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Tennessee law determines parental child support obligations based on detailed guidelines. But these guidelines do not consider all possible situations that can cause undue financial hardship to a parent, nor do they consider future changes in income that can limit the ability to continue paying child support.

As experienced child support lawyers in Maryville, Shepherd & Long protects the rights of your children by helping ensure you receive fair treatment in child custody decisions. We also help you pursue a legal modification of your divorce settlement in the event of later changes. Whether you’re paying or receiving support, we can help. Contact us today to learn more.

How Tennessee Computes Child Support

The Tennessee Department of Human Services uses an income share model for computing how much each parent must contribute to the financial support of children after divorce.

First, the court looks are your gross income – all of the income you and your spouse earn before taxes. That includes things like:

  • Wages, salaries, tips, fees, and/or commissions (or unemployment or workers’ compensation, if applicable)
  • Bonuses
  • Severance pay, pensions, and/or retirement packages
  • Annuities
  • Trust funds
  • Dividends
  • Alimony payments

Then, the model computes the monthly basic child support obligation (BCSO) of both parents, based on the monthly combined adjusted gross income (AGI) of both parents and the number of children. At one end, parents with an AGI of $150 have an obligation of $100 per month regardless of the number of children. At the other extreme, parents with five or more children may owe $3,624 per month and have additional tax liabilities.

The Department provides a worksheet and software on its website to help determine the actual financial responsibility of each parent. However, our experienced Maryville child support lawyers can often produce estimates that are more accurate by considering the unique circumstances of our clients.

Important Changes To Tennessee’s Support Guidelines

In 2020, the Tennessee Department of Human Services added some new guidelines for child support. The new guidelines allow.

  • For credits if a stepparent pays for health insurance (including vision and dental)
  • Incarcerated parents to request modification of their child support order (provided the incarceration lasts longer than 180 days)
  • Parents to use a previous criminal record in determining income
  • For the creation of a minimum support order of $100 for non-custodial parents
  • For the creation of a “self-support reserve” that ensures non-custodial parents still have enough money to live on while still meeting their obligations

What is child support supposed to cover?

Child support is designed to financially support the raising of your child. Housing, food, clothing, transportation to/from school and both parental homes, education: these are the basic obligations – the BCSO – of both parents.

Other child support expenses can include the costs of insurance and medical treatment, child care/ day care expenses, and special expenses for education.

In some cases, child support can cover things like summer camps, uniforms and/or equipment for sports, and even college tuition, if both parties agree.

How does custody affect child support payments?

It depends. Generally, the parent designated as the primary residential parent will receive child support, and the other parent will pay it. But that is not always the case.

It is important to remember, too, that child support and child custody are two separate issues. You cannot deny one to punish a parent for mistakes made with the other. For example, if you are the payor parent and your ex is denying you access to your children, you cannot stop paying child support in retaliation; you could end up in contempt of court for that, and even spend time in jail. Call us to talk about your legal options for enforcing an order.

Can I modify child support in Tennessee?

After the final divorce decree, financial situations often change for one or both parents. In these cases, you can request to modify your support order. You (or your spouse) must have experienced a substantial change in circumstances, however, if you want to modify that order. Examples of a substantial change in circumstances can include:

  • One parent losing his or her job
  • One parent getting a new job or raise that significantly increases his or her pay
  • One parent developing a medical condition that leaves him/her unable to pay
  • The child developing a medical condition that requires long-term care or additional expenses

Parents should never attempt to make informal arrangements without the support of a knowledgeable child support attorney, because informal agreements won’t be recognized by the court. Give us a call to discuss how to modify your child support order.

My ex married a wealthy man/woman. Can I get more child support?

No. Your ex’s new spouse is not obligated to pay child support for your child. How much the new spouse makes is irrelevant to the order. The same is true if you marry someone who is wealthy; your ex can’t ask to pay less child support just because your new spouse makes more money.

I think my ex is wasting child support. Do I have any options?

The truth is, you can’t take your ex to court because your child showed up one day with a new designer backpack, or your ex used some of the child support money to pay for a family vacation to Disney World. We know it seems unfair, but paying parents don’t get to determine how their child support is being used by the other parent.

However, if your child is wearing inappropriate or damaged clothing, appears malnourished, or has developed an illness (physical or mental) that is going untreated, then you may be seeing signs of abuse or neglect. In these scenarios, you can and should raise those concerns with your attorney.

I think I’m paying child support for a child who isn’t mine. What do I do?

If you believe that you are not the father of your child, you can take a paternity test. If the test proves you are not the biological father, you can submit the findings to the court to have your child support payments eliminated.

However – you should think very, very carefully about whether or not you want to take this step. A paternity test that proves you are not the dad will terminate ALL your parental rights, including your right to parenting time. Biology isn’t what makes you a parent; love is. So if you love your child, even if he or she isn’t biologically your child, you should think long and hard about whether this is the step you want to take.

Seek Support From An Experienced Child Support Attorney In Maryville

Your children deserve financial security even if circumstances prevent you from remaining married. While most parents want to do the best for their children, they are often troubled when they learn how much of their income must go to the children while they also face additional costs of maintaining a new residence. At Shepherd & Long, we help our clients in East Tennessee find solutions to the economic challenges they face during this significant period of adjustment. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a Maryville child support attorney, call 865-383-3118 or fill out our contact form.