Remarriage and Child Support in Tennessee

Learn how remarriage affects child support in Tennessee.

By , Retired Judge

Remarriage is a big step under any circumstances, but especially so if you're a divorced parent. If you live in Tennessee and have a child support order in effect, will remarriage affect existing support obligations? This article will address that topic.

Child Support in Tennessee

In Tennessee, courts rely on standard Child Support Guidelines to calculate support awards. The guidelines contain a child support schedule, which considers the parents' monthly combined adjusted gross income and the number of children involved. Once the court reaches the total figure, it prorates that amount between the parents, based on their individual incomes.

Courts can consider many sources of income to calculate support, including:

  • wages, salaries, commissions, fees, and tips
  • self-employment income
  • pensions, annuities, and retirement plans
  • dividends, interest, and capital gains, and
  • Social Security benefits, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance.

Some other items the court considers in setting child support are children's health expenses and work-related childcare.

The guidelines also provide for certain gross income adjustments. For example, parents can receive an income credit for other children they must support ("other" children are those who aren't the subject of the child support order being reviewed).

For more information on child support awards, check the Tennessee Department of Human Services website.

A Guideline Support Award Is Presumed Correct

When a court calculates a child support award using the guidelines, this support figure is presumed to be correct, but this presumption is "rebuttable," meaning that in certain situations using the guidelines might be unfair or inappropriate. If the court finds that to be the case, the law allows judges to deviate from the guidelines.

If a court orders a child support amount that's different from what the guidelines suggest, it must find that granting the deviation is in the child's best interest. Some items that may lead to varying from the guidelines are:

  • extraordinary education expenses
  • special expenses, such as summer camp and music or art lessons, and
  • hardship to either or both of the parents.

Modifying Support

A child support award isn't set in stone, and a court may modify it if a change is justified. Tennessee law allows a modification if there's a "significant variance" between the existing support order and the amount being requested. A significant variance is a change of 15% or more.

What are some of the circumstances that may lead to a significant variance? Examples are:

  • an increase or decrease in a parent's income
  • an increase in the child's needs
  • a parenting time (visitation) adjustment, and
  • a change in the number of children for whom a parent is legally responsible.

For more information on modifying a child support order, see Tennessee Rules and Regulations 1240-2-4-.05

The question is, does remarriage give rise to the significant variance needed to modify a support order?

Remarriage Can Affect Child Support

On its own, remarriage doesn't usually affect child support, because your new spouse doesn't have an obligation to support your children from a previous relationship. However, when you remarry, you may have additional income available for support.

A New Spouse's Income May Affect Your Ability to Pay Support

As mentioned above, your existing child support obligations normally aren't your new spouse's problem. But his or her income may affect your ability to pay support. Let's say that your new spouse is contributing to the household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, and groceries. By defraying some of these costs, your spouse has decreased the amount you personally need to spend on them. The result is that more of your individual income is now available for child support. The court can consider this when deciding whether to modify support.

A New Child May Result In a Modification

Another possible aspect of remarriage may be a new child's arrival. Tennessee law makes it clear that such an event is a viable reason to seek a child support order modification. The law states that the birth or adoption of another child whom you're legally obligated to support constitutes a substantial and material change of circumstances. This basically ensures that a court will review your request for modification. The court will consider this situation to determine if it results in the "significant variance" needed to justify changing the support amount. Be mindful that having a new child doesn't guarantee a decrease in support. It's up to a judge to weigh this, along with all the other relevant facts, and then make a final decision.

This article is only meant as an overview of remarriage and child support in Tennessee. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.

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