buonodono:              Right, and the table gives us a number and then that amount gets divided again between the parents, and then you get adjustments for health insurance, because that's federally mandated. People always ask me why health insurance and not dental and vision, why are dental and vision deviations?

Leh Meriwether:             You know what? That sounds like a good cliffhanger. Hold that thought, and when we come back, we're going to talk about that federal mandate, why that's in there, and the other data points that go into calculating child support.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             We are running out of time so fast because there's so-

Todd Orston:                   I believe you. I'm not going to lie. We need to ...

Leh Meriwether:             ... move it along, [inaudible 00:22:55]. No, there's actually so much, going back to what you said, child support is simple as far as the ... it's simple and hard at the same time.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, it's not an overly complicated computation once you get the hang of it, but if you are a layperson, if you're trying to handle this pro se, if you've never gone to any classes or tried to teach yourself, which why would you, I mean, that would be kind of weird if, "What'd you do this weekend?""Oh, I spent a wonderful weekend learning child support," then it actually is complicated because you might miss something that needs to be put into the calculator.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah.

Todd Orston:                   And by missing that information, by not putting in health care expense or something like that, it can really affect the amount of child support, so you want to get it right in order to make sure the correct amount of child support is being paid.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, so when we left off, I interrupted you right as you were getting ready to talk about health insurance adjustment that's on one of the schedules and people ask about that. So I'm so sorry for interrupting you, but-

Todd Orston:                   It was pretty rude, but go. Please.

Pat Buonodono:              Well, do you want to just start at the beginning and talk about the parts of the child support worksheet and we'll get to that when we get to the appropriate schedule?

Leh Meriwether:             Sure.

Todd Orston:                   I think that ... Great idea.

Pat Buonodono:              It was your idea, Todd.

Todd Orston:                   Oh please, that's ...

Pat Buonodono:              Please. So the very first thing is the actual child support worksheet itself, which is basic information at the top. It just has the parents' names, it has the children's names and years of birth, who is going to be the non-custodial parent, and that's defined by Georgia law and we can get into that in more depth if you want later, and then you go on to schedule ... Well you add your children and then you go on to schedule A and schedule A is where you put in your income. Just put in everything, because that's what the law says. The only thing that doesn't get included is anything that's needs-based, likes SSI, TANF, food stamps, things like that are not included. So that's pretty much everything.

Pat Buonodono:              Schedule B, there's a self-employment tax adjustment for people who are self-employed. There's a place for pre-existing child support orders, which we mentioned last time, and the other qualified child. So those adjustments go there. The schedule D contains adjustments for the health insurance, and as I said, that's in the child support worksheet itself because it's federally mandated, they don't want so many people on Medicaid, they want parents to have the kids on insurance, and then work-related childcare.

Pat Buonodono:              An interesting thing is that the law changed last year so that work-related child care can be taken out of the child support calculation and handled separately. So that way if you've got a three-year-old child, then you only have to pay that expense for two years and you don't have to go back and modify your child support worksheets and get a new award based on no longer having that expense.

Leh Meriwether:             That's a big change, because I think there was a case that said if you're going to order parents to pay an expense, that it absolutely must be in the child support worksheet. I think that was a case, but I know that's what the judges were mandated to do.

Todd Orston:                   And if it wasn't, it should be.

Leh Meriwether:             Well, no, but I'm saying, I can't remember if it was-

Todd Orston:                   No, I know. I know.

Leh Meriwether:             There was a case, I thought, and this was years ago, where the judge didn't put it in and then the-

Todd Orston:                   It was deemed to be wrong by not doing it.

Leh Meriwether:             He was supposed to put it in.

Todd Orston:                   Right.

Leh Meriwether:             And so the appellate court remanded it, said you've got to put in the worksheets, but now you don't have to, which is ... I think that's a huge plus, because that's what we as lawyers wanted to do to avoid clients having to keep coming back to court when things change.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes, so and then schedule E, that's where the deviations are, and what makes a deviation when it is, is that it's discretionary with the court. So you can ask for that deviation, but you're not necessarily going to get it.

Todd Orston:                   Now, I will say that I hold myself out as something of an expert when it comes to the alphabet and I mean, I've been really good since I was young and I heard A, I heard B, I heard D, I heard E, and I think two or three letters are missing. All right, maybe just one. What happened to C?

Pat Buonodono:              Schedule C was originally intended to be a parenting time formula and it's something that I think Georgia needs.

Todd Orston:                   Meaning like if you spend more time, and you're exercising more parenting time, it can affect the amount of support, maybe let's say more time, a reduction.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Todd Orston:                   But if you're just not spending enough time with the child, that means more obligation is on the other parent, the custodial parent, to take care of daily needs and you might actually have to pay above and beyond what the basic support amount is.

