Tennessee’s New Child Support Guidelines

May 11, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Effective yesterday, May 10, Tennessee has new child-support guidelines.

Tennessee child supportThis is the first significant revision to Tennessee child-support guidelines since 2005, when the income-shares model was adopted. Many of these revisions were necessary to bring Tennessee into compliance with federal law.

Substantively, the Guidelines are mostly unchanged. The main concepts and principles remain the same as before.

Here are the main things family-law attorneys need to know:

Application of the Guidelines to modify existing child-support orders is limited for the first six months.

Just like was done when the income-shares model was adopted, using the new Guidelines to modify existing child-support orders will be limited somewhat in the first six months to prevent the courts from being overwhelmed with petitions to modify.

For child-support orders modified on or after November 10, 2020, the petitioner must show the existence of a significant variance only, i.e., a 15% increase or decrease in the support amount.

For child-support orders modified between today and November 9, 2020, however, the petitioner must show a change in circumstances in addition to the 15% significant variance. Examples of a change in circumstances include a change in the number of children, changes in income, etc.

If the only reason for a significant variance is the new Guidelines, then the support order is not modifiable until November 10, 2020.

The definition of a “day” expressly allows combining periods of less than 12 hours to count as a single day.

The definition of a “day” remains the same as before, i.e., 12 hours in a 24-hour period. But the new Guidelines include language clarifying that, in extraordinary circumstances, routinely incurred parenting time of shorter duration may be aggregated and counted as a single day. This can be done by the agreement of the parties or by the court.

The language allowing this practice existed in the old Guidelines but was not included in the definition of a “day.” It is now included in the definition for clarity.

The definition of “gross income” includes more examples.

Gross income includes all income from any source, except for the itemized exceptions. The new Guidelines include additional examples to eliminate any confusion about the all-encompassing nature of the definition of gross income, such as:

  • gifts or inheritances that can produce income, e.g., real estate;
  • gifts that reduce the parent’s living expenses, e.g., housing paid by a third party;
  • income earned by an inmate while incarcerated; and
  • fringe benefits like a company car, housing, room and board, housing allowance, food allowance, etc.

There are now two exceptions to voluntary unemployment or underemployment.

First, incarceration is no longer grounds to find someone voluntarily underemployed.

Second, a parent whose income is reduced because he or she enlists in the military or is drafted is not willfully underemployed.

Guidance for imputing income is updated.

The new Guidelines include an expanded list of factors to consider when determining the income to impute to a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent. These include:

  • assets;
  • residence;
  • employment and earnings history;
  • job skills;
  • education;
  • literacy;
  • age;
  • health;
  • criminal record and barriers to employment;
  • efforts to find employment;
  • the local job market;
  • the availability of employers willing to hire the parent;
  • prevailing earnings in the local community; and
  • any other relevant factors.

Where courts have no reliable evidence about a parent’s earning capacity when setting the initial support order, the median wage to be imputed for the father is now $43,761 (up from $37,589) and $35,936 for the mother (up from $29,300).

There are new rules for the health insurance credit.

The Guidelines allow now allow a parent to receive credit for the child’s portion of the cost of dental and vision insurance, in addition to medical insurance, if it is available “at a reasonable cost.”

What is a reasonable cost? The Guidelines say the cost of medical insurance is reasonable if does not exceed five percent of the responsible parent’s gross income. If adding the cost of dental or vision insurance increases the total cost to over five percent of the parent’s gross income, then only medical insurance is required.

Public insurance, i.e., TennCare, can now fulfill the requirement to provide insurance, but the parent can only receive credit for out-of-pocket medical expenses. The child-support order must reflect that the child’s medical insurance comes from TennCare.

Another addition is that insurance costs incurred by a stepparent who insures the child can be included and credited to the stepparent’s spouse.

The burdens on low-income parents have decreased.

The new Guidelines incorporate an adjustment for low-income parents called the “Self Support Reserve” that is based on the federal poverty levels. The new worksheet does all the calculations, so most lawyers need not worry about the details.

There is also now a “minimum order” of $100 per month. This is the floor. There are exceptions for cases where the sole source of income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or where the child’s federal benefits or a parenting-time adjustment results in an award of less than $100. It applies to incarcerated parents, and deviations are allowed.

The Department of Children’s Services can set an initial support order.

When a child is placed in DCS custody, the Guidelines allow the Department to set the initial support order without using the worksheet. The case can then proceed through the usual channels to determine the correct amount using the Guidelines and worksheet. The goal is to get some support flowing quickly when a child enters DCS custody.

There is a new child-support worksheet.

There are minor revisions to the child-support worksheet.

  • Besides references to Mother and Father, parents are also identified as Parent 1 and Parent 2 to accommodate cases with same-sex parents.
  • There is a new row 3a with a question about means-tested income. If a parent’s sole source of income is SSI, check “Y” and list their income as $0.
  • There is a new row 4b involving the automatic calculations for low-income cases where the Self Support Reserve is applied.
  • There’s a new row 15 to check “Y” if it’s a minimum order.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What hasn’t changed is the cap on support awards that apply to high-income parents. The maximum support award for one child is still $2100. While the median wages have increased along with inflation, it appears the laws of economics don’t apply to the cost of raising children in Tennessee. While the new Guidelines provide relief for the poorest of the poor, Tennessee law continues to protect the wealthy at their children’s expense.

Click here to get the new Child Support Guidelines.

Click here to get the new Child Support Worksheet.

If you think I missed something worth sharing, please share it in a comment below.

Tennessee’s New Child Support Guidelines (effective May 10, 2020).

Tennessee’s New Child Support Guidelines was last modified: May 11th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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