On paper, child support may seem simple enough:
After a divorce or legal separation, the parent who does not have custody of the child must pay a certain amount of money to help care for the child, including medical and school expenses.
However, this doesn’t happen in all cases, which can make understanding child support law confusing.
Fortunately, by familiarizing yourself with child support law, you can make sure that the child support you owe (or are owed) is fairly and properly calculated with your child’s best interests in mind.
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Fast facts on child support law in the United States
In August of 1995, President Clinton established Child Support Awareness Month through Proclamation 6814, where he said, “Providing for our children is one of humanity’s worthiest and most fundamental endeavors.
Children are the best part of ourselves — the sum of our past and the promise of our future.”
Although this Proclamation was made in 1995, serious child support issues still exist today.
Here are seven things you may not know about child support in the new millennium:
- In most cases, after a legal separation, the mother is granted custody of the child or children, while the father pays child support. However, 15% of child support providers are women.
- Of the 7.1 million custodial single parents that were granted child support in 2011, 43.4% received all the money that they were awarded. The rest were given partial payments or never saw a check at all.
- Approximately 30% of custodial parents never see the child support money that’s required to be sent to them.
- A report in 2013 showed that 88.8% of child support agreements were established through a government agency or in court with the help of a family lawyer. However, in 2012, 26.1% of custodial parents had to seek government help in order to actually receive their child support checks.
- Visitation and child support are two completely separate matters. A parent cannot avoid paying child support just because the parent with custody makes it difficult to see the child. They are still held financially accountable.
- Failure to pay child support can result in wage garnishment, withholding of any employee benefits, withholding of tax refunds, asset seizure, suspension of driver’s license, denial of passport application, and in extreme cases, arrest.
- There is more than $100 billion owed in child support payments right now.
Background on child support law in Tennessee
Based on specific visions of how to best protect and support the well-being of children within its borders, each state has its own child support laws and guidelines which must be followed.
Current child support law in Tennessee
Before 2005, the amount of child support owed each month in Tennessee was based on only one figure: a percentage of the supporting parent’s total income.
For example, when the state had to decide how much the supporting parent must pay to support a single child, it commonly ruled that 21% of the supporting parent’s income must be devoted to child support payments.
In 2005, it was determined that this method wasn’t fair and Tennessee made a massive overhaul in the way it calculated the amount a parent should pay to support a child and called it Income Shares.
The introduction of the Child Support Worksheet
After this overhaul, Tennessee decided that a single percentage cannot paint the whole picture for the financial situations of most families.
Instead, the State decided that many more factors must be considered when determining how much the supporting parent should contribute.
That’s why, to implement Income Shares, the state developed the “Child Support Worksheet.”
This worksheet asks for detailed information about the income of each parent, the number of days the child or children spend with each parent, the cost of childcare and insurance, and whether a parent supports other children.
Once this information is entered into the Child Support Worksheet, the dollar amount one parent owes to the other is calculated.
Frequently asked questions about child support law in Tennessee
Although the state of Tennessee provides many tools for calculating child support, there are still many questions we hear time and time again.
Which Party Pays Child Support?
Within the state of Tennessee, both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their children, with the law stating that both parties, whether married or divorced, are responsible for their child’s “care, nurture, welfare, education, and support.”
However, following a divorce, the parent in charge of paying child support and the amount of child support required by law is determined by a variety of factors, some of which include custody, income, the number of children, and the emotional and physical well-being of the children.
In Tennessee child support cases there are two parties: the primary residential parent, with which the child resides primarily, and the alternate residential parent, who does not have primary custody of the child.
Typically the alternate residential parent is responsible for paying child support to the primary residential parent since it is assumed that the primary custodian is already providing financial support for the child.
If both parties split custody of the child equally, one party will still most likely owe the other party child support, unless each makes the exact same income.
How is The Amount Determined?
As previously mentioned, within the state of Tennessee, the amount of child support owed by the alternate residential parent is usually calculated based on the state’s Child Support Guidelines using the Child Support Worksheet.
This worksheet calculates the Adjusted Gross Income of each parent, which includes salary, tips, and wages as well as other sources of income such as pensions, retirement plans, social security benefits, unemployment payments, investment gains, alimony from previous marriages, and even gifts or winnings from the lottery.
The worksheet also factors in applicable deductions.
These can include self-employment taxes, credits for supporting other children, and social security benefits that a parent has collected on behalf of their child.
What if the Amount Calculated is Unfair?
Typically the Court will assume that the amount of child support determined by the state’s Child Support Worksheet is accurate.
However, in certain instances, the worksheet simply cannot factor in certain items that may affect the fairness of the payment.
In these instances, the party that feels the final child support amount is unfair can request that the Court adjust the amount.
If this is the case, you must demonstrate a legitimate reason that the payment should be adjusted.
Some common factors affecting adjustments to child support payments include exorbitant medical or education expenses, travel expense, economic hardship, and special expenses such as summer camp or athletic clubs.
Although these issues can affect the payment, it is ultimately up to the Court to act in a way that is best for all parties.