The Basics of Child Support in Tennessee

The Basics of Child Support in Tennessee

In Tennessee, every parent has a legal duty to support their children. Under Tenn. Code Ann. 34-1-102, both parents are equally and jointly responsible for their minor child’s “care, nurture, welfare, education and support.” The statute goes on to state that this duty to support a biological or legally adopted child continues until that child “graduates from high school or the class of which the child is a member when the child attains eighteen (18) years of age graduates, whichever occurs first.”  In child support orders, the Court will designate one parent as the primary residential parent (PRP) and the other as the alternate residential parent (ARP). The PRP is the parent that exercises most of the parenting time with the child, and who typically is the recipient of Tennessee child support. The ARP usually exercises less parenting time and pays child support to the PRP. When making child support determinations, courts take the total of both parents’ gross incomes into consideration.

Tenn. Code Ann. 36-5-101(e) discusses the very specific child support guidelines used in our state to determine the proper child support in each individual case.

The five most important factors that courts will weigh when calculating Tennessee child support obligations are:
Tennessee Child Support Law - Adult hands holding a child's hands, showing support and care.

  • The gross income of each parent;
  • The number of days the child spends with either parent per year;
  • The monetary amount either parent contributes to the child’s healthcare premiums and recurring out of pocket medical expenses;
  • The amount either parent pays for childcare; and
  • The financial (child support) obligation either parent has to other children from a different relationship.

The determine and calculation of child support begins with the gross income of each parent.  The various potential sources of gross income are laid out in the child support guidelines.  After each parent’s income is accurately determined, then the Court moves on to a determination of the amount of time (days) the child spends with each parent. The law presumes that the PRP who exercises more time with the child will bear a greater financial burden than the ARP throughout the month. Typically, this means that the ARP becomes obligated to pay child support to the PRP on a monthly basis.

The child support guidelines in Tennessee are updated periodically, so it is important to consult an experienced family law attorney before from time to time to determine if your child support order is still correct based upon your current circumstances.  In order to successfully modify a child support order, you must show that there is a “significant variance” between the current order and the proposed order.  A “significant variance” is a 15% change up or down between the amount of child support currently ordered and the modified (new) child support calculation.  It is important to note that a 15% change in the gross incomes of the parties does not necessarily create a significant variance in child support.  When pursuing a modification, all of the other important factors are also updated to determine whether a significant variance exists.  In other words, it is important to gather updated financial information for yourself and the other parent in order to determine whether a modification is warranted. Seeking the guidance of your attorney and applying the child support guidelines, you can determine whether your child support obligation should be modified up or down.

The determine and calculation of child support begins with the gross income of each parent.  The various potential sources of gross income are laid out in the child support guidelines.  After each parent’s income is accurately determined, then the Court moves on to a determination of the amount of time (days) the child spends with each parent. The law presumes that the PRP who exercises more time with the child will bear a greater financial burden than the ARP throughout the month. Typically, this means that the ARP becomes obligated to pay child support to the PRP on a monthly basis.

The child support guidelines in Tennessee are updated periodically, so it is important to consult an experienced family law attorney before from time to time to determine if your child support order is still correct based upon your current circumstances.  In order to successfully modify a child support order, you must show that there is a “significant variance” between the current order and the proposed order.  A “significant variance” is a 15% change up or down between the amount of child support currently ordered and the modified (new) child support calculation.  It is important to note that a 15% change in the gross incomes of the parties does not necessarily create a significant variance in child support.  When pursuing a modification, all of the other important factors are also updated to determine whether a significant variance exists.  In other words, it is important to gather updated financial information for yourself and the other parent in order to determine whether a modification is warranted. Seeking the guidance of your attorney and applying the child support guidelines, you can determine whether your child support obligation should be modified up or down.