GEORGIA’S CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES—NO ECONOMIC BASIS:

By R. Mark Rogers

STATE BAR OF GEORGIA

FAMILY LAW SECTION NEWSLETTER

July/August 2000, 14-23.

(This article is especially written for the Newsletter by Mr. Rogers. The author is an

economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. He served as the only economist

member of the 1998 Georgia Commission on Child Support. He has published on child costs

and extensively on the use of economic data. The views are those of the author and do not

necessarily represent those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve

System. Comments can be emailed to the author at rmrogers@mindspring.com.)

Introduction

Child support award practices have changed dramatically since the period prior to 1989. The

Federal Family Support Act of 1988 mandated that states wanting to participate in the

Federal child support recovery/enforcement program enact child support guidelines that

would be presumptive on a state-wide basis by the end of 1989. This Act led states to rush

to comply in order to avoid loss of millions of dollars of Federal funding. For Georgia,

legislators and policy-makers had from the middle of 1988 through April of 1989 to properly

decide and enact presumptive guidelines. The April 1989 deadline reflected when the 1989

Georgia Legislative Session concluded—Georgia’s last chance to comply with the Federal

regulation. Did the Georgia Legislature do a good job in its rush to keep from losing

approximately $25 million in Federal funding (the state’s share of Federal child support funds

the next year)? Are Georgia’s child support guidelines rational, based on sound economic

principles? Are the guidelines economically fair and appropriate or do they create

extraordinary burdens and extraordinary benefits? Does the lack of a rational, economic

basis and the existence of extraordinary burdens and benefits form a factual basis for a

constitutional challenge to these guidelines?

First, what do Federal regulations require of states when establishing child support

guidelines? Separate from the requirement that the obligor’s income be a factor in

determining the award, there have been two basic economic requirements (many in terms of

procedure) and one very specific numeric requirement related to equal protection. The Code

of Federal Regulations (CFR) in 1988 required that the basic living needs of the obligor (noncustodial

parent—or NCP) be taken into account and that the guidelines be economically

appropriate. Two basic questions for evaluating Georgia’s guidelines to determine if they

meet the intended purpose is whether basic living needs of the NCP are part of the guidelines

and whether the guidelines result in economically appropriate awards.1

CFR also requires that the guidelines result in a specific computation of the award. That is,

the guideline must result in a specific numeric presumptive award—based on the numeric

– 2 –

factors in the guideline (parental income, number of days of custody, etc.). This requirement

is intended to treat all parties similarly situated equally and also to increase certainty in the

award process and reduce the number of contested cases.2

The entire article can be found here as a PDF:

GABarFamLaw.Rogers

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