Tennessee Courts Can Order Private School Tuition as Child Support

Is Private School Tuition an Extraordinary Educational Expense in Tennessee Child Support Law?

Barnett v. Barnett – Supreme Court of Tennessee decides private school tuition can be awarded as child support.

Paula Lynn Barnett (the Mother) and Robert McAlister Barnett, III (the Father) were divorced in 1986 after a fourteen-year marriage. At the time of the divorce, the parties’ son, Joshua, was three years old and their daughter, Katie, was an infant. The divorce decree required the Father to pay $2,167 per month in child support for both children.  In March, 1996, Ms. Barnett filed a petition to modify the child support award.    Based on the Father’s gross income of $209,206, the trial court set child support at $3,700 per month but ordered the Mother to pay private school tuition from that support award.   The trial court found that the son’s  tuition at a private school, was an extraordinary educational expense but ruled that the tuition be paid by the Mother from the $3,000 monthly child support. Continue reading

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How many years’ salary should be averaged for child support in TN?

How many years of salary should be averaged to determine parent’s salary for child support purposes in Tennessee?

DAVID L. ADAMS v. NANCY W. ADAMS – Tennessee Child Support Case Summary

How many years of salary should be averaged to determine parent's salary for child support purposes in Tennessee?

How many years of salary should be averaged to determine parent’s salary for child support purposes in Tennessee?

In 1994, Daniel L. Adams (“Father”) sued his wife, Nancy W. Adams (“Mother”) of 12 years for divorce.   Their two children were aged ten and eight years old at the time the divorce request was filed.  The Mother has a high school diploma and at the time of the divorce worked as a teacher’s aide in the local middle school and as the music director for a church.  In 1994, she earned $7,950.  The Father is a lawyer and a sole practitioner since 1988.  From 1988 through 1992, the Father’s income varied between $30,000 to $97,000.  In 1994, his income was $134,300.The couple was divorced on September 25, 1995.  The trial court found that the Father’s  gross monthly income was $4,600 and using this figure, awarded child support in the amount of $ 1,060 per month for both children.   In addition, the trial court ordered the Father to provide medical insurance for the children and to pay any medical costs not covered by insurance.The Mother filed an appeal asking that the child support be increased.  The Mother did not argue that there was a change in circumstances but rather that the trial court made a mistake in setting support at $1,060 based on a calculation of the Father’s gross income at $4,600.   The appellate court found that the trial judge used the income figures for 1992 ($55,824) and 1993 ($52,008) to determine the Father’s income.    The appellate court, however, held that the trial court could have come to a more realistic income figure by averaging the Father’s income over the last five years, including 1995 (no figures are provided for 1995).

The appellate court sent the issue of child support back to the trial court, and asked the trial court to determine the amount of child support using an average of the Father’s net income over the past five years, including 1995. The court was asked to calculate the Father’s  net income according to Rule 1240-2-4-.03 of the Child Support Guidelines, entitled “The Income Shares Model.”

The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, using the Income Shares Model,  take into account both parents’ income and the needs of the child or children.  Each child’s basic needs – food, housing, transportation, clothing and entertainment – are calculated on a monthly basis.  Gross income is then calculated for each parent.  Gross income is based on many sources of income, including, but not limited to, wages, salaries, bonuses, commissions, overtime, severance payments, interest, dividends, net capital gains, worker’s compensation, disability, prizes and lotteries, just to name a few.  Once the parent’s gross income is determined, deductions may be made based on various types of “credits,” such as self-employment tax, for self-employed parents.  In general, the amount of child support needed is divided by the AGI of each parent, determining the share each parent has to pay monthly.

No. 01-A-01-9606-CH-00281, Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Middle Section, at Nashville, January 8, 1997.

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

For more information, see Averaging Income in Tennessee Child Support Law and 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.

Double Jeopardy in Tennessee Child Support Law

Tennessee child support case law summary from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

Dorothy Jane AHERN (Pierotti) v. Robert Francis AHERN – Tennessee’s double jeapardy law and child support.

Dorothy Jane Ahern Pierotti, the Mother and Robert Francis Ahern, the Father  were divorced on June 25, 1993.  The divorce decree included a marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) and child support to be paid to the Mother for the couple’s two children.  The MDA also said that the Father must pay the majority (88.5%) of the health-related costs not covered by insurance, and a majority (88.5%) of the children’s school tuition.

In 1996, the Mother asked that the court to find the Father in contempt of court because he did not pay the full amount of child support.  The Mother claimed that the Father had not paid all of his children’s school tuition, his son’s braces and some dental expenses not covered by insurance.

The trial court judge, who had approved the MDA, transferred the case to the Circuit court in Division 5.  After hearing testimony from the Mother, the Circuit court judge decided the case should be heard in the original trial court and sent the case back to the trial court.  The trial court found the Father guilty of criminal contempt for failure to pay child support and sentenced him to 180 days in prison.  The Father appealed this ruling.

