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In Tennessee, both parents are required to provide financially for their children.  When that does not happen, the children suffer.  In order to provide a uniform method for determining child support obligations and responsibilities, Tennessee has developed a set of rules used by all courts in Tennessee to set child support.  The current Tennessee Child Support Guidelines were initially developed in 1989 and have been revised several times.  The most recent version of the Guidelines went into effect in 2006 and utilized an income shares model to determine child support.

How is Child Support Calculated?

Under the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, the court totals the incomes of both parents and then determines the relative percentage of each parent’s gross income to that total.  The court then adjusts each parent’s gross income to account for other children for whom each parent is also responsible, and arrives at a figure referred to as the basic child support obligation (BCSO). 


Next, the number of days the children spend with each parent is factored in to arrive at the adjusted basic child support obligation.  Finally, health insurance and daycare expenses are factored in to arrive at the adjusted support obligation.  The adjusted support obligation becomes the presumptive amount of child support to be set by the court.


Finally, the court will apply any deviations if the court finds the application of the guidelines would be unjust or improper and such a deviation is in the best interest of the minor children.  After all of these items are factored in, the court arrives at a final child support amount, referred to as the Final Child Support Order (FCSO).

What is Included in Gross Income?

The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines provide a comprehensive list of income sources for inclusion in the gross income figure of each parent for child support purposes.  Some of the more common income sources are Wages, Salaries, Bonuses, Commissions, and Pension and Retirement Benefits. 


Other not-so-common income sources include gambling, lottery and prize winnings, proceeds from personal injury cases, unemployment payments, and workers’ compensation benefits. 


In addition to money received, in-kind remuneration for fringe benefits such as the value of a company car, room and board provided by an employer, and any other benefit that reduces the personal living expenses of the recipient is included in income.  Even Basic Housing Allowance (BHA), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and Variable Housing Allowance (VHA) for military service members and certain former service members are included in income for child support purposes.

How Does Parenting Time Affect Child Support?

In general, the more time a parent spends with the children, the greater that parent’s financial burden.  In other words, when you spend time with your children, you are responsible for providing food, clothing, and shelter.  Those things cost money.  In addition, you spend money on gas for your car and electricity and water for the house.  You get the picture.  The parenting time adjustment for child support takes these things into consideration and makes an adjustment to the child support obligation to account for them. 


In determining the number of days a parent spends with a child for child support purposes, the court considers a day of parenting time to be when a child spends more than 12 consecutive hours in any 24-hour time period in the care of a parent.  So, if you have your child from 6:00 p.m. Friday night until 6:00 p.m. Sunday night, you are given credit for 2 days of parenting time.  If instead, you had from 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning until 7:00 p.m. Sunday night, you would only receive 1 day of credit for parenting time.


It should be readily apparent that pick-up and drop-off times can be very important in calculating the number of parenting days with which each parent is credited.  It is not always easy to calculate, as certain situations can result in unsure results.  For example, if one parent picks the children up from the other parent at 7:00 a.m. on Friday morning, takes the children to eat breakfast, drops them off at school, and then picks them up after school and keeps them until 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, does that parent get 3 days credit or only 2 days credit?  A good lawyer could argue for either side, and there are compelling arguments for both positions.  That’s all the more reason to have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney on your side of the table.


Once the number of days is calculated, an adjustment is made to the BCSO to account for the relative financial burden.  If both parents had equal parenting time, and both parents had an equal income with no other children, the BCSO would be zero.  However, the childcare expenses, health insurance premiums, and any deviations would need to be calculated to arrive at the FCSO.

Can Child Support Change Over Time?

What happens if one of the parents gets a promotion and starts making more money?  Does this change the amount of child support?  What if one of the parents loses a job and is unemployed for a period of time?  Does child support automatically change?  Can the parents just agree to change child support without having to go back to court?


These are common and important questions.  Situations can change over time, thus creating a need to modify parenting time and child support.  Although the parties can agree to change the parenting schedule and are encouraged to work together to do so, changes in child support MUST be approved by the court.  Remember, child support is for the benefit of the children, not the parents.  Because of this, the court must ensure that the minor children are adequately taken care of financially.  Therefore, the court must give its blessing to any change in child support.

Contact an Experienced Tennessee Child Support Attorney

Child support calculations can be difficult and involve more than just putting figures in a spreadsheet and watching a number pop out.  Determining income, arriving at a parenting schedule, and allocating other variables such as childcare, education, and health insurance expenses take the knowledge and guidance of an experienced attorney.  Mr. Richter has been practicing family law in Tennessee for more than 30 years.  Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation at our conveniently located offices in Memphis, Tennessee by calling us at 901-410-5490, or in Middle Tennessee by calling us at 615-656-7920, or by sending us an email at

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