Pat Buonodono:              That's absolutely correct, and our legislature could not agree on the definition of a day, and so that whole schedule was pulled out of the child support worksheet at the last minute.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, literally as they are trying to get this approved, it was written and that's why if you look in the code, and we've talked about this, it's there and it's crossed out.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Todd Orston:                   Because you have to put ... like on the books, it has to look exactly the way it was signed off on, correct?

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Todd Orston:                   And so C is there, it's all Xed out basically or lined out, but that's why they didn't just do what would make more sense and say, "Okay. Let's take C out, D becomes C, E becomes D, and-

Pat Buonodono:              No, we just left the letters.

Todd Orston:                   That's right. They're just ... They're just there.

Pat Buonodono:              We just have that blank.

Todd Orston:                   Right.

Pat Buonodono:              And I think that we finally corrected ... Because there was actually still some language in the statute about parenting time formula and we finally got that squared away. It's all gone.

Leh Meriwether:             All fixed.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             All right, so that's sort of the high-end view of how you work through the worksheets, and actually, now that I think about it, I think the case had to do with not necessarily it was ... It applied to the childcare, but I think it had to do with, it have been extracurriculars or it was something along those lines. It got overwritten by the statute, so when certain things get overwritten by a statute, I kind of push ... forget that case. I don't want to remember something doesn't apply anymore.

Pat Buonodono:              Right.

Leh Meriwether:             All right, so let's go a little bit deeper. You said that ... Let's talk about income for a minute.

Pat Buonodono:              Okay.

Leh Meriwether:             So what do we include on the worksheet as income?

Pat Buonodono:              I mean really, everything. You've got your salary and wages, commissions, fees, tips, bonuses, and I wanted to talk a little bit about variable income, such as a bonus, because if it's something that you anticipate is going to happen on an annual basis, then it just gets averaged out by the court over the course of a year and so you can figure out what the monthly amount of that would be. Overtime, income from self-employment is a little bit different for calculating child support than it is on Schedule C of the tax return, because certain things are not deductible there that are deductible for the federal government. And so you're talking about excessive promotional travel kind of expenses, depreciation on equipment and cost of operation of home offices, accelerated depreciation is not allowed, and investment tax credits, things like that.

Leh Meriwether:             So probably I'm a-

Pat Buonodono:              The judge should review carefully anytime there's self-employment income.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, in fact, there's a self-employment calculator built into the worksheet, right?

Pat Buonodono:              There is, yes.

Leh Meriwether:             Is it still there?

Pat Buonodono:              Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leh Meriwether:             And so I think, like if you go out to eat all the time and run it through the business, that gets put back in there.

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             If you run your car through the business, that's considered ... You're using your business, which is perfectly legitimate under federal law, but you're using your business to reduce a personal expense.

Pat Buonodono:              Right.

Leh Meriwether:             And so a portion of it or all of it can go back in the worksheet.

Pat Buonodono:              Right. You can only deduct the time you're actually using it for business. So you figure out what percentage that is versus what percentage using for personal.

Leh Meriwether:             Right, and so there are some situations which people have tried to play games is they'll buy a huge piece of equipment and the law would allow an accelerated depreciation. So let's say it was $50,000, I'm just going to, you all of a sudden in one year you write off $30,000, even though you didn't actually pay that much on your loan, and so they said, "Nope, nope, you can't do that because that's okay for federal law, but for the purpose of calculating how much money you have to pay for the support of your children, we're going to put that back in there."

Pat Buonodono:              Exactly.

Todd Orston:                   And going back to bonuses, I know you said if ... what the court's going to do is look at an average in any given year. So if in year one, it's $10,000, year two it's $11,000, year three it's $12,000, then the court will say okay, you're getting bonuses on a regular basis. We're going to average those $11,000 and that gets in. What about situations where over a five-year period, maybe only one time they've gotten or in year one, they got a bonus but in year two, three, four, nothing; year five, maybe another bonus, but it's less frequent and it's not guaranteed. Is it automatically going to be included? Or can it be dealt with separately?

Pat Buonodono:              I would certainly argue against it being included, and maybe the court might want to consider making some kind of a lump sum alimony award out of that or something, rather than adding to a child support.

Leh Meriwether:             I think the statute does say that the court can take a reasonable average over a reasonable period of time.

Pat Buonodono:              Right.

Leh Meriwether:             I think the challenge is what does the judge consider a reasonable period of time, so-

Pat Buonodono:              What county are you in and whose courtroom?

