Facts: Mother and Father are the divorced parents of three children. Seven years after their divorce, Mother petitioned to modify the parenting plan and child support.
Regarding Father’s income for child support, the evidence consisted of pay stubs that showed Father’s annual gross income to be $85,000 for 2017, and Father’s child support was changed to reflect this amount.
Father filed a post-trial motion asking the trial court to average his annual income over a three-year period because, Father argued, his income during 2017 was unusually high because of the overtime he worked.
To support his post-trial motion, Father submitted his tax returns showing income of $66,800 for 2015 and $69,300 for 2016.
The trial court denied Father’s motion after finding that the tax returns were available to Father at the time of trial, and Father did not dispute the accuracy of his income for 2017.
The trial court found that Father’s income was steadily increasing over the three-year period, and therefore it was proper to use his actual income when setting child support.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines provide:
Variable income such as commissions, bonuses, overtime pay, dividends, etc. shall be averaged over a reasonable period of time consistent with the circumstances of the case and added to a parent’s fixed salary or wages to determine gross income.
Tennessee’s courts have interpreted this to mean that averaging a parent’s income is the correct procedure for calculating fluctuating income, but it is not appropriate when a parent’s income is steadily declining or increasing. In those circumstances, the parent’s income should be based on his or her actual income.
The Court made quick work of Father’s argument:
Father fails to cite sufficient authority reflecting that the trial court somehow was obliged to use an averaging method in these circumstances to determine his income. Averaging is appropriate in many circumstances, but it is not required by all.
The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines do not say how variable income should be averaged. That is left to the courts to determine case-by-case. As far as I’m aware, Tennessee courts have approved averages from as short as three months (Grisham v. Grisham) to as long as four years (Carter v. Carter). If anyone’s aware of a shorter or longer average, share it in the comments below.