Imputed Income Permitted in Tenn. Only for Those Willfully Unemployed
Tennessee child support law on willful underemployment in Tennessee family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Teresa Ann Barrett Goodman v. Jeffery Wayne Goodman – Tennessee father not found willfully underemployed for child support income determination.
This case involves a couple that divorced in 2008, after 15 years of marriage. The mother, Teresa Ann Barrett Goodman and the father, Jeffery Wayne Goodman, had four minor children at the time of the divorce. The mother filed for divorce in January 2008. The father worked as a real estate broker and shortly before the complaint for divorce was filed, he took a job earning $75,000 per year. In February 2008, father agreed to pay $1,747 per child in temporary monthly support. In June 2008, the father was fired from his new job and although he returned to his previous workplace, his work was based on commissions and he asserted that he could not pay child support. Through June 2009, the father was required to pay the same amount of child support, including arrearages, and was jailed for failure to pay.
In June 2009, the father filed a petition to modify his temporary child support. In June 2010, a referee determined that the father’s income was $50,000 per year and ordered him to pay $1,427 per month, retroactive to June 2009. The father appealed this decision to the trial court. At about the same time, the mother filed a petition asking that the father pay back child support. The father was briefly jailed for failure to pay and as a result, lost his job in June 2010. The father then took employment at Starbucks, eventually earning $1,568 a month, and argued at trial that his child support obligations, based on his income and the mother’s, should be $18 per month. The trial court found that the father’s earning capacity was $50,000 a year and affirmed the divorce referee’s finding. The husband appealed.
Tennessee father not found to be willfully unemployed under child support law
The appeals court overturned the decision of the trial court because it did not find the husband to be willfully or voluntarily unemployed. According to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, a parent’s potential earning capacity can be used as the basis for calculating his child support payments, only if the court makes a finding that “the obligor parent is willfully and voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.” In this case, evidence showed that the father’s current income is approximately $19,000 a year, although he had earnings of $50,000 a year in previous years. The husband, throughout the trial, explained the process by which he lost his various jobs and was unable to find employment again in real estate at the same wage of $50,000 a year. The appeals court ruled that since the trial court did not find the husband to be willfully unemployed, only his actual income and not his “imputed” income could be used to calculate his share of child support.
The court also rejected the mother’s claim that the court could impute the father’s income because he lost his job due to incarceration. The Child Support Guidelines do not consider time served in jail as a reason to reduce child support payments. As a result, incarceration leads to a finding of voluntary underemployment and child support is appropriately awarded. The court rejected this argument on appeal because this claim was not raised during the earlier trial. The case was sent back to the lower court to determine the father’s child support obligation based on his actual income.
No. W2011-01971-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 7, 2012).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
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