How Is Child Support Determined in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, all courts and state officials must adhere to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines when determining the amount of child support to be awarded. These guidelines include using a streamlined system and a Basic Child Support Order (BCSO) calculation worksheet, which considers a number of unique factors when determining child support payments.

How do the BCSO worksheet and calculator work?

The Tennessee Department of Human Services’ website offers automated tools that are meant to simplify the process of calculating child support orders under the State’s Child Support Guidelines. The department offers both a downloadable Child Support Worksheet (spreadsheet) as well as a web-based calculator that serves as an automated version of the worksheet.

What about expenses and credits?

The first steps of the worksheet help parents determine their adjusted gross incomes and their respective BCSO shares. From there, additional expenses—such as those for health insurance, recurring medical care, and work-related childcare—are factored into the equation. The actual expenses are divided according to each parent’s percentage of their combined income and accounted for in each parent’s share of the BSCO. A parent may also receive credit for qualified other children for whom the parent is legally responsible and for whom the parent is providing support.

How is parenting time factored into child support?

Another consideration when calculating child support is the average number of days the Alternate Resident Parent (ARP) spends with the children. (A “day” is considered to be more than 12 hours of a 24-hour period whether it’s daytime or an overnight stay). Depending on the amount of time the ARP spends with the children, he or she may be eligible for a Parenting Time Adjustment.

When can the court impute income?

Income may be imputed when there’s no evidence of a parent’s income, or a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.  For example, a parent who stays at home to take care of children because the cost of childcare is more than the parent would be able to earn may not be considered willful unemployment. However, a parent simply stays home by choice and the amount of income he or she could be earning would be more than to offset the cost of child care may be considered willfully unemployment.

How do I modify an existing BCSO?

Both parents have the right to request a review to modify BCSO, however, a significant variance is required to modify an existing order. That means there must be a minimum 15 percent difference between the amount of the proposed child support order and the amount of the existing child support order.

Circumstances for a change might include children not included on the current BCSO worksheet; children who are on the current worksheet who are no longer dependent minors; and/or either parents has a significant change in income due to job loss/promotion, an inheritance, or prize winnings.

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