Tennessee Divorce: Child Support Guidelines
In a Tennessee divorce when there are minor children, child support and child custody are among the many issues that must be dealt with by the parties and the court. Tennessee law and the courts actively encourage divorcing parents to attend mediation and attempt to resolve their divorce action by agreement. We have previously dealt with the question of whether child support can be waived. But another question arises : Can the parties in a Tennessee divorce agree to a child support amount that is not within the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, waive child support for a temporary period of time, or substitute the payment of other debts for child support? In other words, if the parties in a divorce make an agreement as to child support can or should the divorce court approve the agreement and issue an order which sets child support at an amount which is not in conformance with the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines?
Tennessee Courts Must Enforce Child Support Guidelines
According to the Tennessee Court of Appeals the trial courts (Circuit, Chancery, General Sessions, and Juvenile Courts) “must be vigilant gate-keepers to assure compliance with the applicable child support laws so the parties do not enter into invalid agreements which may pose a threat to the welfare of children or perpetuate a fraud upon others.” The Court of Appeals in a 2008 appeal from the General Sessions Court for McNairy County brought by the State of Tennessee Department of Human Services reversed the trial court’s final order which approved a Permanent Parenting Plan which allowed the father to escape his child support obligation until the parties sold one of their two (2) parcels of real property. The court did not accept the father’s argument that his payment of the mortgage and other expenses on that property was in effect child support.
Deviations From Child Support Guidelines
In this case, the Father was relieved of his child support obligation for an indefinite period of time. The Court went on to explain that when the trial court approves and incorporates an agreement as to child support, the trial court must use the Child Support Guidelines to review the adequacy of the child support provision. Any deviation from the Child Support Guidelines must be explicitly stated on the record, and the court must specifically find that a deviation from the child support guidelines is appropriate under the circumstances of the case to serve the best interest of the children or to provide fairness to the parties.
Be sure that you thoroughly discuss your divorce agreement with a domestic relations attorney to be sure that it complies with Tennessee law and the Tennessee child support guidelines. Even if the divorce court errs and approves a Permanent Parenting Plan that does not comply with the law, it could be reversed on appeal, resulting in additional attorney fees, court costs, and unnecessary stress.