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Child Support: Frequently Asked Questions

Tennessee Child Support Frequently Asked Questions

What do all the terms in the Tennessee Child Support Worksheet mean?

The words “custody” and “visitation” are no longer used in Tennessee custody law. The two (2) primary terms you’ll hear are “Primary Residential Parent (PRP)” and “Alternate Residential Parent (ARP)”. The minor child primarily resides in the PRP’s household.   The ARP is, therefore, responsible for paying child support to the PRP.

Basically, how is child support determined in Tennessee?

What is Basic Child Support Obligation (BCSO)?

 Food, shelter, and transportation are the three main expenses covered by the BCSO – recreation and reasonable clothing are also accommodated, but account for just a tiny percentage of BCSO coverage. Necessary scholastic costs are factored in as well.

The BSCO does not accommodate medical costs, childcare expensive for working spouses, health insurance, or excessive scholastic expenses (high tuition, books, etc.).

The first step of determining the BCSO is to calculate either spouse’s gross income, which includes the following:

  • Salary;
  • Sales commission;
  • Earnings or wages;
  • Self-employment earnings;
  • Related fees;
  • Tip earnings;
  • Benefits (fringe);
  • Bonus earnings;
  • Severance payment;
  • Retirement Plans/pensions, such as Individual retirement accounts, social security, benefits for Veteran’s Administration, benefits for Railroad Retirement Board, Keoughs, and others;
  • Income: interest, trust, and dividend;
  • Capital gains;
  • Annuities;
  • Temporary or permanent workers compensation;
  • Social Security Administration benefits for retirement or disability (paid to either child or parent, depending on the type of account);
  • Insured unemployment benefits;
  • Gifts convertible to financial assets;
  • Prize money, and lottery gains;
  • Alimony from a separate case.

Next, the Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, should be determined. Subtract credits from either spouse’s gross earnings or income. Such credits include:

  • Child or children taken care of by a parent in his or her home;
  • Taxes of self-employment;
  • Child or children taken care of by a parent with orders from a case involving child support;
  • Child or children who are getting support from a parent, unrelated to court enforcements.

A child who qualifies for pre-existing and proceeding court orders will have credits available. Pre-existing court orders are subtracted directly out of a parent’s gross earnings, and parents receive the credit’s entire sum. However, overdue installations of payment receive no credit.

Evidence of support that can be documented include the following:

  • History of payment from a clerk or office related to a separate order of child support;
  • Tangible proof of financial installments paid to the child’s custodian (examples include money orders, or cancelled checks);
  • Proof of food, clothes, or infant necessities that qualify as “in kind” remuneration. This can be determined based on other children’s relevant cases or the affirmation of the parent involved in the other situation.

If yours or the other parent’s children who “aren’t at home” qualify for the credit, then this translates to the definite recorded financial support of the separate children who also qualify. A formula mirroring this will calculate the cost of child support to be paid over the last twelve months, monthly. Step-children are not applicable in this situation.

The third thing to do is to calculate Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, for either parent – add them together – take this “total amount” and interpret it in relation to the scheduled child support. The BCSO by month will be included in the Child Support Schedule.

Finally, the BCSO by month should be divided by the AGI of either parent. Pro-rate the BCSO of one parent to the other to calculate the Percentage of Income, or PI – in other words, either parent’s share.

How does the “Parenting Time Adjustment” affect my divorce case?

Parenting Time Adjustments alter the BCSO as far as its visitation scheduling terms. If your case calls for equal parenting, then you should expect both you and your spouse to have one hundred and eighty two and a half (182.5) visitation days per year. Parenting time for one day translates to a child spending over twelve (12) hours in a twenty-four (24) hour period. Such a timeframe can start and end at any point and is not restricted to calendar standard. Any combination of day and night hours is acceptable. Any parenting time that could be considered a “partial” day is simply called one day by Tennessee courts.

If the ARP (Alternative Residential Parent) is with his or her child for ninety-two (92) days or more in a given year, the he or she may receive a deduction in child support based on the fact that more payments and time towards the child’s benefit are made than is legally required.

What situations qualify as “split parenting” or “shared parenting?”

“Split Parenting” or “Shared Parenting” is defined as a situation in which divorced parents of more than one child can claim status as Primary Residential Parent for at least one child each. Both parents in such situations will be compensated for spending more than fifty percent (50%) of time with a minimum of one child.

How do Tennessee courts calculate childcare or medical expenses?

Fees applying to insurance premiums –dental and medical – for a child, as well as fees for child-care that is related to work, is determined in support order calculations. Uninsured medical costs are incorporated into the BCSO, and monthly payment is decided. The division of such costs will be proportional to either supporting parent’s income percentage. Examples of costs include:

  • Co-payments;
  • Dental coverage;
  • Deductibles;
  • Advisement or counseling;
  • Orthodontic coverage;
  • Psychiatric issues;
  • Issues with hearing or vision;
  • Unpredictable expenses that insurance also do not protect.