Todd Orston:                   Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             That's right. Exactly. Exactly.

Leh Meriwether:             So up next, we're going to continue to go into some of the variables surrounding income and what goes in the worksheet, what gets counted as income on the worksheets to calculate child support.

Leh Meriwether:             Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.

Todd Orston:                   Great idea, Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.

Leh Meriwether:             And I wanted to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from the show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.

Todd Orston:                   And if you're not sure how to post a review, our webmaster has put together a simple explanation on our web page. You can find it at mtlawoffice.com/reviewit. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, lawoffice dot com, slash reviewit.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the new Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             Well, today's not about us. Today's about child support and thankfully, we have Pat in the studio with us and we are talking about, she was the former staff attorney for the Georgia Child Support Commission, so she knows, she helped write some of this stuff about the child support law. Well, she participated. She actually wrote the whole thing. No, just kidding. No, so we're picking her brain, just digging into how did the child support worksheets come about and where we left off, we started touching on some of the different ... Basically all income is included, but sometimes people say, "Well, that's not really income for me," but you have to go, "No, it's spelled out in the worksheets," and there's some more stuff I wanted to cover about the website, so let's do a quick rapid fire of all the other things that the child support worksheets actually list that you have to think about when you're filling out the child support worksheets.

Pat Buonodono:              Okay. Severance pay, recurring income from pensions or retirement plans, interest income, interest from dividends, trust income, income from annuities, capital gains, social security disability or retirement benefits, veterans disability benefits, Workers' Compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, judgments from personal injury or other civil cases, gifts, lottery winnings, prizes, alimony and maintenance from people not in this case, assets that are used to support the family, and fringe benefits, any other income including imputed income. Does not include means-tested public assistance.

Leh Meriwether:             So I think those last few are important, because a lot of times people ... You'll see people say, "Well, I've got zero income," I'm like, "But your expenses are ... You're spending $4,000 a month. How you paying for it?" "Well, I had so-and-so give me this money, and so-and-so give me this money, and we've been living like that for over a year.' Well, yeah, so ...

Pat Buonodono:              And if you have evidence of that, you can ask the judge to impute income. Another change that came with this federal law is that the judge used to, if there was no reliable evidence of income, the court used to be able to impute income ... well, they had to impute income for 40 hours a week at minimum wage, and then there's a clause in the statute that most people don't know about, but if the judge does that and you find out that there's more income, you have 90 days to file a motion to set that aside and come back in and modify the child support amount.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Pat Buonodono:              So that pretty much wraps that up.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, usually ... I don't think I've ever even had to worry about that because we usually found some way of determining what their income should be and the court will tend to impute that amount to them, especially if they look at someone and says, "Well, it says here your monthly expenses are $5000 a month and I don't see your debt load, the amount of debt you have, going up every month, so somebody's paying for it, so you must have access to resources at that level."

Pat Buonodono:              Right, but they're no longer required to impute income.

Leh Meriwether:             Right, they don't have to.

Todd Orston:                   But these are ... Going back to the purpose of the show is these are nuances that a lot of people aren't going to know exist or understand how to apply them when trying to establish child support, whether you are the one wanting the child support or you are the person who might have to pay child support, you want to make sure you are being treated fairly, and that's really the whole, for me at least, the whole purpose of this show, because it is complicated. There are a lot of gray areas that if you don't understand not just the purpose behind this law, which is pretty self-evident, it's paying child support, if you don't understand the methodology and the way you put it into practice and you do [inaudible 00:38:13], you're going to get yourself into some trouble, either not getting enough money to help support your family or paying way more than you probably are able to pay.

Leh Meriwether:             All right. Well, let's talk about, in our time left, if someone's like, "All right, I need to figure out what my child support obligation might be." How does someone go about doing that?

Pat Buonodono:              Okay. Well first they go to the Child Support Commission's website, which is csc dot georgia courts with an S dot gov.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              And then you'll find the worksheet, you'll find video tutorials on the website and how-to user guide. You'll find the code section, the child support guidelines are on the website, and you'll find some case law on the website. There are two big buttons when you get onto the screen. The first one is for the child support calculator. The other one is for paperwork pertaining to income deduction. And so that walks you through, in steps, what paperwork has to be filled out, and we have fillable forms there, and then who gets what papers.

Pat Buonodono:              So it's very simple and so you do have to sign up to use the worksheet, just like you would any other website, so you create a username and an ID, and then you can click the button and create a worksheet and whenever you make a worksheet, it creates a file automatically and so that's where you look for your worksheet if you go away from it and come back. There is a button that allows you to submit your worksheet to the court. I know some judges like to look at them ahead of the hearings, and so they can find them if they've been submitted to the court.

