How Is Child Support Determined

Child support is the financial obligation parents share to contribute to the costs of raising their children. When parents get divorced, mandatory amounts and schedules for payments will typically be established by the presiding court as part of the divorce decree; however, parents who have never been married can also seek a court order to mandate child support. Parents can choose to agree on a child support amount and ask for the court’s approval, or a judge will calculate payments using a specific formula. The calculation combines both parents’ income and then uses the total amount to determine how much each parent should pay for the children. Get answers to “How is child support determined?” and other important questions related to family law and divorce by schedule an appointment to review your case with a compassionate lawyer at Shepherd and Long, PC. Call our office today at (865) 982-8060.

Child Support Guidelines in Tennessee

Whether together or apart, both parents are legally and financially responsible for providing care for their children. Divorces and legal separations involving children, as well as many paternity lawsuits, commonly result in one parent paying monthly support payments to the parent with whom the child or children spend the majority of their time, usually defined in terms of nights per week or month. 

Child support in Tennessee is meant to cover children’s needs, including the following:

  • Room and board expenses 
  • Transportation costs 
  • Food expenses 
  • The cost of clothing 
  • Education costs, including books and uniforms, if applicable 
  • Extracurricular activities and entertainment 

If there is no question regarding paternity, the court will often move forward with calculating the child support payments, either when an unmarried parent files a petition requesting the court order or, for married parents, as part of divorce proceedings. If there are paternity questions, one of the parties may need to petition the court for a determination of paternity before the matter can move to child support calculation and orders. 

Is There a Statutory Maximum for Child Support in Tennessee? 

The state child support laws presume that all parents must contribute financially to support their children. They also consider whether each parent has enough income to support themselves and other children. The statutory maximum for child support in Tennessee is as follows: 

  • For one child, the statutory maximum is $2,100
  • When there are two children, the statutory maximum is $3,200
  • For three children, the statutory maximum is $4,100
  • When there are four children, the statutory maximum is $4,600
  • For five or more children, the statutory maximum is $5,000

The Tennessee courts also provide a self-support reserve for those with lower income. These reserves help to ensure the individual has money for food and other essential needs. When a child has medical expenses that insurance does not cover, parents are typically expected to split the balance equally. If you would like to know, “How is child support determined?” under specific conditions, consider reaching out to an attorney at Shepherd and Long, PC to schedule a free personalized consultation to review your individual circumstances. 

Tennessee Child Support Enforcement

Paying child support is not optional, and once a judge orders the payments, it is essential to comply with the order. Failure to do so may result in severe legal consequences and a variety of penalties, depending on the circumstances of your case.

For those seeking practical guidance in fulfilling their child support obligations, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) runs a child support services program. The agency provides guidance to parents looking to collect child support and enforces child support orders. The staff can help parents locate another parent, get or modify a court order, and establish paternity.

Tennessee Child Support Worksheets

Tennessee uses an income shares model to consider both parents’ income and calculate child support. This model combines the net income of both parents and then prescribes payment amounts intended to meet basic child support needs. The predetermined calculating system allocates child support obligations proportionate to each person’s income. 

 The system considers the following information in issuing final child support requirements: 

  • The number of children 
  • Extra expenses they spend on the children, such as medical care 
  • The amount of time each parent spends with the children 

The worksheet provides the essential financial details the family court judge needs to calculate support and enter a judgment. 

Determining Income for Child Support Payments and Calculating Adjusted Gross Income

In case of extenuating circumstances, the family courts in Tennessee do allow parents to show evidence of why their child support payments should be lower than the standard calculation. In general, however, the calculation uses the average adjusted gross income from the past two years for each parent. If the parent responsible for making child support payments has also paid other child-related expenses and can provide evidence of the payments, they may receive a credit. The court calculates each person’s adjusted gross income plus any social security benefits and deducts taxes and credits. The gross income will also include commissions, overtime, bonuses, severance, trust income, and unemployment benefits. 

Determining Income for Self-Employed Individuals 

Determining income for self-employed parents can sometimes be challenging. However, the court will review factors such as the following: 

  • Income from business operations 
  • Income from sales or commission 
  • Pay from rental property income

Each individual must provide their tax returns from the last two to five years for review. The judge presiding over the case will consider all income the person has earned as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or other business entity.

What Happens if You Fall Behind on Child Support Payments?

When a parent falls behind on child support payments, an arrearage balance will accumulate. Interest also accrues on the unpaid child support balance. Failing to get caught up can result in many negative actions, such as court-ordered appearances and criminal proceedings. In the most severe cases, the court may require an individual to serve a jail sentence. 

When a parent falls behind with child support payments, the other parent can go to court and request a judgment or the arrearages they owe. According to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-901, the court may also place property liens against property for overdue child support payments. The child support enforcement agency has the legal right to place liens on real property and tangible or intangible personal property.

Meet With an Experienced Family Law Attorney Today

Child custody and child support arrangements can be among the most contentious subjects when a couple is going through a divorce or separation. Child support refers to the ongoing periodic payments, usually monthly, that one parent must pay the other that has primary custody of the children. These installments are essential for paying the expenses required to raise children. Failing to comply with a court order for child support can lead to many legal issues. If you are wondering, “How is child support determined?” or have other questions relating to child support and custody arrangements, consider scheduling an appointment with one of the seasoned family law attorneys with Shepherd and Long, PC. Call our office today at (865) 982-8060.