The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) has established the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines which are a lengthy set of administrative rules governing the setting of child support. Interpretations of the Guidelines and how they should be applied in certain factual situations have been made by the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Tennessee utilizes an income shares model which means that both parents’ income is considered in determining child support. In moving to the income shares model, Tennessee abandoned its prior child support laws which utilized a fixed percentage of the obligor’s income per number of children. Other components of the child support calculation include the number of children being supported, the number of parenting days per calendar year that each parent exercises with the child(ren), the costs of health, dental and vision insurance for the child(ren), recurring medical expenses not covered by insurance, and the costs of work-related child care. The child support worksheet is a print-out of the child support calculator that incorporates all of these numbers and sets forth a presumptive child support amount. In a divorce case involving minor children, the child support worksheet must be attached to the Permanent Parenting Plan form resulting either from the parties’ agreement or from a court ruling. In a post-divorce child support modification, the worksheets likewise must be attached to the modified child support order.
The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines use the gross incomes of both parents in the child support calculation. The definition of gross income for child support purposes is very broad and includes all income from any source (before taxes and other deductions), whether earned or unearned, and includes:
- Income from self-employment;
- Fringe benefits;
- Severance pay;
- Pensions and retirement plans (including, but not limited to, Social Security, Veteran’s Administration benefits, Railroad Retirement Board benefits, Keoghs, and Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs);
- Interest income;
- Dividend income;
- Trust income;
- Capital gains;
- 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 paid to the child based upon the parent’s account);
- Workers’ compensation (whether temporary or permanent);
- Unemployment insurance benefits;
- Judgments for personal injuries and awards from other civil actions;
- Gifts that consist of cash or other liquid instruments that can be converted to cash;
- Lottery winnings; and,
- Alimony or maintenance received from other persons other than parties to the proceeding before the tribunal.
Self-employed parents receive a credit on the child support worksheet for self-employment taxes paid. Credits may also be taken for other children being supported by that parent whether residing in that parent’s home or outside that parent’s home. In certain situations, where a parent is not employed to the extent of his or her capacity, or where there is no reliable evidence of a parent’s earning ability, a court may impute gross income for that parent on the child support worksheet.
In certain situations, deviations may be made from the presumptive child support amount; however, in the vast majority of cases, parents do not have the right to “waive” child support or to agree that no child support will be paid because the child support belongs to the child(ren), not to the parent.
The Mississippi Child Support Guidelines differ from Tennessee in that Mississippi uses a Flat Percentage method for calculating child support. The Non-Custodial Parent is ordered to pay child support based on a percentage of his or her adjusted gross income. This percentage is based upon the number of children the support award is for, 14% for one child, 20% for two children, 22% for three children, 24% for four children, and 26% for five or more children.
The Mississippi Child Support Guidelines are based on the Payor’s adjusted gross income. The first step is to determine gross income from all sources, which includes but is not limited to:
- Wages and Salary Income;
- Income from Self-Employment
- Income from Commissions
- Income from Investments
- Absent Parent’s Portion of any Joint Income of Both Parents
- Worker’s Compensation
- Annuity and Retirement Benefits
- Income Earned from Interest in or from Inherited Property
- Any Other Earned Income
Income is based on the Payor’s current income and not an estimate of future income. Income may be imputed to a Payor who is working at less than full capacity or who conceals or diverts income. The second step is to adjust the Payor’s income and reduce it by legally mandated deduction(s) and existing child support orders to arrive at the adjusted gross income. Courts also have discretion to adjust income to take in to account other children living with the Payor.
The Court may deviate from the Mississippi child support guidelines in certain situations but the deviations must be based upon a written finding of fact. Circumstances in which a Court may deviate include a parent’s increased visitation, a parent’s agreement to pay education expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, a parent’s refusal to exercise provided-for visitation, and other circumstances. In Mississippi, the non-custodial parent will pay support for the minor child until the child reaches the age of twenty-one, or until the child becomes “emancipated” as defined by Statute. Child support orders may be modified in Mississippi; however, the party wishing to modify the child support order must show a change in circumstance that affects the Payor’s ability to pay or a child’s need for support.
The laws and calculations for determining child support in both Tennessee and Mississippi are the same for divorcing, divorced, and unwed parents (unmarried couples). Child support may be established on a temporary basis during the pendency of a divorce to assist a parent with the support and maintenance of the child(ren) until the divorce is concluded.