When children are involved in a separation or divorce, a court will determine the appropriate amount of child support to be awarded to the Primary Residential Parent. In Tennessee, parents are legally required to provide child support until their child turns 18. This period may be extended while the child remains in high school.Calculation of Basic Child Support
In calculating the child support obligation, Tennessee uses an “Income Shares Model” that considers the income of both parents. Once the parents’ combined net income is established, the support needs of the children are calculated based on the Tennessee schedule of basic child support needs. This pre-determined schedule produced by the State of Tennessee allocates support obligations based on the proportion of each parent’s income.
For example, consider a mother and father of two children. If the Mother earns $3,000 per month and the Father earns $2,000 per month, their monthly adjusted gross income is $5,000. According to the Tennessee child support schedule, the basic child support obligation for parents of two children earning $5,000 per month is $1,122 per month. Since the mother earns 60% of the total income she would be responsible for $673.20 per month, while the father would be responsible for $448.80 (or 40% of the total amount).
For the complete text of the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, please go to Child Support Calculator and Guidelines.
You may access the Tennessee child support calculator at Child Support Calculator and Worksheet.Determining a Parent’s Income
A parent’s gross income may include wages, commissions, bonuses, overtime payments, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance benefits, judgments recovered for personal injuries, gifts, prizes, alimony, and income from self-employment. Parents must disclose any of the above.Reductions in a Parent’s Gross Income for Child Support Purposes
In the calculation of the Basic Child Support Obligation, a parent’s gross income will be adjusted by subtracting “credits” for:
- self employment tax;
- another child being supported by that parent in the parent’s home;
- another child being supported by the parent under a different child support case;
- another child being supported outside of the parent’s home, where the parent is legally obligated to support that child and does so.
Any pre-existing support orders are directly deducted from the gross income of a parent. In order to obtain a reduction for any subsequent support orders, however, a parent must prove that he or she is actually providing support as ordered. Credits are not available for step-children.Expenses Not Included in the Basic Child Support Obligation
The Basic Child Support Obligation includes an average amount to cover child-rearing expenses for housing, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, and basic education.
The Basic Child Support Obligation does not include the following expenses, which would be added as necessary and allocated based on the percentage of each parent’s income:
- the child’s health insurance premium;
- work-related childcare costs—covering expenses necessary for a parent’s employment, education, or vocational training;
- the child’s uninsured medical expenses—including deductibles, co-pays, and dental, orthodontic, counseling, psychiatric, vision, hearing, and other needs not covered by insurance;
- any extraordinary educational expenses—such as private school tuition or special education needs;
- special expenses for extracurricular activities—covering the cost of activities that may contribute to the child’s cultural, social, artistic, or athletic development.
- The educational and special expenses must not exceed 7% of the basic child support obligation.
The child support guidelines are presumed to be the correct amount to be awarded. Only rarely does the court deviate from them, if it finds that application of the guidelines would not provide for the best interest of the child, or would be unfair to the parents. If you believe that your circumstances would justify a departure from the guidelines, you should discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney who can provide a knowledgeable evaluation of your case. The guidelines assume that the nonresidential parent will spend a total of 80 days per year with their child, including every other weekend, two weeks during the summer, and two weeks during holidays throughout the year. If visitation with the nonresidential parent exceeds 92 days or amounts to fewer than 68 days per year, the amount of support would likely be adjusted to reflect those arrangements. Over time, the financial condition or personal circumstances of the parents or the child may also change significantly enough to justify a modification in an existing award. Changes that may justify a modification include:
- a change (of 15% or more) in the nonresidential parent’s income;
- a change in the number of children for whom the nonresidential parent is responsible and is providing support;
- a situation in which the child who is being supported becomes disabled;
- an agreement between the parents to modify the award determined in accordance with the guidelines and complete worksheets.
The wealth of a non-parent is not considered in assessing child support in Tennessee.
If you would like to request or contest a child support order, or need to pursue the modification of an existing support order, our Nashville office can help.