Your Atlanta Child Support Case: The Basics

A new pair of basketball shoes from Northlake Mall. Swim lessons at East Lake Family YMCA. Braces from the orthodontist. The cost of raising kids adds up fast and it’s expensive! The financial strain of raising a child in a single-parent household can be even more overwhelming. Luckily, Atlanta law says both parents bear the responsibility of paying to raise a child.

To help you understand the basics, FindLaw has created this guide to your Atlanta Child Support Case.

What is Child Support?

Child support is a child’s right to be financially cared for by both parents. The duty to provide child support continues until a child meets one of the following conditions:

  • Reaches the age of 18 (the court can order continued support for a child over 18 who is still in high school);
  • Dies;
  • Marries; or
  • Is emancipated.

Child support can be used for such things as food, clothing, school, medical expenses, and extracurricular activities.

Does Child Custody Affect Child Support?

Yes, child custody orders or custody agreements affect child support payments because typically the “non-custodial” parent must make payments to the “custodial” parent. Usually, the custodial parent is the parent who has the child more than half of the time. Even if parents have equal custody time, one parent may still be required to make child support payments to other parent. This generally happens if the parent has a significantly higher income than the other parent.

Do I Have to Go to Court to Get Child Support?

Not necessarily. The fastest (and usually easiest) way to get a child support order is when both parents reach an agreement. In Atlanta, there is a Settlement Negotiation program to help parents with this process.

How Do I File for Child Support?

If you are married to your child’s other parent, you can get child support orders as part of a divorce judgment. Alternately, either parent can call the Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) to open a support case in Atlanta.

For appointments, you can reach DCSS at 1-877-423-4746. The Atlanta branch of DCSS is located at 1526 East Forrest Avenue, Suite 300, East Point, GA 30344.

If one parent lives outside of Georgia, the Central Registry will handle the case.

You will need to complete an application and pay a $25 fee. The application process may be waived if you receive certain Medicaid benefits or help from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Once you submit the application and pay the fee, DCSS has 20 days to open the case.

Before you can get or enforce a child support order, DCSS must find out where the non-custodial parent lives and/or works. If you do not know where the non-custodial parent lives, you can help DCSS by providing as much information as possible, such as the parent’s birthday and Social Security Number. It can take many months to find the non-custodial parent, particularly if the parent lives in another state.

“Paternity,” or legal fatherhood, also must be established before a court will order child support. If you were not married at the time the child was born, a court can declare the biological father to be the legal father. If the biological father will not admit to paternity, a court can order genetic testing and/or a hearing.

How Does a Judge Decide the Amount of Child Support to Give?

Judges in Atlanta use the Georgia Child Support Guidelines to decide how much child support a custodial parent will receive. The guidelines consider the number of children the parents have, as well as the income and expenses of both parents. While other factors may be considered, you can get a general estimate of basic child support payments.

How Do I Receive Payments?

Generally, a child support payment will be withheld directly from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. After the non-custodial parent’s employer receives the court order, it usually takes about 4-6 weeks for the first payment to be sent to DCSS. It is important for the custodial parent to keep a record of payments.

Atlanta does not provide paper checks; all child support payments will be made using a debit card and direct deposit.

What Happens if a Parent Fails to Pay Support as Ordered?

Since a child support order is a court order, a non-custodial parent may be found in contempt of court if he or she does not make payments or does not keep health insurance as required. Punishment for contempt of court could include fines, jail, or both.

DCSS and/or a judge may also do any of the following to enforce an order:

  • Withhold money from paychecks, unemployment awards, or workers’ compensation benefits;
  • Take income tax refunds before they are mailed;
  • Report a parent to credit bureaus;
  • Suspend or revoke licenses like driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and hunting or fishing licenses;
  • Prevent lottery payments of more than $2,500;
  • File a lien to seize bank accounts and other property; or
  • Suspend, revoke, or deny a passport.

If a non-custodial parent cannot make payments, the judge may order that person to enroll in a Community Outreach Program, such as the Fatherhood Program.

Can I Change the Child Support Order?

Yes. Usually, you must wait three years after an order is granted before you can request a modification, unless there is a substantial change in circumstances. Either parent may make the request in writing to DCSS.

This article provides the basics of child support law in Atlanta, but each case is unique and there are many factors to be considered with respect to child support obligations. You may want to think about consulting the Atlanta Legal Aid Society or an experienced family law attorney.

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