When going through a divorce with children, establishing child custody and calculating child support are two key aspects of the process. Tennessee has adopted a set of “best interests” factors for establishing child custody, and all child support calculations are subject to a set of stringent guidelines.
However, while child custody and child support are two separate issues, they are also inseparably intertwined. In Tennessee, the parents’ custody rights are relevant to the calculation of child support under the Child Support Guidelines. As a general rule, the more time a parent spends with his or her children, post-divorce, the less he or she will be obligated to pay in child support (since he or she will be directly paying for more child-related expenses during periods of custody). That said, child custody is far from the only factor that is relevant to the calculation of child support, and divorcing parents must ensure that they are giving due consideration to all of the relevant factors involved.
Tennessee Child Support: Understanding Some Key Terms
When calculating child support under Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines, there are some key terms you need to know. For example, the Child Support Guidelines refer to the parents as the “Alternate Residential Parent (ARP)” and the “Primary Residential Parent (PRP).” These terms are defined as follows:
“The ‘alternate residential parent’ (ARP) is the parent with whom the child resides less than fifty percent (50%) of the time.”
“The ‘primary residential parent’ (PRP) is the parent with whom the child resides more than fifty percent (50%) of the time. The PRP also refers to the parent designated as such by Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-402 and, if not determined by these rules, the parent designated as such by the tribunal.”
But, what about a joint custody situation, where each parent resides with their children 50% of the time? The Child Support Guidelines refer to this as “Fifty-fifty Parenting/Equal Parenting.” They also state that this is considered a form of “Standard Parenting,” which is defined as:
“[A] child support case in which all of the children supported under the order spend more than fifty percent (50%) of the time with the same PRP. There is only one (1) PRP and one (1) ARP in a standard parenting case.”
In other words, joint custody arrangements are treated similarly to situations in which one parent has primary custody for child support purposes. And even though the parents share equal parenting time, one will still be designated as the “primary” residential parent and the other as the “alternate” residential parent.
Confused? You are not alone. While Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines are intended to ensure that both parents remain financially responsible for their children, they are also long, dense, and complicated. They have also been modified over time to address changes in societal norms regarding post-divorce parenting arrangements (which have affected Tennessee’s child custody laws as well), and this is why the provisions regarding joint custody (or “Fifty-fifty Parenting/Equal Parenting”) can seem particularly confusing. The good news is that there are tools and resources available. And while all divorcing parents are subject to Tennessee’s “best interests” factors for child custody and the Child Support Guidelines, parents who are willing to work together can structure custody and support arrangements that work for them in light of the unique circumstances of their divorce.
Preparing for a Divorce in Which One or Both Spouses Will Seek Joint Custody
Whether you and your spouse are on the same page with regard to custody or you expect to face challenges securing the parenting time you desire, there are steps you can take now to begin preparing for your divorce. Not only will these steps help you establish that your desired custody arrangement reflects your children’s “best interests,” but they will assist you in filling out the Child Support Worksheet in order to calculate child support as well:
1. Review Tennessee’s “Best Interests” Factors for Child Custody
Even if you and your spouse are generally in agreement with regard to how much time each of you will spend with your children after your divorce, you must still ensure that your parenting plan reflects the best interests of your children. You can find Tennessee’s “best interests” factors in Section 36-6-106 of the Tennessee Code. Importantly, not all factors will weigh equally in all cases, and there may be factors other than those listed that merit consideration as well.
2. Prepare a Budget
Knowing how much you will need in order to support yourself and your children – and to maintain your current lifestyle to the greatest extent possible – will be important in making informed decisions about all of the financial aspects of your divorce. With regard to child support in particular, how much do you spend each month on food, clothing, and other necessities for your children? What about health care and education expenses? What about non-necessary expenses such as sports teams, camps, and extracurricular activities?
3. Collect Your Income and Tax Records
Both parents’ incomes are relevant to the calculation of child support in Tennessee. In order to prepare for your divorce, you should collect copies of your most recent tax returns, W-2s or 1099s, paystubs, and any other documentation of your income. Child support requires consideration of income from all sources, including wages, salaries, tips, and supplemental employment.
4. Learn More about Parenting Plans
There is more to child custody than deciding which days of the week your children will spend with each parent. You will need to develop a comprehensive parenting plan that addresses issues such as decision-making authority, transportation, cell phones and screen time, and special parenting time for holidays and vacations. The more effort you put into addressing these kinds of issues during your divorce, the less conflicts you are likely to face down the road.
Speak with a Proven Family Lawyer in Confidence
Our family lawyers provide experienced, compassionate, and forward-thinking legal representation for divorcing parents in Clarksville and Springfield, TN. If you would like more information about child custody and child support, you can call 931-647-1501 or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation.