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Child Support

In Tennessee, parents have a legal obligation to provide financial support for their biological or adopted children until the child turns eighteen. If you have minor children, then child support is an essential issue to be determined in a divorce or legal separation. The income of both parents, how much time each parent spends with the child, and certain variable childcare expenses are considered when the court is calculating the child support amount. The purpose of support is to ensure that the child’s standard of living is not greatly diminished as a result of the divorce or legal separation. Child support can be ordered while a divorce is pending.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Child Support Guidelines explain exactly how the child support amount is calculated. According to Tennessee child custody laws, a child resides more than 50% of his or her time with the primary residential parent and less than 50% with the alternate residential parent. Typically, the alternate residential parent pays the support to the primary residential parent. These orders are strictly enforced by Tennessee courts. Failure to pay child support can lead to criminal charges, loss of driver’s license and garnishment of wages.

Income Shares Model

Tennessee has adopted the income shares model for calculating child support. The model is designed to: (1) prevent children from living in poverty due to a family breakup; and (2) make certain that children of divorced and married parents are afforded the same opportunities. The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines are a set of rules that establish the procedure for determining the basic child support obligation or child support amount. The parents share of child support corresponds to their individual share of their combined income.

Example: Homer and Marge have three minor child and are getting a divorce. Homer earns $6,000 a month and Marge earns $ 4,000 a month for a combined monthly adjusted gross income of $10,000. The monthly basic child support obligation for Homer and Marge is $1,713. Homer earns 60% of the combined adjusted gross income and is responsible for 60% of the basic child support amount. Likewise, Marge earns 40% of the combined adjusted gross income and is responsible for 40% of the basic child support amount.

What is Income?

In Tennessee, when calculating each parent’s adjusted gross income the court’s consider the following:

  1. Wages;
  2. Salaries;
  3. Commissions, fees, and tips;
  4. Income from self-employment;
  5. Bonuses;
  6. Overtime payments;
  7. Severance pay;
  8. Pensions or retirement plans including, but not limited to, Social Security, Veteran’s Administration, Railroad Retirement Board, Keoughs, and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs);
  9. Interest income;
  10. Dividend income;
  11. Trust income;
  12. Annuities;
  13. Net capital gains;
  14. Disability or retirement benefits that are received from the Social Security Administration pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, whether paid to the parent or to the child based upon the parent’s account;
  15. Workers compensation benefits, whether temporary or permanent;
  16. Unemployment insurance benefits;
  17. Judgments recovered for personal injuries and awards from other civil actions;
  18. Gifts that consist of cash or other liquid instruments, or which can be converted to cash;
  19. Prizes;
  20. Lottery winnings; and
  21. Alimony or maintenance received from persons other than parties to the proceeding before the tribunal.

Most public assistance benefits (SSI, food stamps, etc.) are excluded from the adjusted gross income computation.


Certain basic expenses are included in the basic child support amount. These expenses mainly consist of housing, food, clothing, transportation and entertainment. Expenses associated with private or special education, health insurance premiums, work-related childcare and school-sponsored extracurricular activities are not included. Adjustments can be made to a parent’s adjusted gross income based on expenses not included in the basic child support amount.

Parenting Time

Parents cover the expenses of their children when they are in there physical custody. The guidelines assume that children spend approximately eighty (80) days a year living with the alternate residential parent. That parent’s adjusted gross income can be adjusted if the parent spends less or more than eighty days with the child. It is presumed that increased parenting time leads to an increase in child rearing expenses and decreased parenting time leads to a decrease in child rearing expenses. An increase in expenses should result in a decrease in child support and a decrease in expenses should result in an increase in child support.


Child support orders cannot be modified, unless there is a significant variance between the current amount owed and the proposed amount. Under the current income shares model, a 15% difference qualifies as a significant variance. This takes into account changes to parents income, number of minor children and parenting time. A child’s health care expenses can serve to justify a modification.


If you are getting a divorce and have minor children, then you need to hire a Nashville child support attorney with trial experience. Your child’s future is very important and it must be protected. Attorney Byron Pugh represents parents across Middle Tennessee, including but not limited to Nashville, Franklin, Brentwood, Spring Hill, Murfreesboro, Gallatin, Clarksville, Columbia, Davidson County, Sumner County, Rutherford County and Williamson County. Contact Byron Pugh Legal at (615) 255-9595 or (615) 957-9178 (after hours and weekends) or online to setup a free consultation.