Upward Deviation of Child Support Challenged in Brentwood, Tennessee: Church v. Elrod

FactsWhen Mother and Father divorced in 2005, they had four minor children, and Father’s child-support obligation was set at $3003 per month.

Tennessee child support
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Ten years later, Father petitioned to modify his child support because the three older children were now adults, thereby reducing his child support to $2031 per month.

Mother argued the support amount should not be modified because a reduction in child support would make it impossible for her to pay the remaining child’s expenses.

The trial court found it was in the child’s best interest to keep Father’s child-support obligation at $3003 per month.

Father appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

In Tennessee, the amount of child support is derived from applying the formula in the Child Support Guidelines. This amount determined by this formula becomes the presumptive amount of child support. This presumptive amount, however, is rebuttable, and courts may deviate up or down from that amount.

Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines say:

[T]hese Guidelines are a minimum base for determining child-support obligations. The presumptive child-support order may be increased according to the best interest of the child for whom support is being considered, the circumstances of the parties, and the rules of [the Guidelines].

One of the major goals of the Guidelines is to ensure that, when parents live separately, the economic impact on the child is minimized, and, if either parent enjoys a higher standard of living, the child shares in that higher standard.

Tennessee law provides that if the net income of the parent paying child support exceeds $10,000 per month, then the parent receiving child support must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that child support in excess of the amount provided for in the Guidelines is reasonably necessary to provide for the child’s needs. Courts must consider all income of the parent paying child support and make a specific finding that the deviation is reasonably necessary.

The Court found the proof showed an upper deviation was in the child’s best interest:

Here, there is no dispute that the presumptive child-support amount is $2031 per month. In reaching its decision, the trial court noted [Father’s] high standard of living, including the fact that [Father] and his current wife maintained two homes and travel back and forth between homes in Michigan and Tennessee. The trial court also found that his annual income had increased from $111,000 at the time of the divorce to $289,000 and that [Father] had already paid $3003 per month during the months at issue while still supporting his new wife and her three children, including payment of his step-children’s private-school expenses. Further, the trial court noted all of the expenses that [Mother] paid for [the child], including tuition for summer camp [] and all of the extra expenses for senior year, including college application fees. Tennessee imposes a legal obligation on parents to support their minor children in a manner commensurate with their own means and station in life. Taking the applicable law into account, the trial court determined that an upper deviation of $972, for a limited period of time, was supported by the facts and was in [the child’s] best interest. . . .

In light of the additional expenses for [the child’s] needs, all of which have been paid by [Mother], and [Father’s] limited parenting time and affluent lifestyle, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in making the upward deviation order.

The trial court’s deviation from the presumptive child-support amount was affirmed.

Church v. Elrod (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, March 25, 2019).

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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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