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Co-parenting after a divorce or breakup is already stressful. Establishing child custody and developing a parenting plan is an emotional—and sometimes infuriating—process.

Child support payments ensure your child receives the financial care they deserve from their parents. Discussions over money are always fertile ground for arguments. Especially when it seems so tight while trying to support two new separate homes on the same income previously used for just one. The financial goals you once had for yourself and your children often need reevaluation, and the possibility of not being able to meet them is scary.

Creating and enforcing a fair child support order can be an exhausting and frustrating process. The State of Tennessee has tried to make this easier by establishing Child Support Guidelines that calculate an estimated amount based on the specific financial situation of each child’s family. The Child Support Guidelines are basically a mathematical formula that is calculated based on a number of mandatory input variables such as income and cost of the child’s insurance, among others. However, special issues such as private school tuition, extra-curricular activities, buying a car, or college education are not factored in, so they must be negotiated or fought for in court.

The goal of the guidelines support amount is to redistribute income from a higher-earning parent to a lower-earning parent in an attempt to reduce the difference in the child’s standard of living while with each parent. In most cases, the parent with whom the child primarily resides is the parent that receives child support payments from the non-custodial parent.

If you’re struggling with an existing child support order or need one issued—whether you’re the paying parent or the receiving parent—an experienced Chattanooga child support lawyer can help you navigate the road toward a fair financial arrangement.

How is Child Support Established in Tennessee?

Tennessee child support can only be established by an order from the court. An informal agreement about what a parent will or will not pay the other is not later enforceable like a contract by the court. Proof of informal payments will be considered, but the court is not required to enforce the agreement. For a valid order of child support to be established, a judge must review the amount and determine that the amount of support is reasonable, fair, and in the best interest of the child.

A valid court order for child support can be established by an agreement that is reviewed, compared to the estimated amount calculated by the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, and approved by the judge. Any agreement that is different from the amount calculated by the guidelines must be explained in writing in order and approved by the judge.

If the parents cannot agree on a number, either the number calculated by the guidelines or on some other number they believe is fair under the circumstances then the issue must be presented to the judge to make the decision for them.

How are Tennessee Child Support Payments Calculated?

Tennessee Family Law requires both parents to support their children financially.

To calculate child support obligations, the State has created the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines to help parents and courts decide how much, if any, child support should be paid and by whom. The Guidelines are a mathematical formula created by actuaries and legislatures after years of research about how much money, as a percentage of income, an intact nuclear family would spend on a child. A similar formula, or some variation of it, is used in almost every state across the nation. That amount is then divided between the parents based on their individual contribution to the total combined income.

The input variables considered by the Guideline calculation starts with the combined adjusted gross income of both parents. Then additional required variables are added to the equation, such as the number of days each parent spends with the child, the cost of the child’s health insurance, and any costs for work-related child care. Once a total amount of estimated expense solely for the children is calculated, the formula determines each parent’s contribution based on their percentage of the total combined income.

Additional adjustments can be made to the child support amount based on factors like private school tuition, extraordinary medical expenses, or other special circumstances of the child that such a general mathematical formula couldn’t possibly consider in a one-size-fits-all solution.

How Parenting Time Can Impact Child Support Payments

The amount of parenting time each parent receives is considered when calculating the amount of support that may be owed. Support payments could be decreased if they spend a significant amount of parenting time with their child because the more time a non-custodial parent spends with their child, the more of the child’s expenses they incur.

Not surprisingly, research has shown that the more time a parent spends with their child the more likely they are to pay the order amount of support. Not only that, but involved parents are more likely to voluntarily contribute additional financial support to help support the child through assistance with uncovered expenses and special events like school trips, clothes, and paying for a car. Also not surprising is that parents are more willing to voluntarily contribute additional financial resources above an order minimum amount when the parents are able to communicate effectively, and the level of conflict between them is low. This is yet another reason why it is so important that you choose cooperation over combat.

Enlist the help of a Tennessee Child Support Attorney to ensure child support orders in your case are equitable and fair.

Tennessee Child Support Enforcement

In most Family Law child support cases, child support payments are mandated by court order. Failure to pay child support is considered contempt of court and could result in jail time.

Suppose you’re a custodial parent who has stopped receiving court-ordered child support payments. In that case, you can seek the services of an experienced Family Law Attorney who will file a petition on your behalf for contempt and the collection of child support owed to you.

The court can order the non-custodial parent to be detained until a certain amount of child support is paid, or the existing child support order can be increased to account for arrears. However, the incarceration of a parent for non-payment of support is a last resort for the court. They can’t work, and they won’t receive any support if they are in jail. The court will first try to get them to pay what is owed and catch up on any missed or past-due payments. They may order them to pay some portion of your attorney fees as a punishment and prevention of future non-payment. Jail time is usually reserved for chronic refusal to pay after multiple court interventions and orders to pay.

How to Modify Child Support Orders

For child support payments to be increased, decreased, or terminated, the petitioning parent must prove that there has been a substantial change in the parenting situation or in the parents’ income.

The main factor that qualifies as a valid reason for a child support modification is when the income for either parent significantly increases or decreases.

This income change alone is not enough. The change must result in a 15% change in calculated child support payments for the order to be adjusted. For example, if the ordered child support is $200 per month, the amount of support owed by the Guideline calculation must increase or decrease by $30 to qualify for a change in the support amount. This minimum threshold is to prevent parents from being in constant conflict over trivial changes in the support amount.

A change in income can result from:

  • Job loss
  • Job promotion or change in employment
  • Gambling winnings
  • Inheritance claimed

A Tennessee family court order establishes child support payments, so the child support modification or termination must also be performed with the court’s approval.

Let a Chattanooga Child Support Attorney Help

Navigating the waters of Tennessee Child Support matters can be tricky, and it’s not always clear whether your child support order is reasonable. A family law attorney can help you sort through the laws regarding child support and ensure you’re treated fairly.

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FAQ

Do you have to pay child support if you have 50/50 custody in Tennessee?

If parents have a 50/50 physical child custody agreement, one parent may still be ordered to pay child support based on how much the parents’ combined income is and what percent of the total each parent’s income makes up.

How much back child support is a felony in Tennessee?

Failure to pay child support in Tennessee typically results in charges of contempt of court. These charges can be either a Class A “non-support” misdemeanor or a Class E “flagrant non-support” felony. For the charge to be considered a felony, the non-custodial parent must owe $1,000 or more in child support or miss six months of child support payments consecutively. Misdemeanor non-support can result in almost a year in jail or a fine of $2,500. Felony non-support can result in six years in prison and a fine of $3,000.

Can I refuse visitation if the other parent fails to pay child support?

Parenting time and child support are separate court orders, so it is not lawful for the custodial parent to withhold visitation rights from the non-custodial parent for failing to pay child support. According to Tennessee law, each parent has parental rights, and visitation is one of those rights. Child support issues need to be addressed by the court, and neither party should attempt to enforce a court order on their own by violating another one. The court does not look favorably on parents who do.

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