Facts: After 29 years of marriage, Wife filed for divorce. The parties separated several months later. Children resided with Wife in the marital residence. During the separation, Husband paid support to Wife—voluntary at first, court-ordered several years later—that enabled her to pay the household bills and expenses.
After a trial, the trial court awarded Wife a $63,200 judgment for child support retroactive to the date of separation.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Parents have a legal duty to support their children. Allocating a certain amount of financial support to one’s children is a mandatory obligation. As such, parents have no fundamental right to allocate support to their children as they see fit. They must pay what the law requires. At the same time, the intention behind the statutes and regulations pertaining to child support is to assure that children receive support reasonably consistent with their parent or parents’ financial resources.
After reviewing the record, the Court reasoned:
[T]he proof showed that it cost roughly $5,000 a month to run the marital household throughout the marriage. From June 2008 through December 2009, Husband paid $3,000 a month plus credit card and other bills. He also paid for his children’s education and continued to put money in each of the children’s Schwab accounts.
Thereafter, Wife requested increased support to meet expenses. Following a hearing, an agreed order was entered providing that Husband would pay Wife $4,336 a month in “temporary support.” We agree with Husband’s position that these court-ordered support payments which began in January 2010 were intended and received as sufficient temporary support from that point on for Wife and the children. Throughout the pendency of the case, Husband also continued his practice of financing their educations and other major expenses with regular contributions of $20,000 a year to each child’s individual Schwab account.  Wife saw no apparent need to pursue additional support for herself or the children until some two years after the case began. At that point, it was agreed that Husband would pay $4,336 per month. Notably, these “temporary support” payments continued, in the same amount, to the time of trial even though all three children had long since reached the age of majority. In view of the evidence, we conclude that Wife’s assertion that “Husband failed to pay any child support during the pendency of this long divorce action” is simply not correct.
We conclude that Husband more than met his obligation to support his children during the pendency of this divorce. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s award of $63,200 for “retroactive” child support.
K.O.’s Comment: For a somewhat similar case, see Estes v. Estes.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.