Permanent Parenting Plans and Parenting Time
In the state of Tennessee, when the parties have minor children, a Permanent Parenting Plan Order must be signed by the Judge (or Chancellor). The Permanent Parenting Plan Order sets forth in great detail the day to day parenting schedule, the holiday schedule (which includes the birthdays of the children and the parents, as well as minor holidays such as Presidents’ Day and Halloween), the vacation parenting schedule, and child support.
It names a “primary residential parent” (previously referred to in Tennessee as the “custodial” parent) and an “alternate residential parent” (previously referred to as the “non-custodial” parent), and actually specifies the exact amount of days per year each parent has “parenting time” (previously known as “visitation” when referring to the “non-custodial parent”). It even designates which party will receive the Federal Income Tax Exemption for each child, and it indicates which parent will make decisions for each minor child (parental decision making was previously known in Tennessee as “legal custody”).
Additionally the Permanent Parenting Plan Order makes provisions for the maintenance of health insurance for the minor children, and for the sharing of uncovered medical expenses for the minor children, such as co-payments and deductibles. One or both parties will need to carry life insurance naming the minor children as the primary irrevocable beneficiaries for as long as child support is required to be paid. Normally, in Shelby County, the Judges prefer that both parents insure their lives and name their minor children as beneficiaries. At a minimum, the party paying child support is required to insure his or her life for as long as child support is required to be paid.
Parenting Class Required
Both parents are required to attend a Parenting Class seminar within the first thirty (30) days after the Complaint for Divorce is filed with the Court, and a Parenting Class Certificate must be filed with the Court. The Parenting Class must be taken by an instructor or an organization approved by the Court. The Courts in Shelby County no longer approve online Parenting Classes. Contact an attorney or the Circuit or Chancery Court in your county for a list of approved Parenting Classes. These classes last for only a few hours, and they are fairly inexpensive. Please note that you are not required to take the Parenting Class with your spouse. Most people do not attend these classes with their spouse.
Child support must be determined, (usually-but not always-the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time is the parent who receives child support), and a child support worksheet must be prepared and attached to the Permanent Parenting Plan.
Purpose of Child Support
According to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, child support is intended to help the parent who receives the support provide the parties’ minor children with their basic necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and basic educational expenses for a public school education, as well as for the minor children’s other living expenses. Although child support is for the benefit of the parties’ minor children, it actually belongs to the parent who receives it, and the parent may collect any unpaid child support payments even after the parties’ children become an adults.
Calculating Child Support
In Tennessee, child support is calculated based on the gross incomes of both parents and based on the amount of parenting time each parent spends with the minor children, which allows the minor children to share in the financial resources of both parents (e.g., if one parent enjoys a high standard of living, the children also are able to benefit from that high standard of living).
Cap on Amount of Child Support When a Parent Has a High Income
In high income cases, where the party paying child support (the “obligor” parent)has a net monthly income in excess of $10,000.00, monthly child support payments are limited to the following amounts, unless the parent receiving support can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that an amount in excess of the applicable amount listed below is reasonably necessary to provide for the needs of the minor children:
$2,100.00 for one child;
$3,200.00 for two children;
$4,100.00 for three children; and
$5,000.00 for five children.
Amount of Parenting Time Affects Amount of Child Support
The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines assume that “standard” parenting time is being exercised by both parties. Standard parenting time is defined as 285 days per year for the primary residential parent and 80 days per year for the alternate residential parent. The amount of guideline child support increases if the alternate residential parent exercises parenting time for sixty eight (68) days or less per year, and it decreases if the alternate residential parent exercises parenting time for ninety two (92) days or more per year. The monthly cost of the minor children’s health insurance premium and the monthly cost of childcare are factored into the child support calculation.
“Gross Income” Defined
For the purposes of calculating child support, a party’s gross income includes all income from any source, before deductions for taxes, etc., with only a few limited exceptions(such as child support for a child from another relationship, food stamps,and adoption assistance from the State of Tennessee). Gross income includes not only wages, salaries, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses and overtime payments, but it also includes interest income,dividend income, capital gains, judgments recovered for personal injuries, prizes, lottery winnings, and alimony received from persons who are not parties to the divorce.
Treatment of Commissions, Bonuses, Overtime, and Other Variable Income
In determining a parent’s gross income, commissions, bonuses, overtime pay, dividends, and other forms of variable income are to be averaged over a reasonable period of time “consistent with the circumstances of the case” and added to that parent’s fixed salary or wages. The circumstances of the case will be considered by the Court in determining the length of time over which a parent’s variable income will be averaged in order to calculate his or her gross income for child support purposes.
Additionally, if either parent is legally responsible for and is actually supporting any other minor children outside the marriage, that factor is also taken into consideration and may be used to reduce that parent’s gross income for the purpose of calculating the amount of guideline child support.
