Domestic (Family Law) Cases

Child Support Determinations

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

Lazaroff v. Lazaroff, No. M2022-01004-COA-R3-CV, p. 4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 26, 2023).

Although this appeal primarily involves a contempt action, to the extent that child support issues are also involved, we review those decisions “using the deferential ‘abuse of discretion’ standard” as well. Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). “An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court . . . appl[ies] an incorrect legal standard, reaches an illogical result, resolves the case on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or relies on reasoning that causes an injustice.” Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99, 105 (Tenn. 2011).

White v. Miller, No. M2021-01189-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 31, 2023). 

This court’s review of a trial court’s decision as to child support is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. State ex rel. Groesse v. Sumner, 582 S.W.3d 241, 250 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2019); State ex rel. Nichols v. Songstad, 563 S.W.3d 868, 871 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2018). While the standard for reviewing child support determinations is one of abuse of discretion, “the adoption of the Child Support Guidelines has limited the courts’ discretion substantially, and decisions regarding child support must be made within the strictures of the Child Support Guidelines.” Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). Appellate courts will set aside a discretionary decision by a trial court “only when the court that made the decision applied incorrect legal standards, reached an illogical conclusion, based its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party.” Konvalinka v. Chattanooga-Hamilton Cnty. Hosp. Auth., 249 S.W.3d 346, 358 (Tenn. 2008).

Stooksbury v. Varney, No. E2021-01449-COA-R3-JV, p. 5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar 27, 2023).

Although this appeal primarily involves a contempt action, to the extent that child support issues are also involved, we review those decisions “using the deferential ‘abuse of discretion’ standard” as well. Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). “An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court . . . appl[ies] an incorrect legal standard, reaches an illogical result, resolves the case on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or relies on reasoning that causes an injustice.” Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99, 105 (Tenn. 2011).

Waddell v. Waddell, No. W2020-00220-COA-R3-CV, p. 58 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2023).

“Because child support decisions retain an element of discretion, we review them using the deferential ‘abuse of discretion’ standard.” Richardson, 189 S.W.3d at 725.

Buntin v. Buntin, No. E2022-00017-COA-R3-CV, p. 6-7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2023).

Determinations regarding child support are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. See Mayfield v. Mayfield, 395 S.W.3d 108, 114-15 (Tenn. 2012); State ex rel. Williams v. Woods, 530 S.W.3d 129, 136 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017). As this Court has explained:

Prior to the adoption of the Child Support Guidelines, trial courts had wide discretion in matters relating to child custody and support. Hopkins v. Hopkins, 152 S.W.3d 447, 452 (Tenn. 2004) (Barker, J., dissenting). Their discretion was guided only by broad equitable principles and rules which took into consideration the condition and means of each parent. Brooks v. Brooks, 166 Tenn. 255, 257, 61 S.W.2d 654, 654 (1933). However, the adoption of the Child Support Guidelines has limited the courts’ discretion substantially, and decisions regarding child support must be made within the strictures of the Child Support Guidelines. Berryhill v. Rhodes, 21 S.W.3d 188, 193 (Tenn. 2000); Jones v. Jones, 930 S.W.2d 541, 545 (Tenn. 1996); Smith v. Smith, 165 S.W.3d 279, 282 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004).

***

Because child support decisions retain an element of discretion, we review them using the deferential “abuse of discretion” standard. This standard is a review-constraining standard of review that calls for less intense appellate review and, therefore, less likelihood that the trial court’s decision will be reversed. State ex rel. Jones v. Looper, 86 S.W.3d 189, 193 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000); White v. Vanderbilt Univ., 21 S.W.3d 215, 222- 23 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999). Appellate courts do not have the latitude to substitute their discretion for that of the trial court. Henry v. Goins, 104 S.W.3d 475, 479 (Tenn. 2003); State ex rel. Vaughn v. Kaatrude, 21 S.W.3d 244, 248 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). Thus, a trial court’s discretionary decision will be upheld as long as it is not clearly unreasonable, Bogan v. Bogan, 60 S.W.3d 721, 733 (Tenn. 2001), and reasonable minds can disagree about its correctness. Eldridge v. Eldridge, 42 S.W.3d 82, 85 (Tenn. 2001); State v. Scott, 33 S.W.3d 746, 752 (Tenn. 2000). Discretionary decisions must, however, take the applicable law and the relevant facts into account. Ballard v. Herzke, 924 S.W.2d 652, 661 (Tenn. 1996). Accordingly, a trial court will be found to have “abused its discretion” when it applies an incorrect legal standard, reaches a decision that is illogical, bases its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party. Perry v. Perry, 114 S.W.3d 465, 467 (Tenn. 2003); Clinard v. Blackwood, 46 S.W.3d 177, 182 (Tenn. 2001); Overstreet v. Shoney’s, Inc., 4 S.W.3d 694, 709 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005).

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