Pat Buonodono:              What we did, I had some concerns about making sure that both sides got noticed that that worksheet had been submitted, so when you submit to the court, certificate of service automatically pops up and says, a with directions that say you must serve this on the other side, and so it has the form there for them to fill in. And the judges ... It doesn't go directly to the judge, it just puts it into a queue where only judges can see it and they can search for it and pull it up that way and you can share it through the website with the opposing party or opposing counsel, rather than having to download it, email it, get back to it. You can just share it through the website.

Leh Meriwether:             Oh, that's nice.

Pat Buonodono:              So there are some conveniences built in there. One thing I will ask people to remember, when you do your child support worksheet, you don't know what your pro-rated amount of the child support obligation is when you first start doing it, so you go from the child support worksheet to schedule A and then you do that and then people forget to go back in and allocate the ratio of uncovered healthcare expenses, such as co-pays and deductibles, depreciation, things like that ... depreciation. Yeah, like I said, tripping over my tongue. Anyway, so go back onto the first page and make sure you put in those amounts. There are a lot of neat things that the new calculator does for you. For example, if you know what your annual salary is, you go on schedule A, you type that in, you click the little button next to it and it will break it down, and if you say it's annual, it'll break it down to a monthly amount for you.

Leh Meriwether:             Oh, that's nice.

Pat Buonodono:              Yeah, all of the fields will do that for you so that you don't have to do the math yourself. It does the same thing with the allocation of uncovered health expenses. You type in one percentage, it automatically puts it on there.

Todd Orston:                   And if you don't put in regarding the insurance percentage share responsibility, if you don't put information in, will it auto-populate with something?

Pat Buonodono:              No.

Todd Orston:                   Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              It will not.

Todd Orston:                   So it will just be blank and going back to what the pro rata percentage is, again, once you put in your income and the other party's income, it'll say your income constitutes, let's say 30% and the other party is 70% of the combined gross income. You're saying then you need to manually go in on that first page and put 30/70.

Pat Buonodono:              Right, because very often, people will-

Leh Meriwether:             Or 50/50.

Todd Orston:                   Or 50/50, right.

Pat Buonodono:              50/50, right.

Todd Orston:                   Exactly, because we do see that sometimes, right?

Pat Buonodono:              Yes.

Todd Orston:                   But you have to go in there. The point is, you have to go in there, and a lot on that first worksheet page is auto-populated from the other documents that you're filling out, from the schedules. That's something that's not.

Pat Buonodono:              Right.

Todd Orston:                   Okay.

Pat Buonodono:              Oh, and there's one other change that wasn't on the other one. All the columns were titled mom and dad on the Excel calculator and now they go by the party's first names, because of the Obergefell decision, and so if we have two moms, mom and dad doesn't work. So it auto-populates by the first names in alphabetical order, each column.

Todd Orston:                   Makes sense.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay, awesome. So good things to know, because people can quickly make that mistake. I will say the statute says that sort of the default, going back to unallocated healthcare expenses, the statute says that it's pro rata unless the court determines something else. So the default is if there's, like your example 30/70 is the percentage of the income, the parties can choose 50/50 or the judge can order 50/50, but he has the authority to do whatever he wants, or she does.

Pat Buonodono:              Right, but subsection 6C of 19-6-15 gives the parties the authority to settle their case on anything that they want to do. So if they want to do one party pays 100% and the other party doesn't pay any, they can certainly do that as long as it's in the best interest of the child and that's one the judge signs off on, those settlement agreements.

Leh Meriwether:             And we don't have time to ... You know what I just realized? We need to have another show, because we haven't even gotten to the more complicated stuff, the deviations, when Todd gets a little devious about stuff. No, just kidding.

Todd Orston:                   Devious?

Pat Buonodono:              Devious.

Leh Meriwether:             No, the deviations, so talking about like when can you go above the guidelines or below the guidelines, based on things that are completely within the discretion of the judge. So Pat, you mind coming back on the show?

Pat Buonodono:              No, not at all.

Todd Orston:                   Oh, she hesitated.

Leh Meriwether:             Ah, she hesitated.

Pat Buonodono:              I did.

Todd Orston:                   That was-

Leh Meriwether:             Now it's like, "I'm not sure."

Todd Orston:                   I was sweating. I'm like, "I don't know if this is going to happen."

Leh Meriwether:             It's going to have to be Todd and I.

Leh Meriwether:             Hey everyone. Thanks so much for listening, and check us out next week. We're going to get into the next level of the calculating child support.

Speaker 4:                        This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.

 

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