As the “Custodial” parent, could you still be on the hook for paying child support to your spouse? Yes.
Most couples with children going through a divorce become familiar with the terms “custodial” parent and “non-custodial” parent. “Custodial” parent simply means the parent that has more custody time, or spends more time with the children (i.e., more than 50% time). The “non-custodial” parent, or secondary custodial parent, sees the children less frequently (i.e., less than 50% time) than the custodial parent.
Going hand in hand with this, the parent that has more custodial time with the children usually requires greater financial resources for the children’s care and wellbeing, while the “non-custodial” parent who sees the children less often needs less money for the children’s care and needs. To help the parent who takes care of the children more often, the Court typically orders the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent.
However, as a recent Georgia Supreme Court opinion shows, that may not always be the case. It is quite possible that the custodial parent may still need to pay child support to the non-custodial parent.
New ruling awards child support to non-custodial parent
In the divorce of Williamson v. Williamson, the father was awarded 60% parenting time and the mother was awarded 40% parenting time. Thus, father was construed as the primary physical custodian and mother was considered the secondary custodial parent. The Court determined that father’s income was just over $7,500 a month and mother’s income, or wage-earning capacity, was only about $1,300. In accordance with the Child Support Guidelines, after calculating the child support based off the parties’ respective gross incomes, the Court found that Father’s child support obligation would be about $1,300.00 a month and Mother’s would be about $200.00 a month.
Naturally, one would think that the mother, as the non-custodial parent, would have to pay child support in the amount of $200.00 a month to the father. However, the Court did just the opposite and instead required father, the custodial parent, to pay mother, the non-custodial parent, child support each month.
In coming to this conclusion, the Court looked at the “best interest of the children” in deciding an appropriate amount of support. The Court decided that due to the disparate income of the parties ($7,500.00/month versus $1,300.00/month), the best interest of the children would be to deviate from the presumptive amount of $200.00 and order a much different amount.
Courts want to give children a similar economic standard of living with each parent. Thus, since Mother’ income was significantly lower than Father’s, the Court needed a way to make the households more comparable, in order to keep that same standard at both homes for the children. Instead of paying $200.00/month to Father, the Court found it was more important for the Mother to keep that money to maintain an adequate house and necessities for the children while they are in her care. Additionally, to keep the households of equal lifestyle for the children, Father was ordered to pay Mother about $1,000.00 a month for the maintenance and well-being of the children while in her care.
What’s financially in the best interest of the children?
The “best interest of the children” in this case was to require that money be provided to the non-custodial parent to provide for a proper visitation. So not only did mother not have to pay $200.00 a month to the father as the non-custodial parent, but she actually received money from father, the parent with primary custody, of about $1,000.00 a month![It is important to note that it is well-established law in Georgia that a custodial parent may be required to pay child support to a non-custodial parent, this case solidified this finding for the first time in the highest court in this state using the relatively-new Child Support Guidelines.]
Custodial parents may have to pay child support
There may be many other reasons that a Court will require a custodial parent to pay the non-custodial parent child support besides disparate incomes. Courts look at the standard of living of the children before and after divorce, and consider the children’s financial wellbeing in making this determination. The bottom line is that there is no presumption that ONLY the non-custodial parent will be required to pay child support. A custodial parent CAN be ordered to pay child support to a noncustodial parent – it just depends on what the Court deems best for the children.
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