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The Effect of Joint Physical Custody on Child Support

Joint physical custody, or 50/50 custody as it is sometimes referred, is defined as a custodial arrangement where both parents equally share in the day-to-day care of their children in common. Although with joint physical custody co-parents have the same parenting time, there is usually a designation of one custodial parent and one noncustodial parent. This designation is important for two reasons: which parent has final decision-making authority as it relates to joint legal custody (this authority usually attaches to the custodial parent); and, which parent is obligated to pay child support.

There exists a widely held misconception that where two parents are granted joint physical custody, the parent designated as the noncustodial parent is not required to pay child support. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 is the governing authority on child support and provides the statutory guidelines for calculating monthly support. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(a)(14) defines a noncustodial Parent as “…the parent with whom the child resides less than 50 percent of the time or the parent who has the greater payment obligation for child support.” (Emphasis added). In the event a child equally resides with both parents and it cannot be determined which parent owes a lesser amount of support, O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(a)(14) further provides that the court shall designate the noncustodial parent.

As evidenced by the above language, O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 does not specifically remove the obligation of the noncustodial parent to pay child support where parents equally share physical custody. Rather, O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15 provides a rebuttable presumption as far as the child support responsibility of a parent. In most cases, a noncustodial parent, no matter the parenting time arrangement, will be required to pay some amount of child support. The basic amount calculated consistent with the guidelines may be increased or decreased as long as the change—also called a deviation—is in the best interest of the child. In addition to the best interest of the child standard, one of the other, important factors in rebutting the presumption of a basic child support amount is whether a deviation would work “to achieve the state policy of affording children of unmarried parents, to the extent possible, the same economic standard of living enjoyed by children living in intact families consistent of parents with similar financial means.” O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(c)(1).

In the case where co-parents are awarded joint physical custody, a parenting time deviation may be applied to the noncustodial parent’s basic child support obligation, but it won’t necessarily negate the obligation entirely. A parenting time deviation is defined, in pertinent part, as “a deviation from the presumptive amount of child support when special circumstances make the presumptive amount of child support excessive or inadequate due to extended parenting time…[or] the child residing with both parents equally… .” O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(i)(2)(O)(i).

Take the following example: Parent A and Parent B have agreed to share joint physical custody of Child C on a week on, week off basis. Parent A, designated as the custodial parent, has a gross income of $1,650.00 per month. Parent B, the noncustodial parent, has a gross income of $4,126.00 per month. The child support worksheet provides that Parent B’s basic child support amount is $694.00. However, since the parties are sharing joint physical custody, they agree that Parent B should receive a $400.00 parenting time deviation, to account for the monetary support he will provide during his equal parenting time. Parent B’s final, monthly child support obligation is $294.00.

The above is one of many scenarios which contemplate a parenting time deviation. Though a deviation may not be granted in all situations, so it is important to consult an attorney on this issue. The Manely Firm, P.C. stands ready to help you develop a strategy consistent with your interests and long-term goals as it relates to a custody and/or child support dispute.

Kourtney Bernard-Rance