How does the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines frame educational or special expenses? Add-ons?

Educational costs related to a child support case are considered “deviations” from the assumed quantity of child support (in terms of Basic Child Support Obligation + health insurance fees). Other expenses can also be considered acceptable inclusions to child support if they are supposed to improve a child’s development. Such enhancements can relate to any field (i.e. athletics, music, art, humanities, business, etc.).

Tennessee law might identify certain expense falling under this particular exception as a fee that must exceed seven percent (7%) of the amount of BCSO – if it’s going to be considered a deviation in order. If granted, justifying reasons for such a deviation as well as the quantity that would have been required if no deviation occurred.

If, under Tennessee Guidelines, an Alternative Residential Parent is qualified for a credit, can he or she have child support modified?

No! According to the new Child Support Guidelines, a parent must prove that he or she has a “significant variance –” defined by Tennessee modification law and succession of changes, as a shift in the alternate residential parent’s gross income amounting to at least a fifteen percent (15%) difference between the present support circumstances and the projected change of order. To calculate this, the court and parents will use an “income shares worksheet.”

However, it should be noted that ever child support case is extremely varied and unpredictable in terms of the adjustment of child support orders as proposed by parents. It’s an example of a legal gray area – so it’s crucial that you contact an experienced attorney with questions about a situation related to child support modification. He or she will be able to better guarantee that you have the support agreement that satisfies your needs.

The child support granted by Tennessee won’t cover my expenses! What do I do?

Tennessee courts determining child support always account for hardship – money can’t magically appear where it doesn’t exist. The standard guidelines can be adjusted to meet a particular budget if “hardship deviation” can be proven necessary. Guidelines aren’t usually modified, but hardship deviations can be accepted if a large, beneficial alternation in the quantity of child support can be made by slightly modifying the standard guidelines. This is a fairly recent development in child support legalities – a consequence of the new Child Support Guidelines (ca. 2005).

Do Tennessee courts have the authority to have child support deducted from one parent’s salary and paid to the other parent?

Yes – Tennessee courts have the power to order “wage assignments” that take away set amounts from a supporting parent’s earnings, and they will typically do so without cause not to. It’s important to discuss you and your spouse’s financial circumstances with your attorney – self-employed, cash-paid, or straight commission-paid parents who are “supporting” are not well suited for wage assignments.

Does child support have to be paid via Tennessee’s central collection agency?

Certainly – Tennessee law requires that a state’s central collection agency accept payment. This makes the procedure more efficient for the parent with primary custody, and eliminates the need for confrontation with a supporting parent, as well as preparing support collection agents via one’s children. Extensive records are maintained by agencies.

Can I enforce a Tennessee court’s ruling for my ex-spouse to pay child support, if he or she has neglected to do so?

Wage assignments are basically the only solution for situations in which a supporting spouse has neglected to provide child support. Penalty or court-ordered “encouragement” in the form of jail time is very possible for supporting parents who have the finances to provide support, but have simply failed to do so. Community service sentences might also be served to such an offending parent, or the revocation of government-issued driver’s, medical, hunting, or other professional licenses.

Can I still enforce child support orders if my ex-spouse no longer lives in Tennessee?

Of course! Any court enforcement at the hands of your state may be recognized in any other state in which the affected party resides. All you have to do is make a trip to the local court of your spouse’s new residence (often the juvenile court, or district attorney) and you can have a wage assignment implemented.

How can bankruptcy affect my case? Is it possible for my ex to get out of child support payments?

Of course not! If your ex-spouse fails to make child support payments under any circumstances – including, but definitely not limited to bankruptcy – you should discuss your situation with an experienced attorney immediately.

Should I report child support related expenses under “taxable income” on my federal tax return?

No. Child support payments do not qualify as taxable income.

So, my ex-spouse won’t be able to subtract child support payments?


What if both me and me ex-spouse agree to change this – can we?

Nope! However, a child dependency deduction can be established for the alternative residential parent in question – if both parents agree to the terms. For this to be possible, the primary residential parent must file an IRS form 8332. In such cases, this will be filed under the tax return of the alternative residential parent.

When does a parent stop paying child support in Tennessee?

When a minor child reaches the age of eighteen (18), he or she is no longer legally consider a minor – and so is ineligible for basic child support. The same goes for children who have graduated from school with the proper amount of credits and classes. In rare circumstances, a child may get married or leave high school to purse and occupation. In either case, child support would no longer be required.

If my child attends a college or university, does child support extend past the standard timeframe?

