Child Support Reversed in Chattanooga Divorce: Culver v. Culver

Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 20 years of marriage. They have two children.

One issue at trial was the parties’ respective incomes for the purpose of determining child support.

Husband alleged Wife receives rent from her sister, who lives with Wife. However, Wife testified unequivocally at trial that she receives no rent from her sister because of her sister’s health problems.

There is no other proof in the record regarding whether Wife receives $500 per month in rental income from her sister.

When determining Wife’s income for child support purposes, the trial court found Wife receives $500 in rental income each month.

Wife appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

On appeal, Husband cited no proof in the record supporting the proposition that Wife receives $500 per month in rental income from her sister.

Because child support decisions retain an element of discretion, appellate courts review them using the deferential “abuse of discretion” standard. This standard is a review-constraining standard of review that calls for less intense appellate review and, therefore, less likelihood that the trial court’s decision will be reversed. A trial court’s discretionary decision will be upheld as long as it is not clearly unreasonable and reasonable minds can disagree about its correctness. Discretionary decisions must, however, take the applicable law and the relevant facts into account. Accordingly, a trial court will be found to have “abused its discretion” when it applies an incorrect legal standard, reaches a decision that is illogical, bases its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party.

After reviewing the record, the Court stated:

This Court does indeed extend strong deference to trial courts’ credibility determinations, but here we are confronted with a specific finding of fact for which there is no evidence in the record which we can discern. That the Trial Court did not believe Wife when she denied receiving rent from her sister is not proof that Wife received $500 per month in rent from her sister. The mere allegation by Husband does not establish this as fact. Therefore, we reverse the Trial Court in its adding $500 per month in rental income to Wife’s income for child support purposes. Our holding on this issue requires that this case be remanded to the Trial Court for a new calculation of child support, this time excluding the $500 per month in alleged rental income from Wife’s sister for which there simply is no competent evidence in the record….

We reverse the Trial Court in its adding $500 in monthly rental income to Wife’s income for child support purposes as the evidence does not support this finding. We remand this case to the Trial Court for a new child support calculation.

Accordingly, the trial court’s determination as to Wife’s income for child support purposes was reversed.

Culver v. Culver (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, June 26, 2015).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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