Child support will be important in both divorce cases with minor children as well as paternity actions and child custody proceedings between parties that never married. Child support is determined by the Child Support Guidelines, which can be found here (http://www.state.tn.us/sos/rules/1240/1240-02/1240-02-04.20080815.pdf).
The factors involved to determine the amount of support include both parties’ gross monthly incomes, the number of days out of the year allocated to each parent for co-parenting time, the amount of health insurance paid, the amount of daycare paid, if any, and whether either parent has other children.
When determining the parties’ respective incomes, the court will need paystubs or tax returns. Overtime wages and commissions are included in the court’s calculation of income and are averaged into a monthly amount, even if paid on an irregular basis. For example, if a party receives a salary of $30,000 per year (or $2,500 per month), received an end-of-year bonus of $1,000 and earned $700 in overtime wages, then that parties’ gross monthly income would be $2,641.66 ($31,700 divided by 12).
It is also possible for the court to impute, meaning assign, a certain income to a party. Imputing income to a parent is appropriate in the following situations: if a parent is found to be willfully and/or voluntarily underemployed or unemployed; if there is no reliable evidence of income; or if a parent owns substantial non-income producing assets. If a finding of voluntary underemployment or unemployment occurs, the court may use minimum wage, an income amount that the party may have earned in the past, or the median income provided by the Guidelines ($37,589 for male parents and $29,300 for female parents), regardless of that party’s actual income.
A finding of willful under-or-unemployment can be based on any “intentional choice or act that adversely affects a parent’s income.” This includes criminal convictions or contempt actions that result in jail time. Additional income can also be added to a party’s calculation based upon their earning potential, past and present employment and their education and training. Additional factors the court may consider include the role of a stay at home parent, the age of the children, an extravagant lifestyle, ownership of expensive homes or vehicles, and whether the party is enrolled in school, either full or part time.
Failure to pay child support can result in being found in contempt of court which can lead to incarceration. If regular payment becomes a problem, then a child support obligation can be levied from a bank account or garnished from one’s wages. Additionally, any unpaid child support amounts, called an arrearage, will accrue 12% interest for each month that the amounts go unpaid. If you owe an arrearage or are behind in making payments and your child support payments are being paid through the State of Tennessee, then either the State Attorney or the other parent may file a contempt petition. Also, obligor’s tax returns are also routinely intercepted and applied to past-due support.
Either party may file for a modification of child support. You are entitled to a modification if there is a change in income, co-parenting days, daycare costs or other variable that results in the child support obligation varying by at least 15%, up or down. However, your support obligation will only be modified dating back to the date you file your petition, not the date when the variable changed. For example, if your income is reduced on April 1st but you do not file a petition until June 1st, you are only entitled to a modification starting on June 1st. Your obligation for April and May will remain at the original amount. Mediation is not required prior to requesting to modify child support or prior to filing contempt for non-payment.