Who pays child support in Tennessee, and how is it calculated?
Note: This page is not intended as legal advice. It expresses general principles about Tennessee law as it stands in mid-December 2016. The laws relating to child support change regularly in Tennessee. You should contact an attorney to get advice about your specific situation under the law as it exists at the time your situation arises.
In Tennessee, child support can either be set as part of a divorce proceeding (in a circuit or chancery court) or as an independent case in juvenile court.
In Tennessee, child support is quite possibly the most straightforward part of family law because it is based on a formula called the Income Shares Model. The formula takes into account, among other things, each parent's gross income (before taxes), how many days per year each parent is spending with each child, the number of children involved, any other children each parent supports, the cost of work-related childcare, and the cost of any health insurance coverage either parent carries for the minor children. You can access the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines here or find a Tennessee child support calculator, called an Income Shares Worksheet, here.
One common area of conflict between parents when setting child support is calculating the amount of time each parent spends with the children. If the parents have been living apart for a while, it may be fairly easy to determine how much time the children have with each parent. However, if the parties only recently separated households, it could be more difficult to do this. Also, if one parent is unreasonably withholding time with the children, the court may take that into account when setting child support.
Another common area of conflict in child support calculation, believe it or not, is each parent's income. You would think it would be relatively easy to determine what each parent makes, but that is not always the case. Sometimes one parent experiences a mysterious disease called "Sudden Income Deficit Syndrome" in an attempt to get out of paying a fair amount of child support. In that case, the other parent must prove voluntary underemployment - that the parent is not making an effort to earn an income commensurate with his or her earning capacity. Sometimes the issue is less nefarious, as in the case of a self-employed parent just getting a business off the ground, a parent working part-time while attending school to increase his or her earning capacity, or a parent returning to the workforce after years of being a stay-at-home mother. Needless to say, the determination of each parent's income for child support purposes can be more complicated than it would at first seem.
As a historical side note, child support in Tennessee has undergone many changes in recent years. Before the creation of guidelines, child support was set based on proof of actual expenses of raising the children. Then, for a while, the guidelines set forth flat percentages of the net income of the parent paying child support - 21% for one child, 32% for two children, and so on. Clients often come into our office with assumptions about child support based on these previous guidelines, when in fact the new guidelines produce much different results.
A consultation with an attorney will greatly assist you in figuring out how the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines apply to your specific situation.