Note: The following post, like all at the Collaborative Compound, is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice. It should also not be seen as the solicitation of or the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Legal advice is what you pay for.
If you’re reading this, by now you should have read Parts One and Two of my guide to the Tennessee Parenting Plan. If you’re filling one out as you go along, this is the point where you deal with the most troubling aspect of the Parenting Plan to many–child support and taxes. Money matters are a universally troubling aspect to discuss, so I will tackle this subject as delicately as possible while keeping all the information pertinent.
Tennessee takes child support very seriously. There are courts devoted to enforcing child support orders. Failure to pay can result in a finding of contempt by these courts, which carries penalties from revocation of your driver license to outright incarceration when too much arrearage accumulates. Therefore, know that payments, no matter how negligible they may be, matter. Take this section seriously.
The child support amounts are non-negotiable in state. The exact formula is determined by an algorithm that factors in numerous qualities and looks at the gross income of the mother and father, plus the expenses each incurs as part of their circumstances and situations. This means things like insurance, clothes for the kids, gas, medical bills, and more will be factored into the equation. When you take all of the statutory factors and plug them in, a number will come out for one parent or another–and that’s the amount owed. There’s little to do about it; deviations are possible but usually only through the express agreement of the parties. Each deviation must be approved by a judge before taking effect.
You can agree to deviations in child support, but make sure you list the rationale for the deviation on the appropriate line in Section III. Otherwise, the Court will determine no deviation exists and expect the paying parent to meet their obligations.
You can download a child support worksheet from the TNCourts.gov website, and you can find a handy child support calculation app if you search for “TN Child Support Calculator” on the iOS App Store. Make sure you fill in the worksheet completely and then attach it to the Parenting Plan before submission to the Court. Tennessee requires the Child Support Worksheet–no matter what the amount–be attached as an exhibit to the Parenting Plan, so make sure you cover this step before submission.
The last step is to determine how the payments are made to each party. It’s generally a good practice to select the Central Child Support Receipting Unit in Nashville as the place where all child support payments are to be received. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first notably being that the Nashville office keeps records of all payments it receives viewable online. Second, if the Nashville office isn’t receiving the payments, you will have the might of the State backing your agreement.
Once payments are started, remember to keep sending them to the appropriate place. Also remember that it is the discretion of the other parent to spend the child support money as he or she sees fit, not yours. Finally, remember this rule: you may buy diapers, wipes, toys, clothes, and more for your children, but if you owe child support monies the State considers these “discretionary gifts” and any money spent on such items do NOT count toward your monthly child support obligation. Therefore, it’s best for the parties up front to agree the child support will come in financial compensation, to a neutral unit, and to not question how it is spent.
With child support finished, the last money matter to discuss is the Federal Income Tax exemption. This matter is kind of a toss-up, and you can really write it any way you want. Mom or Dad can claim the children as dependents for any given year, each year, or another worked arrangement as you see fit. Just make sure that you list which parent is receiving child support at the top of the section as well. Also note the parent entitled to the exemption from their taxes MUST get IRS Form 8332 from the other parent by February 15 of the year the tax return is due.
There is one more section to the Parenting Plan, and that’s the “Parent Education” class on the final page. Check online to see where you can get an approved class; they range in time and in price depending on where you are. Ideally you will want to be able to check “Both parents” in this section before submitting the Parenting Plan to the Judge, as submission without attending the class starts a timer the moment the papers are handed to the judge that ends in contempt after 60 days.
Congratulations! Reward yourself as you have now completed Tennessee’s Parenting Plan! The last thing to remember is that when this document is signed by a judge and both parties it becomes a legally binding contract. The mother and father are required to live up to all the provisions in the Plan until such time as the Plan is modified by both parties or a Court order. Make sure you and your spouse are both as comfortable as can be with these provisions before you turn in the Plan for entry. Then celebrate, knowing one of the hardest parts of the divorce process is over. If you can complete a Court document that painstakingly details how you will raise your children without attorney intervention or a mediator’s reference, imagine what else you can do!