How is child support determined?
The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines apply whenever a court sets, enforces, or modifies child support. The stated purpose of the Guidelines is (1) to reduce the number of impoverished children, (2) to make child support awards more equitable, (3) to make child support proceedings more efficient, (4) to encourage non-residential parents to stay in contact with their children, (5) to minimize the effect of separation of children and divorce on the children and (6) to allocate the financial support provided by parents among all of the obligor’s children.
The Guidelines are complex and difficult to explain. Essentially, the Guidelines seek to make the same amount of money available to the child of separated parents that would be available if the parents were married or living together. To accomplish this goal, the Guidelines combine the income of both parents and assign a presumptive percentage to that amount that represents the percentage of income families typically devote to that number of children. Each parent is responsible for contributing his or her share every day based on that parent’s share of the total combined income, and the parent with whom the child spends a day is credited as having made that contribution. When the child is not with you, your contribution must be made in the form of paid support. If one parent’s share of support per day is vastly more than the other’s, it is possible that the custodial parent can still owe support to the non-custodial parent.
So, in determining child support obligations, the primary factors that affect the amount owed are the income of each parent, combined income and the amount of days each parent spends with the child. Other factors ultimately affect the final number as well–health insurance, child care, medical expenses, tutoring, and extracurricular activities. Obligations to support other children also matter.
Get an Estimate
The child support worksheet (which utilizes all the calculations from the guidelines) helps parents and courts to arrive at a “presumptive” support amount. The worksheet and calculator make it easy to determine a baseline support amount as long as you have all the necessary information. Use the link and play with the numbers to get some idea of what you might be looking at.
Deviations from Presumptive Support Amounts
If the non-residential parent spends more than 91 days per year with the child, it is presumed that the parent is making greater expenditures for child care and a “downward deviation” from the presumptive support amount should be made. The support obligation may be reduced by 10% for each 14 days over 91 that the child spends with the non-residential parent, up to a maximum 50% reduction for 182 or more days.
Other downward deviations are available, but only rarely. Upward deviations can also be made if a parent spends very little time with a child.
High Asset Support
Options are available for non-residential parents with very high incomes. At some point, it becomes clear that child support money is not supporting a child, but enabling a lavish lifestyle for the residential parent. Therefore, after a certain amount, the Guidelines allow some support to be directed into educational or other trusts for the children. Usually, these options require agreement, but they are available in the event that someone is taking advantage of child support from a high asset non-residential parent.
Modification of Support
Child support is not intended to become a game of gotcha where one parent is constantly dragging the other back into court. In practice, that obviously happens. The Guidelines do not allow a modification of child support-up or down-unless the amount owed has changed by at least 15%. To prove that, though, access to income and expense information is required.
Why You Need a Lawyer
If it’s all math anyway, it may seem like you don’t need a lawyer. You shouldn’t, but other lawyers are involved, and opportunistic or unnecessarily adversarial others seek to manipulate the numbers to your disadvantage. Additionally, people are terrible at math, so simple mistakes abound. We can help insure your child support is fair by:
Maximizing your number of days with your child, and that they are properly counted;
Insuring that your income is fairly counted;
Insuring that the other parent’s income is fairly counted;
Looking for less obvious credits against support;
Checking ALL of the Math. Again. And Again;
Imputing fair income for an unemployed parent (in other words, assigning them an income number that the SHOULD have earned if they were working).
Catching income lies, and finding hidden income or other relevant assets.