How is child support calculated in Tennessee?


No one really likes to pay child support. It is, perhaps, one of the most contentious issues in cases involving children. In my practice, I have discovered several reasons for this. First, when child support is paid, it is paid to the other parent. The greater the animosity between the parents, the more difficult it is to make those payment. It creates the illusion that the person paying the child support is actually paying the money for the benefit of the other parent and not the children.

Second, there is no way to control how that money is spent. When the child support is paid, the person making the payment losses the ability to say where the money will be spent and for what the money will be spent.

Third, many times the parent paying child support is also asked to pay for other things such as dance classes, soccer fees, sports equipment, music lessons, and the list goes on and on. It causes the parent paying support to feel as though THEY are spending more on the child than the other parent.

You must keep in mind that child support is not for the parents – it’s for the children. Keeping that in mind will make it a little easier to watch that money leave your paycheck every week.

With that principle in mind, let’s take a look at the law relating to child support in Tennessee. In Tennessee we have a comprehensive set of guidelines used to determine the amount of child support that will be paid. Based upon the guidelines, the appropriate figures are inserted into Tennessee’s Child Support Worksheet by using a child support calculator supplied by the state. The result is a dollar amount that is used as child support.

The following are the five factors that go into the child support formula in Tennessee:

  • The income of each parent

  • The amount of time each parent spends with the child

  • The amount paid for health insurance and recurring medical expenses

  • Childcare expenses

  • Credit for other children

The first step is to determine the income of each parent. In the simplest case, the income will be found on the W-2 received from each employer. However, in some cases determining income can be one of the more difficult steps in the process. What if one of the parents is self-employed? What if one of the parents owns rental property and receives rental payment? Is the entire amount of the rental payment included in income for child support purposes, or can expenses such as depreciation and upkeep be deducted from the rental payments to determine income for child support purposes? As a general rule, income includes all money from whatever source received and includes things such as gambling winnings, disability payments, workers’ compensation payments, and money received from personal injury lawsuits or claims. In addition, income includes money you receive for fringe benefits such as a housing allowance, a company car and for military service members, Basic Allowance for Housing, Basic Allowance for Subsistence and Variable Housing Allowances.

What if one of the parents is either intentionally not working or working at less than their potential. The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines consider this to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed and provides that such a parent will be charged with an amount of income that reflects their earning potential—not their actual earnings.

The second step is to determine how much time each parent spends with the children. The theory here is the more time a parent spends with the children, the greater the financial burden placed on that parent. The guidelines start off with the assumption that one parent will be spending the majority of time with the children and the other parent will be spending between 80 and 120 days with the children. The parent spending the majority of time with the children will be considered the primary residential parent and the other parent the alternate residential parent.

There are a number of factors that go into determining parenting time for each parent. Absent an order regarding custody, and even where there is an order in place but that order hasn’t been followed, the court will look at the history of the parents to determine how much time each parent has spent with the children over the past several years. The court will then use that number for child support purposes.

The next step is to determine the amount spent for health insurance for the children and then the amount spent for childcare expenses.

The amount attributable to the children for health insurance is usually determined by taking the total amount paid by the parent obligated to provide health insurance, and dividing that figure by the number of people covered. Next, that amount is multiplied by the number of children covered under the child support order. In other words, if you have two children and you and the two children are covered under your employer provided health insurance policy, then you take the amount deducted from your check for health insurance each month, divide that number by three since there are three of you covered, then multiply that figure by two since there are two children covered by the child support order. If your health insurance costs $300.00 per month, then the portion for the children would be $200.00. (300.00 / 3 x 2 = 200)

If money is being paid for child care expenses, then that amount is included in the child support calculation. In order to be considered for child support purposes, the child care expense must be necessary for either parent’s employment, education or vocational training.

The last factor in determining child support is credit for qualified other children. If either parent has one or more other children by someone other than the parent involved in the child support order at issue, then that parent can receive credit for those other children. In order to receive that credit, the child must be a child for whom the parent is legally responsible and is actually supporting. In other words, Step-Children don’t count. The credit can be given for both children who live in the home of the parent seeking the credit and for children who live with someone else, so long as support is being provided for that child.

As always, it is important to seek out a professional for help with issues involving child support. It is also important to understand and be educated in the way child support is calculated in Tennessee.


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