Facts: After eleven years of marriage, the parties separated in 2007, and Husband filed for divorce. Three years later in 2010, Wife filed an answer and counter-complaint for divorce. At that time, Husband was ordered to pay temporary child support of $628 per month. Wife sought to recover retroactive child support back to the date of separation three years prior.
At trial, the evidence showed that Husband made monthly payments on a loan for an automobile that Wife drove and that he made these payments from the time the parties separated until the loan was paid off before the trial. The monthly car payments were $667, and both Wife and Husband were responsible for this debt. Husband testified that Wife agreed he would make these car payments during the separation in lieu of child support. Wife denied the existence of any agreement, but conceded she would have made the car payments from any child support Husband gave her.
The trial court denied Wife’s claim for retroactive child support, finding:
Wife testified that if she had received child support during the parties’ separation, she would have used it to pay the [car] payment. As such, over the objection of counsel for Wife, the Court finds this to be the same thing and does not find an order of retroactive child support to be appropriate in this case.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Every parent is obligated to support his or her children until they reach the age of majority. When a marriage is dissolved, courts are authorized by statute to provide for the future support of the parties’ minor children. Courts are directed to apply the child support guidelines promulgated by the Department of Human Services as a rebuttable presumption when determining the amount of child support to award.
Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines provide that unless the rebuttable presumption provisions have been established by clear and convincing evidence, a judgment for initial support must include an amount of monthly support dating back to when the parties separated.
After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:
Husband’s monthly car payments of $667 exceeded Husband’s child support obligation of $628 by $39. We calculate that by making 54 car payments (March 2006 — August 2010) in the amount of $667 that exceeded his monthly obligation by $39, Husband has paid $2,106 more than he was required to pay in child support. We agree with the trial court that it would have been inappropriate to require Husband to pay an additional $628 per month in retroactive child support.
Husband made the payments directly instead of paying Wife, who would have used the same money to make the same payments. To hold that these payments did not constitute child support would be to elevate form over substance.
The trial court was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.