Child Support Includes Upward Deviation for Educational Expenses in Nashville, TN Divorce: Thayer v. Thayer

Facts: Mother and Father are the divorced parents of an autistic child. When they divorced, they agreed that Father would pay the tuition for the child to attend a special preschool for autistic children and that any other fees would be divided between them.

As the child aged, the child started attending the Currey Ingram Academy. Father continued paying the tuition in lieu of child support.

Years later, Father stopped paying the tuition payments on time. Mother petitioned to modify the parenting plan to require Father to pay the tuition and to divide the remaining educational expenses between the parties.

The trial court found Father to be voluntarily underemployed and imputed income to him. Using the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, Father’s child-support obligation was set at $1116 per month.

The trial court then ordered an upward deviation for extraordinary educational expenses. The trial court equally divided the tuition between the parties, thereby adding $890 per month to Father’s child-support obligation, for a total obligation of $2006 per month.

Father appealed.

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

Extraordinary educational expenses may be added to the presumptive child support amount as an upward deviation. Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines specify:

Extraordinary educational expenses include, but are not limited to, tuition, room and board, lab fees, books, fees, and other reasonable and necessary expenses associated with special needs education or private elementary and/or secondary schooling that are appropriate to the parents’ financial abilities and to the lifestyle of the child if the parents and child were living together.

In determining the amount to award as extraordinary educational expenses, the court should take into consideration any financial aid received by or on behalf of the child.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, explaining:

We agree with the trial court that the Child is a special needs child. He was diagnosed with autism at a young age. Both parents praised the education provided at Currey Ingram and described the Child’s progress as outstanding. . . .

[T]he question before the court was whether the cost of a Currey Ingram education was “appropriate to the parents’ financial abilities and to the lifestyle of the child if the parents and child were living together.” Both parents agreed to send the Child to Currey Ingram, and it was the only school he ever attended. Moreover, the parents’ income, as imputed by the court, exceeded $200,000 per year. Mother obtained the largest financial aid package available at Currey Ingram, a fifty-percent reduction in cost. We conclude that the current cost of attending Currey Ingram is commensurate with the parents’ financial abilities.

The Court also awarded Mother her attorney’s fees on appeal.

Thayer v. Thayer (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, July 26, 2016).

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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