Caps on Tennessee Child Support Owed by High Income Parents Earning Greater Than $10,000 Per Month Net Income

Tennessee child support guidelines caps amount owed by high income parents who earn more than $10,000 per month net income. The percentage of net income to determine child support owed is based on number of children.

Caps on Tennessee Child Support for Parent with Greater Than $10,000 per Month Net Income

Caps on Tennessee Child Support for Parents with Greater Than $10,000 per Month Net Income

When it comes to computation of child support, one hears over and again the critical importance of starting the analysis with a strict computation in accordance with the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines before considering any variation or special circumstances.

However, there is one small caveat to put on this rule: the strict computation applies only to the first $10,000 of net income (after taxes), above which the primary residential parent must demonstrate additional needs of the child making a higher award reasonably necessary.

What is the Percentage of Income for Child Support?

Caps & Percentages Based on Number of Children

The cap plays out as follows.  The strict computation is made on all income from all sources, just as in every other child support case in Tennessee.  Likewise, certain deductions to incomes and various credits will be applied.  However, the net income is capped off at $10,000 per month to which the child support percentages are applied.  The top line calculation of child support becomes to the following dollar amounts:

  • $2,100 per month for one child;
  • $3,200 per month for two children;
  • $4,100 per month for three children;
  • $4,600 per month for four children;
  • $5,000 per month for five or more children.

The primary residential parent then has the option to argue that child support should be awarded above the cap in order to meet the reasonably necessary needs of the child.  The burden of proof upon the primary residential parent is a “preponderance of the evidence,” which simply translates into roughly more than half in favor of the argument.  In other words, the primary residential parent must establish that it is more reasonable than not for the child to obtain the benefits that would be associated with receiving a higher amount of child support than is provided under the cap.

The primary residential parent can build the argument for additional support in many ways because the goal is to provide the child of wealthy parents with the advantages the child would have enjoyed if the parents were cohabiting.  Arguments have successfully been made for additional child support for purposes such as investment into an educational trust, athletic skills, extra amenities, and even other opportunities to begin a lucrative career.  Other available additions can include travel to study abroad and travel team sports or private lessons.

How is Money Above the Caps Going to Be Used?

Part of what the primary residential parent seeks to establish in these cases is that the child support will actually be spent upon or invested into a trust for the benefit of the child.  A detailed budget of current expenditures, along with documentation of proposed expenditures, is a combination that will help the court to understand what is being proposed to benefit the child.  Safe housing, nutritious food, private school, lessons, cultural and recreational activities, memberships, travel, and such other things as are directly involving the child should be the focus of the presentation.

Presentation of these types of detailed arguments can also help to rebut that after a certain amount per month, child support moneys will end up benefiting the primary residential parent or other household members for whom the child support paying parent has no legal obligation.  So while it might be true that a primary custodial parent who moves with a child into a safer neighborhood also receives a benefit, the emphasis should be placed upon how it benefits the child in terms of the child’s safety, opportunities for friendships, and progressive independence of movement between home and school.

Leading Cases as Examples

An often cited case on this topic is Helen Matlock Nash vs. Charles Mulle, 846 S.W.2d 803 (Tenn. 1993) determined by the Supreme Court of Tennessee.  The father’s earning history started at approximately $30,000 per year and climbed as high as $292,000.  The decision empowered the primary residential parent to put aside $1,780.17 per month of a child support order of $3,092.62 per month into a trust fund to be established for the child’s college education.

The court crafted the decision with great care, reaching back through more than 100 years of Tennessee child support cases to extract the consistent, guiding principles that supported its decision.  The court emphasized the goal of supporting a child in a manner reflective of both parents’ financial circumstances as a goal “…consistent with our long-established common law rule, which requires that a parent must provide support in a manner commensurate with his means and station in life.” (Citations omitted.)  The court also very plainly stated that “…the child of a well-to-do parent [should] share in that very high standard of living.”

It is worth considering an approach to these cases that highlights the lifestyle of the child support paying parent, particularly if they have other children who receive lifestyle benefits not otherwise available to the child.  In one case on this topic, the court commented on the parent’s multi-million dollar assets, the $1,700 house payment, the $1,550 car payments, and the $750 boat payment.  It also cited an $18,000 in-ground swimming pool recently installed at the father’s house. The case of Lisa Lynn Norton vs. Max Lane Norton, decided in the Madison County Chancery Court in 2000 remains an interesting illustration on the persuasive value of lifestyle information.

Trust Documents and Details for Contingencies Are Highly Recommended

Also interesting to note in high income cases is that the benefits of the child support payments may be given to the child even after the child support order has concluded.  For example, a child support order might conclude at age 18, while the child continues to receive the benefits of an educational trust accumulated during the child’s minority to pay for college after age 18.  In such cases, caution should be taken that a failure to actually use the accumulated funds for the intended purpose may create an argument for the parent who paid the child support to obtain a refund of such moneys.  The court order and trust document should clearly state what must happen with the left over funds.

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