Civil and Criminal Contempt

The trial court ruled that the Father was guilty of criminal contempt because he had the ability to pay the child support and his decision not to pay it was willful and deliberate.  The trial court sentenced him to 6 months in prison for failure to pay support.  However, the law the trial court used for sentencing the Father limited the punishment to a fine of $50 and up to only ten days in court.  Neither the Mother nor the court cited the provision in the law that allowed for up to six months in prison.  Since the Father did not challenge the length of his sentence when he appealed, so the appellate court upheld the sentence.

Double Jeopardy in Tennessee Child Support Law

The Father appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee arguing that according to the rule prohibiting double jeopardy, his case could not be sent back from the Circuit court to the trial court and therefore his sentencing should be dismissed.  The double jeopardy clause appears in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same offense.  Double jeopardy is applied in Tennessee through  Article 1, § 10 of the Tennessee Constitution, which says that “no person shall, for the same offence, be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

The Supreme court agreed with the Father, citing Tennessee cases which ruled that once testimony begins in a trial, jeopardy begins.  Since the Mother had already given testimony in the Division 5 court, the decision by the judge to return the case to the trial court meant the Father was being tried a second time for the same offense.   The Supreme Court found that there was no opportunity for the Father to oppose the Circuit court judge’s decision to send the case back to the trial court, since she determined that it would be returned to the lower courts immediately.  As a result, the Supreme court reversed the convictions for contempt and withdrew the Father’s  sentencing.  The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings that would fit with the Supreme court’s ruling.   While the Father could not be punished for contempt, that is, for not paying the child support, he could still be required to pay what he owed.

15 S.W.3d 73 (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.

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. Continue reading

Tennessee Father’s Income for Child Support Can Include Stock Sales

Tennessee child support law in Tennessee divorce & family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Alexander v. Alexander – Calculating Gross Income for Tennessee Child Support

This decision breaks down into clear categories a number of sources of income and expenses which may be considered for purposes of child support.

Donald James Alexander (the Father) and Carolyn Paxton Morrow (the Mother) were   married for 12.5 years and had two children, who were 11 and 10 at the time of the divorce decree in February 1995.   The Father was ordered to pay $2,194 per month in child support in 1995.   In 1997, the Mother filed for an increase in child support, claiming that there was a significant variance, according to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines,  in the Father’s income to require an increase in child support.   According to Tennessee law, a modification may be made to the amount a non-custodial parent has to pay if there has been at least a 15% change in that individual’s gross income. Continue reading

Father’s Bonuses Should Be Averaged in Tennessee Child Support Law

Tennessee child support law on income determination (bonuses and commissions) in Tennessee family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Burnett v. Burnett – Calculating Bonuses and Commissions for Tennessee Child Support Awards

The Father, David Mark Burnett, an account manager with Fedex, and the Mother, Analiza Palatones, were married in 1999.  The couple had three children.  In 2003, the Mother filed for divorce.  At the time of the first trial, the Mother, 36 years old, had a high school degree and worked part-time as a waitress and part-time with Northwest Airlines, escorting unaccompanied minors.  In these two jobs, over a two week period, the Mother earned approximately $200.  The Father was 45 years old at the time of the trial and had been working for Fedex for sixteen years.  His monthly net base salary was $4,829 plus quarterly bonuses, which changed significantly from year to year.  In 2005, Husband earned  a yearly salary plus bonuses totaling $120,213.38.   In 2006, the Father’s FedEx earnings statement through October 14, 2006 showed gross earnings of $111,812.80, consisting of base salary plus bonuses. The Father’s affidavit showed his bonuses for 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 were $7,389, $20,810, $36,810, and $43,402, respectively. Continue reading

TN Father Sought Child Support Reduction Gets Increase $400 Per Month

Tennessee child support modification law in Tennessee family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Tennessee Father Who Sought Child Support Reduction Gets an Increase of about $400 Per Month Due to Large Cash Deposits into Father’s Bank Account Imputed as Income

Parris vs. Parris – Modifying Tennessee Child Support + Income Determination

The Father, Jerral D. Parris, was obligated by a 2003 decree of divorce to pay $1,250 per month in child support to the mother, Irina N. Parris, for the Parties’ two children. The decree included a “Permanent Parenting Plan.”

The Father filed a motion to request a downward modification of his child support obligation in 2005. A hearing was conducted in 2006, including testimony from six witnesses.

The Mother worked as a teacher’s assistant, earning gross wages of $715 per month, or, $8,266.56 per year. The Mother also supplemented her income by maintaining and renting six homes, taking in $100,004.52, less expenses of $16,354 in 2005. She also earned money helping prepare tax returns. The Mother provided her W2 and Form 1099 statements for 2005. Continue reading