Currently, under certain circumstances the Court may impute income to a party. For example, when there is no reliable evidence of a party’s income or income potential, the Court can impute an annual gross income of $37,589.00 for a male parent and $29,300.00 for a female parent.
Deviation From Child Support Guidelines
The court may deviate from the Child Support Guideline amount if it is in the minor child’s best interest. The Court must set out its specific reasons for the deviation in the Permanent Parenting Plan, Final Decree of Divorce, or other child support order.
Occasionally, in certain circumstances, the Permanent Parenting Plan Order addresses payment of private school tuition and payment of expenses associated with extra-curricular activities, such as competitive cheerleading or competitive soccer, etc. In Tennessee, the Court cannot order a parent to pay for college for his or her child; however, the parties can agree that one or both parents will pay for their child’s college education, and such an agreement is not modifiable later by the Court unless both parties agree to a modification.
A parent can pay child support directly to the other parent, by voluntary payroll deduction, by direct deposit into the other parent’s bank account, or by wage assignment. Sometimes it is necessary for the child support to be paid by wage assignment. In those instances a wage assignment order is entered with the Court, the child support payments are automatically deducted from the child support obligor’s paycheck by his or her employer, they are forwarded to the Child Support Receipting Unit in Nashville, and they are eventually delivered to the parent receiving child support.
An exact record of payments made and received should be kept by both parents.
Contempt of Court and Severe Consequences for Failing to Pay Child Support
Willfully and intentionally refusing to pay child support can result in the obligor parent (the parent who has been ordered to pay child support) being held in contempt of Court , going to jail, being fined, and/or losing his or her driver’s license, professional license, and/or hunting and fishing licenses. Judges DO NOT LIKE IT when child support is not paid.
If you have lost your job or had a decrease in your income, you should IMMEDIATELY consult with an attorney in order to file a petition to modify your child support obligation. In Tennessee, the Court may only make child support modifications retroactive to the date that a petition to modify was filed with the Court, so you need to act right away if your income has been reduced or if you have reason to believe that a decrease in your income is imminent.
Child Support Cannot Be Discharged in Bankruptcy
All child support obligations are NON-DISCHARGEABLE IN BANKRUPTCY, and they are given FIRST priority in bankruptcy (in addition to other “domestic support obligations,” such as alimony and other debts arising out of a final decree of divorce or other domestic order). Payment of child support is taken seriously by the Courts, and it must be taken seriously by fathers and mothers. The children are the ones who ultimately are injured when child support is not paid and when it is not paid in a timely manner.
Termination of Child Support
Unless a child is handicapped or disabled, child support is required to be paid until a minor child attains the age of eighteen (18) OR until the class the child was in when he or she turned 18 graduates from high school, whichever occurs second (2nd).
Modification of Child Support
Child support is NOT modifiable without a Court order. Let me say it again, child support in Tennessee may only be modified with a COURT ORDER. Even if both parents agree to reduce the amount of child support, if there is no Court order modifying the child support, the parent receiving child support may still pursue the other parent for unpaid child support plus interest! Under Tennessee statute, when a child support payment is not paid on the date it is due, it is immediately reduced to a judgment and begins accruing post-judgment interest, which is currently 12% per annum. Any agreement to reduce child support, other than a Court order, is not effective and will not stop post-judgment interest from accumulating. Therefore, if you need a modification of your child support payment, it is important to have an modification order entered with the Court.
“Significant Variance” Defined
Child support in Tennessee can be increased or decreased for various reasons such as a change in either parent’s income, a change in the amount of parenting time that either parent exercises, a change in the cost of a child’s health insurance premium, a change in the cost of work-related childcare, or the birth of a baby to either party. However,in order to qualify for a modification of child support, under the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, a fifteen percent(15%)difference between the current Court-ordered amount of child support and the proposed amount of child support must exist. This fifteen percent (15%) difference between the current amount and the proposed amount of child support is referred to in the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines as a “significant variance.” Non-attorneys often mistakenly believe that a party’s income must have increased or decreased by fifteen percent (15%), however, that is not the case.
The Tennessee Permanent Parenting Plan form requires both parties to exchange their income information every year in order for the parties to determine whether or not a change in child support is warranted. An attorney needs the following information in order to tell you whether or not a significant variance exists, which is the first question that needs to be answered when someone is seeking a change in the amount of child support:
Number of days per year Mother exercises parenting time;
Number of days per year Father exercises parenting time;
Mother’s gross income;
Father’s gross income;
The amount of the minor child(ren)’s health insurance premium;
The monthly cost of work-related childcare; and,
The current amount of child support.
There are other factors which need to be looked at and evaluated by an attorney in order to determine whether or not someone has grounds to increase or decrease child support, and you should consult with an attorney before agreeing to enter an order modifying child support.
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