As Rick, the lawyer representing Dan’s ex-wife, marches up to the podium, he makes eye contact with Dan, who is perched on the witness stand. There is direct eye contact, but not a hint of awkward hesitation. For Dan, this is his second time testifying in court. Dan testified a couple years ago at the final hearing for his divorce case. He was grilled by Rick at that hearing, too. Today, Dan is asking that the Court reduce his child support obligation.
As usual, Rick is confident and stoic. He looks down at his notepad as he prepares to attack Dan with prying questions. “Give me your best shot,” Dan says to himself. The courtroom is silent–too silent for such a spacious courtroom.
Rick fires the first shot. “Mr. Johnson, isn’t it true that you’ve deposited cash in the amount of about $800 every Sunday since March of this year?”
“Yes, but that money is -” Dan begins to speak.
“And this money is income from your employment each Saturday at the Wet, Wild and Wicked Wateringhole as a bartender?” Rick interjects without hesitation.
“No, that money is a loan from my family and friends. You see, after the divorce was finalized, I struggled financially. I got fired from my previous job, so I had to get another one. I make less money than I did before. I’m broke. You’ve seen my pay stubs. I do some bartending work on the weekends to make extra money. I don’t make anything close to $800 from bartending.” Dan explains, maybe too confidently, for someone who prepared for his testimony with his lawyer for only a few minutes.
This scenario–or something similar–may occur at a child support modification hearing. Under Georgia law, the original amount of child support may be modified if there is a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child. Also, when child support is involved, each party has to submit a Georgia Child Support Worksheet, which is a document through which each parent calculates the recommended amount of child support. This worksheet takes into consideration many factors, but each parent’s gross monthly income is a huge factor.
Many aspects of a litigation involving child support can be heavily disputed. As in the scenario above, the amount of a parent’s income may be at issue. The custodial parent might assert that the non-custodial parent’s gross monthly income is greater than it is stated in the court documents submitted by the non-custodial parent. If this is the case, then the judge might decide–based upon the evidence presented at a hearing–how much money that party makes for the purpose of deciding the amount of child support.
For some, divorce is mainly about money. A non-custodial parent–who would be paying child support to the custodial parent–might be inclined to do everything to reduce her child support obligations as much as possible. I’ve seen it happen before. Some non-custodial parents falsely claim that they are unemployed. Others become intentionally under-employed. A few leave the state and completely abandon their children. Regardless of the different tactics that some of the non-custodial parents use, they have one goal in common–to pay as little as possible. The judge will look down on this because the right to child support belongs not to the parents, but to the children. For example, even if both parents agree to waive child support, the judge is not allowed to finalize such agreements under Georgia law. A non-custodial parent who employs unreasonable tactics to avoid paying child support will appear as an unreasonable person to the judge. Judges–at least the ones I’ve met–do not think too highly of unreasonableness. This is because divorce is not solely about winning or losing–it’s more meaningful and complex than that.
Divorce, like marriage, is about legal ties and obligations, continuing commitments and duties. Shirking one’s duties rarely goes over well, particularly with those folks who wear the long, black robe.
“Loans, eh?” Rick leans in.
“Yeah, from family and friends, to help out here and there,” Dan offers.
“Sometime from family, sometimes from friends?” Rick inquires.
“Yeah, I make a few calls, see what I can dig up,” Dan replies.
“Lucky it’s always $800 on the nose,” Rick offers with an eyebrow raised. “So you pick up about an average of $3,200 a month extra from these loans, do you?”
“About that. I have serious needs.”
“I can tell,” offers Rick with mock sympathy. “Any promissory notes that these friends and family who loan you almost $40,000 a year require you to sign?”
“Nah,” Dan replies, “they trust me.”
“I’m sure.” “Tell me, why were you fired from your previous job?”
“They said I stole some money from them,” Dan fires back. “But they lie!”
“Project much?” asks Rick. “No further questions.”