What is child support?
At its most basic, child support is the amount of money paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent for the benefit of minor children. However, the issues surrounding child support are anything but basic in their application.
As a starting point, the law will not permit a minor child to go unsupported. For this reason, once custody of a child is determined (the law now calls the custodial parent - the primary residential parent or "PRP," and the noncustodial parent - the alternate residential parent or "ARP") the noncustodial parent or "ARP" is required to pay support for the maintenance of any minor child or children. Thought of another way, the law will not permit a party to financially abandon his or her child.
How is child support calculated?
Calculating child support in Tennessee is very mechanical in its application, but more complicated in what goes into the equation. Tennessee law takes into account such factors as the amount of time each parent has overnight with the child (or children), the income levels of the parents, health insurance, the costs of other minor children in the home and any costs associated with the care of the minor child. This model is called the income shares model. In some cases, even private school tuition can be included. We have worked with a number of clients over the years who have failed to take all of these factors into account, or have miscalculated the number of days. As a result, they could be paying too much or receiving too little. In either case, it is better to make certain as early in the process as possible that you have correctly calculated the child support that is to be paid.
Courts now rely upon a worksheet created by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. A link to that worksheet is located here.
Who owes child support?
Child support must be paid by the alternate residential parent. That person is determined by the parenting plan or court order. The alternate residential parent is what many people think of as the noncustodial parent. Although the "custody" distinction has been abolished in Tennessee law (except for the Juvenile Courts), many of our clients still think in those terms and except for a name change, the concept is still exactly the same. Even if you are not married to the other parent of the minor child, the law will still require that child support be paid for the support of that child. If you are married but separated, support can also be ordered with or without a pending divorce.
Can court ordered child support be modified?
The answer to that question is a fully qualified “Yes, but...”. Child support orders can be modified upon a showing of a significant variance in the amount of the child support obligation that is owed. Some situations that can give rise to a significant variance include the alternate residential parent being legally obligated to support more children, or a 15% change in the amount of the support due to a change in incomes or other factors. Additionally, the need to provide for a child's healthcare can provide a significant variance, as well as putting the child in daycare or aftercare.
Modifications can happen as often as needed, so long as they are not abusive.