Sometimes! If both parents are in agreement, or if the child involved is a victim of serious injury, or is handicapped, then child support can apply to a child’s college career. Other than that, Tennessee courts cut off child support when a child turns eighteen (18).

My spouse is the Primary Residential Parent is wealthy (or has remarried a wealthy person). Does this change anything?

The actual “wealth” of an involved parent is not relevant to the calculation of child support for a given case. The parent with the most substantial means or assets is required to provide more child support than a parent with meager financial means. “Wealth” is not a consideration – but criteria included in the new Child Support Guidelines are applicable to the Alternative Residential parent in addition to the Primary Residential Parent.

 What will Tennessee courts do if either parent’s income is proven to be indeterminable?

If a spouse’s income cannot be ascertained, then the court will implement an order to accommodate the neglecting parent’s ambiguous financial situation. Such a circumstance might arise if a parent fails to produce adequate tax information, such as check stubs and returns, without also providing evidence to compensation for the lack. Court adjustments to child support that increase an offending parent’s obligation in these circumstances are not legally allowed to be more than ten percent (10%) of the offending parent’s yearly BCSO for each relevant year.

How does self-employment affect child support?

Tennessee law accommodates for self-employed parents who might have financial circumstances that reasonably justify an alteration to the calculation of income. Fringe benefits like “in kind” remuneration or inclusion as income that is received through employment, or commercial operations, are considered income as long as they are proven to reduce personal expense. Bonus pay, overtime, commission, dividends, and other sources of variable income are to be added to a the fixed wages of a parent after being averaged over a rational timeframe (rationality is defined on a case-by-case basis). Excessive recreational or promotional expenses are not considered rational fees.

Are costs for private school attendance, athletic activities, or extracurricular studies considered justifiable reasons to receive more than is included in the Basic Child Support Obligation?

Upward deviations in the BCSO based on extracurricular or selective activities may be granted as long as the factors in question qualify as reasonable in the context of the child’s circumstances. Such costs should promote the child’s artistic, scholastic, cultural, or social development. For modifications to be made in such situations, the special expenses have to be more than seven percent (7%) of the BCSO ordered. No matter what the “extraordinary educational expense” in question is, the court will likely give it proper consideration as long as ample justification is supplied.

My ex-spouse is unemployed – will the court make him or her get a job, or find a way to have them help with child support payments?

They can! When the spouse in question has no occupation, a Tennessee judge is allowed to order him or her to search for a job – a search that must be chronicled in written form by the spouse. Regular report of efforts or attempts to participate in productive government-sponsored fields is also required. Petitions of contempt result from neglect to provide child support payment, which can lead to jail time based on neglect to pay court-ordered fine. A temporary reduction in ordered support could be requested, if an unemployed parent is qualified.

If child support is past due, can the offending parent get away with not paying?

Of course not! Tennessee law provides that child support be considered top priority when payment is registered as past due. No exclusions or reductions are accounted for in terms of child support. The single exception to this would be parents who have interfered drastically with parenting time.

Is a particular percentage of income used to calculate a cut-off amount for child support?

Yes! Such a cap refers to situations in which the child support in question is more than the amount found by calculating a gross earning of ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00). Rationalization regarding the child’s needs is crucial to proving why a primary residential parent deserves an amount that exceeds the “cap” on the order. The Basic Child Support Obligation considers the following percentages to be acceptable “caps:”

  • 21% (one child): $2,100.00
  • 32% (two children): $3,200.00
  • 41% (3 children): $4,100.00
  • 46% (4 children): $4,600.00
  • 50% (5+ children): $5,000.00

Parents who have large gross incomes generally seek adjustments based on these terms, having enough means to fund scholastic or otherwise educational experiences beyond the classroom in order to further the child’s educational career.

How does Tennessee law account for retroactive child support awards?

As soon as a child is born, Tennessee law provides that a child may be award retroactive support. In some situations, retroactive support is awarded based on the date of the parents’ split, a child’s abandonment, or a parent/non-parent caretaker having been in physical custody. The mean earnings of the involved parents determine retroactive support over a two (2) year time frame. There are also legalities involved if a parent has attempted to conceal a child in order the decrease his or her visitation.

Is child support reduced for parents who voluntarily accept less earnings or leave their jobs?

Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Whoever is the adjudicator for your particular case will have the most to do with the answer to this question. To be precise, supporting parents who are intentionally without a job or noticeably overqualified for a low-income job, then child support will be determined based on potential earnings estimated based on the educational background and prior work experience of the parent in question – and in these cases, the specifics are important. Intention is heavily considered, so the stronger argument you have evidencing your intentions to maintain standard child support payments you might have missed, then the more likely the court is to give you a more desirable sentencing. Likewise, if you are quitting a paid position simply due to laziness or to have a smaller income an “fool the courts,” then you could end up facing a strict sentence.

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