Earlier this year the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) implemented revisions to state child support law guidelines. The revisions are necessary to meet new federal requirements and will help align all child support orders with changing family economics while also improving the system for both custodial and noncustodial parents. The revisions are the first significant changes to Tennessee child support laws since 2005.
Revised Guidelines Have Limited Effect During First Six Months
Using the guidelines to modify existing child support orders will be limited during the first six months (to November 10). This is to help the courts from being overloaded with too many petitions to modify.
To modify child support on or after November 10, 2020, the petitioner must show the existence of a significant variance only (a 15% increase or decrease in the support amount).
However, to modify child support orders between the revision’s effective date (May 10) and November 9, 2020, the petitioner must show a change in circumstances along with the 15% significant variance. Some examples of a change in circumstances include a change in the number of children or changes in income.
If the new guidelines are the only reason for a significant variance, then the child support order cannot be modified until November 10, 2020.
The Definition Of Gross Income Includes More Examples
Gross income includes total income from any source except for certain itemized exclusions. The new guidelines contain additional examples to help reduce any confusion surrounding what exactly is considered as gross income. Some of the examples include:
- Gifts that reduce the parent’s living expenses such as housing paid by a third party
- Gifts or inheritance than can produce income such as real estate
- Income earned by an inmate while incarcerated
- Fringe benefits such as a company car, housing, room and board, housing allowance, food allowance, etc.
Clarifying Language Added To The Definition Of A “Day”
The definition of a “day” remains the same it was before, 12 hours in a 24-hour period. However, the new guidelines include language clarifying that in certain circumstances, routine parenting time for shorter periods may be added together to count as a single day. This can be done by agreements between the parents or by the court.
New Exceptions To Voluntary Unemployment Or Underemployment
There are now two exceptions to voluntary unemployment and underemployment. First, incarceration is no longer grounds to find someone voluntarily underemployed.
Second, a parent who has a reduction in income due to enlisting in the military or being drafted is not willfully underemployed.
New Rules For The Health Insurance Credit
The updated guidelines now allow a parent to receive credit for the child’s part of the cost of dental and vision insurance, along with medical insurance, if it’s available “at a reasonable cost”.
The guidelines consider the cost of medical insurance reasonable if it does not exceed five percent of the responsible parent’s gross income. Only medical insurance is required if adding the cost of vision or dental insurance increases the total cost to over five percent of the parent’s gross income.
Updates To Guidance For Imputing Income
The new guidelines expand on the list of factors to consider when determining the income to impute to a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent. The factors include:
- Employment and earnings history
- Job skills
- 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
- Any other relevant factors
When courts don’t have reliable evidence about a parent’s earning capacity when setting the initial child support order, the median wage to be imputed for the father is now $43,761 and $35,936 for the mother. These numbers are an increase from $37,589 and $29,300 respectively.
Decreased Burdens For Low-Income Parents
The new guidelines include an adjustment for low-income parents called the “Self Support Reserve”. The adjustment is based on the federal poverty levels.
There is also a new “minimum order” of $100 per month. This serves as the floor. There are exceptions for cases where the only source of income is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or when the child’s federal benefits or parenting time adjustment results in a reward less than $100. This applies to incarcerated parents and deviations are allowed.
New Child Support Law Worksheet
There are a few minor revisions to the child support worksheet including the following:
- Parents are also identified as Parent 1 and Parent 2 to accommodate cases with same-sex parents.
- 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.
- New row 4b involving the automatic calculations for low-income cases where the Self Support Reserve is applied.
- New row 15 to check “Y” if it’s a minimum order.
The main concepts and principles of the Tennessee child support laws remain the same as before. However, it’s important to be aware of this year’s revisions and how they may affect you. If you have questions about child support or child custody, contact experienced family law attorney Hunter Fowler. Hunter has experience handling the most delicate of child custody and child support cases, including those involving divorce, unwed parents, and questionable paternity and he’s dedicated to fighting for you and your family.