How to Make the Best Case for Child Support Modification in Tennessee

How to Win a Child Support Modification Case

Being a caregiver is tough, and when you’re not getting the support your kids need, it adds a whole new layer of challenges. On top of that, putting together a child support modification case can feel like an impossible feat within itself.

But don’t worry; we’re here to guide you through it. In this blog, we’ll break down how to build a winning child support modification case in Tennesee—because making sure your kids get what they need shouldn’t feel like an obstacle.

Determining Whether You Have Grounds to Modify Child Support

In Tennessee, you can’t simply request to change your existing child support just because you want to pay more or less. By law, you must demonstrate a “significant variance” between the current support order and the amount that would be reasonable under the current circumstances.

Several grounds constitute a substantial enough change to warrant modification.

Changes in Income or Earning Capacity

One of the most common reasons to seek modification is a significant increase or decrease in either parent’s income. Under Tennessee’s child support guidelines, the law makes certain assumptions regarding each parent’s income and the percentage that should support the children.

So, if one parent receives a promotion, takes a pay cut, or experiences extended unemployment, the amount of support owed could change dramatically. Retirement or becoming disabled can also affect earning potential in the long term.

The key questions courts will ask are:

  • Has the change in income lasted for at least three months? Temporary fluctuations usually don’t qualify.
  • Is the change in income involuntary or the result of deliberate underemployment? Courts expect both parents to earn to the best of their potential.
  • Did the parenting or visitation time change?

When parents share equal parenting time, child support obligations may decrease, or a parent may no longer owe support. On the other hand, if one parent takes on most of the parenting time, their support amount may need to increase accordingly.

Changes in the Needs of the Child

As children grow older, their basic needs tend to become more expensive – food, clothing, medical care, child care, extracurricular activities, etc. If the current support order isn’t meeting the increased costs of an older child, seeking a modification may be reasonable.

Conversely, as a child ages out of certain expenses like child care or tuition, his or her decreased need may warrant a downward support modification.

Remarriage or Additional Children

Under Tennessee law, having additional children after a support order is in place generally doesn’t justify a reduction in support owed to existing children. The exception would be if supporting the other children impacts the paying parent’s ability to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

You’ve determined there are legal grounds for modifying support. Now, let’s talk about calculations.

How to Calculate a Change in Child Support

Tennessee has a set of Child Support Guidelines and Worksheets that courts rely on to determine support amounts in both divorce and parentage cases. So, how do the child support calculations actually work?

Step 1: Determining Gross Income

First, the court must establish each parent’s gross monthly income from all sources. This calculation includes wages, commissions, bonuses, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, social security payments, disability payments, dividends, interest, etc.

After the courts set gross income, the courts subtract deductions to determine each parent’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) amount.

Step 2: Factoring in Additional Children

If either parent has a legal responsibility to support children from other relationships who live with them, the court determines:

  • The number of other supported children.
  • The primary residential parent for each child.
  • Each parent’s adjusted income.

A deduction is then made from each parent’s AGI, reflecting their child support responsibility for those additional dependents.

Step 3: Calculating the Base Support Obligation

Using Tennessee’s Child Support Schedule, the court looks up the Base Child Support Obligation (BCSO) amount based on the following:

  • Combined adjusted income of both parents.
  • Total number of supported children.

The BCSO is the minimum estimated amount both parents should contribute to expenses like food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and miscellaneous costs.

Step 4: Determining Proportional Share

Next, the courts will calculate each parent’s proportional share of the BCSO using their individual AGIs. The paying parent’s share becomes the preliminary support order.

Step 5: Allocating Child Care and Health Insurance Costs

Work-related childcare costs and health or dental insurance premiums paid to cover the children are factored in on top of the preliminary support amount.

The court may also order uninsured medical expenses to be divided proportionally between the parents if requested.

Step 6: Putting it All Together: The Child Support Worksheet

The Tennessee’s Child Support Worksheet documents the steps above, which ultimately leads to the determination of the following:

  • The monthly support amount owed by the paying parent.
  • Who will maintain health insurance for the children?
  • How will uninsured medicals, childcare expenses, and tax exemptions be allocated?

By filing this worksheet with the court, you explain exactly how you believe the courts should calculate child support under current circumstances.

If you originally had a child support worksheet filed during your divorce or custody order, completing a new one is crucial for determining whether and by how much obligations have changed.

How to Modify an Existing Child Support Order in TN

Maybe you’ve experienced a substantial change in circumstances. You’ve done some calculations and determined seeking an upward or downward adjustment of child support is reasonable and necessary. What next?

If you already have a court order dictating custody, visitation, and ongoing child support payments (typically part of a parenting plan from a divorce, legal separation, or paternity case), here are the key steps to modify that existing support order:

Filing a Petition to Modify Support

To initiate the court’s involvement in changing support obligations, you must file either:

  • A petition to modify an existing order.
  • A motion for modification of child support and parenting plan and a proposed parenting plan.

