Domestic (Family Law) Cases

Income Determination for Child Support Purposes

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

Marcel v. Marcel, No. M2021-00594-COA-R3-CV, p. 7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 30, 2022).

Due to an element of discretion with child support decisions, we review a trial court’s decision concerning child support using an abuse of discretion standard; however, that discretion is hemmed in by the Child Support Guidelines and decisions must be made within the strictures of the guidelines. Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). This Court stated as follows regarding child support:

Under current law, the amount of support derived from a proper application of the formula in the Child Support Guidelines becomes the presumptive amount of child support owed. This amount of support is rebuttable. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(e)(1)(A); Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1240-2-4-.01(1)(d)(1) (Mar. 2005); Taylor v. Fezell, 158 S.W.3d 352, 357 (Tenn. 2005). Accordingly, trial courts may, in their discretion, deviate from the amount of support required by the Child Support Guidelines, State v. Wilson, 132 S.W.3d 340, 343 (Tenn. 2004); Jones v. Jones, 930 S.W.2d at 545, but when they do, they must make specific written findings regarding how the application of the Child Support Guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in the case. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(e)(1)(A); Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1240-2-4-.07(1)(b) (Mar. 2005).

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.

Regarding the abuse of discretion standard of review, “[a] court abuses its discretion when it causes an injustice to the party challenging the decision by (1) applying an incorrect legal standard, (2) reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision, or (3) basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.” Fisher v. Hargett, 604 S.W.3d 381, 395 (Tenn. 2020) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Harmon v. Hickman Cmty. Healthcare Servs., Inc., 594 S.W.3d 297, 305-06 (Tenn. 2020)). Although child support decisions are reviewed by an abuse of discretion standard, a trial court’s discretion is somewhat limited due to its requirement of adhering to the Child Support Guidelines. Richardson, 189 S.W.3d at 725.


Taylor v. Taylor, No. E2021-01281-COA-R3-CV, p. 6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2022).

Child support decisions are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Bastone v. Bastone, No. E2020-00711-COA-R3-CV, 2021 WL 1711098, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 30, 2021) (citing  Mayfield v. Mayfield, 395 S.W.3d 108, 114-115 (Tenn. 2012).


Mitchell v. Mitchell, No. E2021-01283-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 2, 2022).

The setting of child support is a discretionary matter we review using the deferential “abuse of discretion” standard of review. Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). “In making the court’s determination concerning the amount of support of any minor child or children of the parties, the court shall apply, as a rebuttable presumption, the child support guidelines” that are promulgated by the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Service Division. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5- 101(e)(1)(A). The Guidelines provide that a court may impute income “[i]f a parent has been determined by a tribunal to be willfully and/or voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.” Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1240-02-04-.04(3)(a)(2).


Robinson v. Robinson, No. E2020-01535-COA-R3-CV, p. 15 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 29, 2022).

“Willful and voluntary underemployment can impact the amount of child support and alimony to be paid.” Stockman v. Stockman, No. M2009-00552-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 623724, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2010) (quoting Lightfoot v. Lightfoot, No. E2001-106-COA-R3-CV, 2001 WL 1173297, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2001)). “Whether a party is willfully and voluntarily underemployed [or unemployed] is a fact question, and the trial court has considerable discretion in its determination.” Willis v. Willis, 62 S.W.3d 735, 738 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (citation omitted). Thus, this court will “accord the trial court’s findings of underemployment ‘a presumption of correctness, unless the preponderance of the evidence is otherwise.’” Stockman, 2010 WL 623724, at *2 (quoting Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 737–38 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005)) (citing Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d)).


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