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Believe it or not, if you were divorced in a Tennessee court in the last 5-10 years, your parenting plan probably states that each parent has to provide the other parent with his or her W-2s and 1099s by February 15 of each year, and with his or her Form 1040 by April 15. Parents are also required to exchange proof of work-related childcare costs each year. Refusal to do so upon request could be contempt of court, and if he or she refuses to produce the documentation, there are other means available to obtain it.
Determining whether one party is entitled to a child support modification (increase or decrease) is a multi-step process:
- Determine each party's income, health insurance costs for covering the child, and days per year of parenting time. Also, determine whether any children covered under the previous order are no longer "minor children" because they have attained the age of 18, graduated high school, and have no disabilities. Sometimes determining all of these factors is easy; other times, it can be quite complicated.
- Prepare an Income Shares Worksheet utilizing all of the new information.
- In line 13a of the Income Shares Worksheet, enter the existing child support amount.
- If the amount that populates in line 13c of the Worksheet is greater than the amount that populates in line 13b, then a modification may be warranted, and you should consider filing a petition to modify.
Although you could potentially run these calculations yourself, it is probably best to have an attorney run them for you and advise you of all the possible ramifications of filing a petition to modify. I offer free, relatively brief telephone consultations regarding child support modification matters, and I serve Shelby, Fayette, and Tipton Counties in southwest Tennessee. My contact information is listed at the top of this page, and I would love to hear from you if you're interested in increasing the amount of child support you receive or decreasing the amount of child support you pay.
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Can I Stop My Child's Other Parent from Having Romantic Overnight Guests During His/Her Parenting Time?
One common provision included in Tennessee Parenting Plan Orders is the so-called "paramour provision" or "morality clause." It usually reads similar to the following:
"Neither parent shall have a member of the opposite sex, or a romantic partner of the same sex, not related to the children by blood or marriage stay overnight while the children are in that parent’s care."
I sometimes recommend such a provision in a parenting plan if the parties have conservative values (as I personally do) or are otherwise concerned about the other parent's choice of romantic partners. If the provision is included by the agreement of the parents, generally speaking, the court will enforce it.
However, a question I frequently hear from clients is, "in the absence of an agreement, can I keep my spouse (or the child's other parent) from having his/her boyfriend/girlfriend spend the night while the kids are there?" Unfortunately for parents who would want such a provision, Tennessee courts are not supposed to put such a requirement in their orders routinely. Instead, such a provision is really only appropriate in one of two situations: (1) there is a specific concern about a specific boyfriend/girlfriend (for instance, the father's girlfriend is a registered sex offender) or (2) one parent has a history of very bad decisionmaking concerning people he/she dates and/or allows to interact with the minor children (for instance, the mother who has a different "boyfriend" spend the night every night for a week). The key is demonstrating that the children would be negatively affected by the overnight presence of a boyfriend/girlfriend, and not just in a moral sense.
With that said, I still urge my clients to consider whether it is really wise to have overnight romantic guests during parenting time on a regular basis. First of all, rebound relationships can be ill-advised and end poorly. There is also the possibility of confusing the children if you allow multiple overnight partners with whom you are not seriously involved. Children have a right to stability and consistency that is not necessarily well served by a revolving bedroom door. Furthermore, if the parents are still married to one another, sexual relations outside the marriage are adulterous in nature, which could potentially be a factor in the divorce proceedings.
To me, though, the most compelling reason to be careful about overnight romantic guests is that parents operating under a parenting plan no longer have the privilege of spending every day with their children as they might have when living together. New love can be intoxicating, and the presence of a girlfriend or boyfriend during parenting time could detract from the time and attention the parent could give to the children if no paramour were present. In such cases, parents should consider saving overnight dates for times when the children are with the other parent.
Then again, if the parent and the boyfriend/girlfriend are embarking on a new life together as a family unit that includes the children in a healthy way, this might not be the case at all.
As with any child-related decision, each parent should earnestly consider what is best for each minor child and use his or her best wisdom and judgment to make it happen.
Two new Tennessee laws went into effect July 1, 2015 that could help people who owe child support arrears breathe a little easier.
The first, Public Chapter 200 (SB0101/HB0090), allows child support obligors (people who owe child support) to reach a compromise with child support obligees (people to whom child support is owed) settling and/or forgiving child support arrearages. There are a few major caveats, however. The first, and most important, is that the child support obligee must agree to settle the amount of arrears. The second is that the court must approve of the settlement and find that the settlement is in the best interests of the minor child. Finally, if the child has received any government public assistance, such as Tenncare or food stamps, the State of Tennessee's lawyers must be parties to the action and will have the opportunity to oppose the settlement. Still, this law has the potential to benefit child support obligors who feel like their child support obligations are never going to end.
The second new law, T.C.A. Section 36-5-714, could help child support obligors who have lost their driver licenses due to arrears. Under certain circumstances and with government approval, this new law provides for a restricted driver license allowing obligors to drive to and from work and/or school ONLY. I frequently hear from people who need driver licenses in order to work and pay their child support and therefore are falling even further behind on their obligations, so I think this is a step in the right direction.