Unless safety issues are a significant concern, reaching an agreement on adjusted support terms before filing anything with the court is recommended. An informal agreement on most details will help expedite the legal process.

Serving the Other Parent

Whoever files the action to modify support is responsible for properly serving the other parent:

  • A process server may deliver court papers directly to the other party.
  • You may send the documents via certified mail with a return receipt.
  • The other parent can voluntarily accept service without a formal process.
  • Once served, the other parent has 30 days to file a response with the court.

Submitting the Proposed Order and Worksheets

Along with your modification petition or motion, you must also submit:

  • A Proposed Permanent Parenting Plan – including desired changes to custody schedules, visitation, and decision-making authority.
  • A signed and notarized Child Support Worksheet reflecting requested adjustments in support and health insurance or expense allocations.
  • A Proposed Order approving submitted changes.
  • A Confirmation of Attendance at the Child Support Modification Hearing.

Most modification cases require appearing before a judge to present evidence justifying the support change. A judge can confirm the adjustments meet the child’s best interests in his or her chambers.

If you do attend a hearing, come prepared to state your case with supporting documentation like:

  • Tax returns, pay stubs, employment, and income records.
  • Business records backing up changes in income.
  • Documentation of changes in insurance rates or uninsured medical expenses.
  • Proof changes have lasted 3 or more months.

The court will either approve or deny the modifications based on the proof and reasonableness of the requests.

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Child Support Modified

There is no guarantee that the court will approve your request to change your support obligations. Here are several strategies for boosting the odds of success.

Gather Extensive Documentation on Changed Circumstances

It’s up to YOU to convince the courts that either:

  • Circumstances have changed substantially enough to render current support inadequate, excessive, or inequitable based on calculations.
  • Or the requested changes will positively impact the welfare and best interests of the children affected.

Judges won’t take your word for it. Bank statements, tax returns, business records, insurance forms, child care receipts, medical bills, and more support your justification for modifying support.

Consult with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

When seeking modifications, knowing Tennessee’s specialized laws around child support and how judges tend to rule is invaluable. A qualified family law professional can review your situation, determine if requesting changes makes strategic sense, and improve positioning favorable order adjustments.

Be Reasonable in Amount of Change Requested

Asking to reduce monthly support by a few hundred dollars because you now have another child at home is more reasonable than trying to eliminate the obligation entirely. But always support even minor modifications with thorough documentation.

Demonstrate the Change Benefits the Child(ren)’s Interests

Showing measurable financial impact is crucial. But also emphasize how the adjustment would benefit the affected child or children – improving quality of life, opportunities to pursue interests or hobbies, college savings potential, etc. What judge wouldn’t rule in a child’s favor?

Mistakes to Avoid When Seeking Child Support Modification

Just as there are strategies to better your chances of getting child support modified, there are also pitfalls that can completely derail your request:

  1. Not Following Proper Legal Procedures — Failing to correctly file the petitions and motions or properly serve the other parent can get your case dismissed immediately on procedural grounds alone.
  2. Relying on Insufficient Proof of Changed Circumstances — If you can’t conclusively demonstrate that conditions now warrant a modification, don’t expect the judge to take your word that your financial situation has changed.
  3. Making Unreasonable Modification Requests — Remember that even if the court agrees that some support change is justified, judges also consider what is fair and equitable based on both parents’ circumstances. Outlandish or extreme modification requests tend to get rejected outright.
  4. Neglecting to Submit Supporting Documentation — You can’t verbally explain reasons for modifying support at a hearing. You must enter written evidence, financial records, and all documents supporting your position into the official case record for the judge to consider.

By avoiding these all-too-common errors, you strategically place yourself in winning approval of child support modifications.

Secure Your Child’s Future with The Law Office of Sam Byrd

Advocating for a fair child support modification is crucial for the well-being of your child and your family’s financial stability.

If your current child support arrangement no longer suits your circumstances, don’t wait any longer. Contact our family law attorneys at The Law Office of Sam Byrd to guide you through the legal process. We provide personalized advice and support, ensuring you are well-prepared to present your case effectively.

Take the first step toward securing a brighter future for your child. Act now and make the best case for child support modification in Tennessee. Your child’s future is too important to delay any further.

Author Bio

Sam Byrd is the owner and managing attorney at The Law Office of Sam Byrd. With hands-on experience in divorce, family law, criminal law, and DUI/DWI cases, Sam has been serving clients in Tennessee since 2012. He graduated with a J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2012 and holds a B.S. in Legal Studies from the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

He began his legal career as a paralegal, working under his father’s guidance. Prior to that, Sam served in the United States Marine Corps as a member of the 2/7 Weapons Company stationed at 29 Palms, California.

Sam has received several accolades for his work, including being recognized as a Rising Star in Divorce & Family Law by Tennessee SuperLawyers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 under 40, an exclusive professional organization for top trial lawyers under the age of 40. Sam’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement is demonstrated by his certifications in Trial Skills from the National College of DUI Defense in 2019 and 2018.

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