Private Agreement Between Parents For TN Child Support Not Enforceable

Tennessee child support law from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

Betty Berryhill vs. Charles Thomas Rhodes – Tennessee child support and private agreements not enforceable by paying parent

Questions arose in this case around notions of whether parents can enter into private agreements outside of the Tennessee “Child Support Guidelines.” The Supreme Court firmly ruled that once parents enter the court system, government statues and court precedents about child support will override private agreements found to be inadequate in supporting children.

The factual history of this case appears to have much impact upon the decision of the Supreme Court, as the decision was written with a pointed sympathy towards the Mother.

The story of the Parties began back in 1975 or 1976 when the Mother, Betty Berryhill, was a patient of the Father, a psychiatrist named Dr. Charles T. Rhodes.  A sexual relationship developed, and the Parties had one child, Anika, in 1977.  The Father paid the uninsured maternity expenses and started paying the Mother $200 per month.  Approximately 6 months later, the Father increased the payment to $300 per month.  Any requests by the Mother for an increase in child support were refused.

In 1995, after the Child was beyond 18-years of age, the Mother filed a petition to establish paternity and to request eighteen years of back child support in accordance with the Tennessee “Child Support Guidelines.”  An expert accountant presented testimony at trial relative to the Father’s income from what information was available.

The Mother was 46-years old at the time of trial.  She had been primarily employed with the TN Division of Rehabilitation Services since 1970, and also had part-time employment with Federal Express.  The Mother had provided the medical insurance and the uninsured medical expenses for the Child throughout her minority.

The Father was a practicing psychiatrist.  His earnings were as high as $333,856 per year.  During the Child’s minority, the Father divorced his wife and paid support for their two children.  By the time of trial, the Father was working part-time and contemplating retirement.

The Father only met his daughter for the first time when the paternity tests were ordered.  Although the Mother had sent him a photograph of the Child, after her birth, the Father was “explosive.”  There was no visitation or other contact with the Father during the child’s minority.

The sympathy of the Supreme Court favored the Mother.  Findings included that private agreements used to circumvent obligations of parents to support their children are against public policy.  Further, the Mother persuaded the courts that the Child should benefit from an upward modification of child support in excess of the guidelines amount because the Father exercised less than average visitation.

Basically, in the circumstance of little to no visitation, the court makes the standard child support calculation and then ads on an additional amount to compensate the primary residential parent for the additional time providing for the child.  This upward deviation of child support is mandatory under Tennessee Comp. Rules & Regulations section 1240-02-04-.04(1)(a)-(d).

The case was remanded back to the trial court to collect further evidence on the Father’s income and for the trial court to determine the proper amount of child support, less credit for any payments remitted.  The Supreme Court directed the trial court to also follow the requirement for an upward deviation of child support in excess of the basic calculation because of the lack of contact of the Father with the Child.

Two justices dissented from the majority opinion of the Supreme Court, specifically on the point that private agreements for child support should not be considered void by definition.

Betty Berryhill vs. Charles Thomas Rhodes, 21 S.W.3d 188 (Tenn. 2000).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

For more information, see Tennessee Child Support Answers to FAQ’s.  For legal updates, news, analysis, and commentary, visit our Tennessee Family Law Blog and its Child Support category.  A Memphis child support attorney from the Miles Mason Family Law Group can help you with Tennessee child support issues including setting or modifying child support. To schedule your confidential consultation about Tennessee child support, call us today at (901) 683-1850.

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