In 2019, nearly 12,000 divorces came through Tennessee courts. Of those, nearly 4,900 involved minor children. Dividing assets and debts in a divorce is complicated enough. Add the emotional issues involving child custody and support, and the stress of the divorce is even greater.
Perhaps you are considering divorce, or have already started the process and are concerned about the financial support of your children. Maybe you have an existing child support agreement and are wondering if you can modify it due to changes in your circumstances or those of the other parent. The financial support of your children is an emotional and complicated issue, so retaining an experienced family law firm will help.
At McCarter | East PLLC, we help clients in Murfreesboro and Berry Hill, Tennessee, navigate child support agreements. Whether you are thinking about divorce, are in the process, or wondering about modifying an existing child support agreement, let us lead the way.
Understanding Child Support in Tennessee
In Tennessee, both parents are expected to provide financial support for their children. Typically, it is the noncustodial parent who pays child support because the primary residential parent spends more money on the children for items such as food, clothing, and transportation.
Child support is based on the parents’ combined adjusted gross income (AGI) and each parent’s percentage of the AGI. The income from all sources, including wages/salaries, tips, commissions, alimony, unemployment, workers’ compensation, Social Security, pensions, and retirement are calculated for each parent. From those figures, deductions for items such as self-employment taxes and child credits are applied to calculate each parent’s AGI. The monthly AGI for each is added together for a total monthly income upon which child support is based. The calculation also uses the percentage of each parent’s portion of the monthly income, as well as the amount of parenting time, and the cost of health insurance or childcare paid by each parent for their children. As you can see, there are many factors considered when determining a child support amount.
If the noncustodial parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed to reduce child support, the court can “impute” or attribute income based on what that parent should be earning per month.
The court can determine if child support payments should be higher or lower than the standard fee schedule, based on income determinations and the needs of the children. A noncustodial parent may pay more than the amount on the fee schedule, but not less. In all cases, the court must approve the payment amount.
Modifying an Existing Arrangement
You can request a child support modification from the court if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the order came into effect. If there has been a review within the last two years, the requesting parent must justify the need for another review based on changing circumstances, including:
Either parent bears financial responsibility for another child not previously listed on the credit worksheet
Either parent no longer has financial responsibility for another child listed on the credit worksheet, due to the child’s death or emancipation
Either parent has a significant increase or decrease in income, such as an inheritance, lottery winnings, or change in employment
A child supported by the existing order has become disabled
The variance for modification of any order entered by the court on or after January 18, 2005 must be “significant” — defined as 15%, or 7.5% for low-income parents.
Requesting a modification to an existing child support order does not guarantee it will be granted by the court. An experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney can help make your case for a child support modification.
Termination of Child Support
Child support is terminated under Tennessee law when a child turns 18 years of age. Support may continue until the child completes high school or the members of their class complete high school, whichever occurs first. Termination of child support does not terminate the responsibility of a parent in arrears to pay in full what they owe.
Turn to a Skilled Law Firm for Help
Even when using the State of Tennessee’s child support worksheet, determining the actual amount can still be a complicated calculation. That is why you should work with a knowledgeable child support lawyer during the process. Child support is, after all, awarded to the children, not to the custodial parent. Whether you will be paying child support or receiving it on behalf of your children, their best interests should be paramount.