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Child Support Guidelines in Tennessee

Cole Law Group, PC

Kids Are Expensive $!$

It is commonly said that one of the most expensive choices that can be made in life is having children. According to CBS News, the cost of raising a child from birth to age seventeen is approximately $310,000![i] In Tennessee the payment of child support is mandatory in cases where the child is born out of wedlock, where the parents are divorced, or where there is a domestic violence order of protection. The Tennessee child support guidelines may be found in Chapter 1240-02-04 of the Rules of the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Services Division. The Social Security Act located at 42 U.S.C. §§ 651-669 requires states to establish guidelines for setting and modifying child support. Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 36-5-101(e), 71-1-105(a)(15), and 71-1-132 implement these requirements and direct the Tennessee Department of Human Services to establish guidelines to enforce those provisions of federal law.

In general, a child support order is based on the alternate residential parent’s earnings, income, and other evidence of ability to pay. The Child Support Guidelines define important terms in 1240-02-04.02 including Adjusted Gross Income, Adjusted Support Obligation, Alternate Residential Parent, Days, Pro Rata, and uninsured medical expenses.

The theoretical underpinning of Child Support in Tennessee is the Income Shares Model. The Child Support Guidelines describe this as: “This model presumes that both parents contribute to the financial support of the child in pro rata proportion to the actual income available to each parent.”[ii] The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines claim that over forty other states also use the Income Shares Model and that it is generally based on economic studies of child-rearing costs.

The most important factors that determine what child support is set at are:

  • Income of the parties – The lower the income of the parents, the lower child support is set at. The higher the disparity of income between the parent paying child support and the other parent, the higher the child support will be. There is a statutory maximum.
  • Parenting time that each parent exercises – Child support is lowest in a joint custody/split custody situation where each parent exercises the same amount of parenting time. Child Support is highest in the event one parent exercises all the parenting time (365 days) and the other parent exercises 0 days per year.
  • Number of Children – Child support is higher when more children are involved.

Below are answers to Frequently Asked Questions regarding Child Support that I have fielded in my significant experience as a family lawyer in Tennessee:

Is there a statutory maximum for Child Support in Tennessee?  

Yes these are:

  • $2,100 per month for one child
  • $3,200 per month for two children
  • $4,100 per month for three children
  • $4,600 per month for four children
  • $5,000 per month for five or more children

Who has to pay for uncovered medical expenses for the children?

This is established in the Parenting Plan. Most commonly the parents pay Pro Rata in accordance with their incomes or 50/50.

What if one of the parents has other children in his/her home?

If that parent has a legal obligation to support the child, such as the child was born from him/her or the parent has legally adopted that child, then that child should be included in the credit for other in-home children section of the child support worksheet and the child support should be adjusted to account for that child/children.

What about work related-child care expenses; does this count?

Yes. Work related childcare expenses found by the tribunal to be reasonable are includable in the child support worksheet and do adjust the child support amount calculated by the worksheet. Unfortunately, the guidelines do not further define what is reasonable, so in my experience the issue seems to be entirely left to the discretion of the trial court Judge.

The other parent doesn’t have a job; can he/she still be ordered to pay child support?

Yes. Tennessee law allows the Court to determine whether income should be imputed to a parent because that parent is willfully unemployed or willfully underemployed. An example of being willfully underemployed would be a licensed doctor working a minimum wage job. In such a situation the doctor could get a job as a medical professional making significantly more money. In such a case, the Court may impute income requisite with the doctor’s past earnings or evidence showing what the market rate is.

Is there an average wage that may be imputed for men and women in Tennessee for child support purposes?

Yes. That amount is $37,589 annually for male parents and $29,300 annually for female parents.

Can I adjust my child support?

Maybe. Tennessee law requires there to be a 15% variance before a child support order may be amended. This means that if the child support is currently set at $500 per month the support would need to be adjusted by at least $75 at or above $575 per month or at or less than $425 per month.

What can I do if the other parent is not paying their child support?

You may start by contacting your local child support office to see if they can help. You may also consult with an attorney. In general, child support is punishable by contempt in Tennessee. Thus, the non-paying parent may be subject to fines, imprisonment, and paying the attorney’s fees of the other parent depending on the circumstances and what the Court decides to do to address the situation.

If you have additional questions about Child Support in Tennessee that applies to your specific situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of family law attorneys at Cole Law Group at 615-490-6020. Our team has successfully litigated hundreds of family law cases and is prepared to assist you in navigating, litigating, and resolving your family law dispute today.

[i] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/raising-a-child-costs-310000

[ii] https://publications.tnsosfiles.com/rules/1240/1240-02/1240-02-04.20211001.pdf See 1240-02-04.03

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