Tennessee Child Support Definitions

(1) Gross income.

(a) Gross income shall include all income from any source (before taxes and other deductions), whether earned or unearned, and includes but is not limited to, the following: wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, overtime payments, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, benefits received from the Social Security Administration, i.e., Title II Social Security benefits, workers compensation benefits, whether temporary or permanent, judgments recovered for personal injuries, unemployment insurance benefits, gifts, prizes, lottery winnings, alimony or maintenance, and income from self-employment. Income from self-employment includes income from business operations and rental properties, etc., less reasonable expenses necessary to produce such income. Depreciation, home offices, excessive promotional, excessive travel, excessive car expenses, or excessive personal expenses, etc. should not be considered reasonable expenses. In kind remuneration must also be imputed as income, i.e. fringe benefits such as a company car, the value of on-base lodging and meals in lieu of BAQ and BAS for a military member, etc.

(b) Variable income such as commissions, bonuses, overtime pay, dividends, etc., should be averaged and added to the obligor’s fixed salary.

(c) Gross income does not include the following: child support payments received by either parent for the benefit of other children; benefits received from means-tested public assistance programs otherwise exempt by federal law or regulation such as aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) and food stamps of Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

(d) If an obligor is willfully and voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, child support shall be calculated based on a determination of potential income, as evidenced by educational level and/or previous work experience.

(e) When establishing an initial order and the obligor fails to produce evidence of income (such as tax returns for prior years, check stubs, or other information for determining current ability to support of ability to support in prior years), and the court has no other reliable evidence of the obligor’s income or income potential, gross income for the current and prior years should be determined by imputing annual income of $25,761. This figure represents an average of the median annual income for Tennessee families as provided by the 1990 U.S. Census of Income and Poverty data for Tennessee Counties.

(f) When cases with established orders are reviewed for adjustment and the obligor fails to produce evidence of income (such as tax returns for prior years, check stubs, or other information for determining current ability to support), and the court has no other reliable evidence of the obligor’s income or income potential, the court should enter an order to increase the child support obligation by an increment not to exceed ten percent (10%) per year for each year since the support order was entered or last modified.

(2) Net income is calculated by subtracting from gross income of the obligor’s FICA (6.2% Social Security + 1.45% Medicare for regular wage earners and 12.4% Social Security + 2.9% Medicare for self-employed, as of 1991, or any amount subsequently set by federal law as FICA tax), the amount of withholding tax deducted for a single wage earner claiming one withholding allowance (copies of appropriate table will be provided to courts with guidelines), and the amount of child support ordered pursuant to a previous order of child support for other children. Payment may be ordered to be weekly, biweekly (every two weeks), semi-monthly, or monthly. In calculating net income for obligors who are under federal or railroad retirement programs or any other mandatory retirement plan which operates in lieu of the Social Security retirement program, the retirement contribution up to the current FICA tax rate should be subtracted from the gross income. Children of the obligor who are not included in a decree of child support shall not be considered for the purposes of reducing the obligor’s net income or in calculating the guideline amount. In addition, these children should not be considered by the court as a reason for deviation unless they meet the requirements of Rule 1240-2-4-.04(4).

(3) Percentage of Net Income. After determining the net income of the obligor, that amount is to be rounded up to the next dollar. That amount is then multiplied by the percentage below that corresponds to the number of children for whom support is being set in the instant case. The percentages are:

No. of Children --- % of Income
1 --- 21%
2 --- 32%
3 --- 41%
4 --- 46%
5 or more --- 50%


(1) Since these percentage amounts are minimums, the court shall increase the award calculated in for the following reasons:

(a) If the obligor is not providing health insurance for the child(ren), an amount equal to the amount necessary for the obligee to obtain such insurance shall be added to the percentage calculated in the above rule.

(b) If the child(ren) is/are not staying overnight with the obligor for the average visitation period of every other weekend from Friday evening to Sunday evening, two weeks during the summer and two weeks during holiday periods throughout the year, then an amount shall be added to the percentage calculated in the above rule to compensate the obligee for the cost of providing care for the child(ren) for the amount of time during the average visitation period that the child(ren) is/are not with the obligor

(c) Extraordinary educational expenses and extraordinary medical expenses not covered by insurance shall be added to the percentage calculated in the above rule.

(d) Any other extraordinary expenses for the child(ren) may justify increasing the support calculated in the above rule if the court finds that equity requires it.

(e) In cases where initial support is being set, a judgment must be entered to include an amount due for monthly support from the date of the child s birth or date of separation or date of abandonment whichever is appropriate, until the current support order is entered. This amount must be calculated based upon the guidelines using the average income of the obligor over the past two years and is presumed to be correct unless rebutted by either party. An amount should be included in the order to reduce the arrears judgment on a monthly basis within a reasonable time.

(f) Valuable assets and resources (expensive home or automobile which seem inappropriate for the income claimed by the obligor) of the obligor should be considered for the purpose of imputing income and increasing the support award in any case if the court finds that equity requires it.

(2) Deviation from the guidelines may be appropriate in other cases when the court finds it is in the best interest of the child(ren) including, but not limited to, the following:

(a) In cases where the Department of Human Services has taken custody of the child(ren) pursuant to a neglect, dependent, or abuse action and where the parent(s) is/are making reasonable efforts to secure the return of the child(ren) to the family; and/or

(b) In cases where physical custody of the child(ren) is more equally divided between the parties than occurs in a situation where one party has an average amount of overnight visitation.

(3) The court must order child support based upon the appropriate percentage of all net income of the obligor, but alternative payment arrangements may be made for the award from that portion of net income which exceeds $6,250. When the net income of the obligor exceeds $6,250 per month, the court may establish educational or other trust funds for the benefit of the child(ren) or make other provisions in the child(ren)’s best interest; however, all of the support award amount based on net income up through $6,250 must be paid to the custodial parent.

(4) In instances of extreme economic hardship, such as in cases involving extraordinary medical needs not covered by insurance or other extraordinary special needs for the child(ren) of the obligor’s current family, [child(ren) living in the home with the obligor for whom the obligor is legally responsible] deviation from the guidelines may be considered in order to achieve equity between the parties when the court so finds.

(5) In deviating from the guidelines, primary consideration must be given to the best interest of the child(ren) for whose support the guidelines are being utilized.