Child support payments will change under new guidelines

  By Rozella Hardin
star staff
rhardin@starhq.com
  Some non-custodial parents -- usually fathers -- could pay less child support under new state guidelines set to take effect early next year.
  The guidelines give non-custodial parents credit for factors not previously considered in calculating child support, such as the custodial parent's income. It also gives non-custodial parents more credit for other children they have to support. The guidelines also lower the payments for non-custodial parents, who have more days of visitation and are therefore paying more of the children's living expenses in their own home.
  The new state child-support guidelines announced in November, according to state officials, are designed to be more fair to parents, giving weight to factors such as children from new marriages and the incomes of both parents.
  The guidelines will apply to new cases after January 18. However, the guidelines won't be applied retroactively. The Department of Human Services, which drafted them, made it difficult for people with child-support orders to switch to the new model next year.
  DHS officials did so after the lawyers raised concerns about the courts being unable to handle the flood of requests to change support orders. However, as many as half of all people who owe child support in Tennessee are behind in payment according to DHS Assistant Mike Adams, meaning that very few will seek the adjustment.
  Under the new guidelines, anyone who gets divorced and has a new child-support order after Jan. 18 automatically will be under the new "income shares" plan. Tennessee currently uses a flat-percentage support model that takes 21 percent of the income of the non-custodial parent for support of the first child and increases that with each additional child. Under the new model, the incomes of both parents, as well as the cost of children from new marriages will be used to calculate child-support payments.
  Parents who have existing child-support orders are going to have to meet certain criteria and petition a court or go through DHS to get their payments calculated under the new plan. Parents with existing child-support orders will have to show either a 15 percent change in income or have a new child or a significant change in circumstances to get into the new system.
  In addition to the incomes of both parents being included in new calculations of the child-support payment, it also takes into account expenses such as day care and health care.
  Women's rights groups have raised concerns that the new support model hurts children because it cuts child-support payments. They don't object to "income shares," but to the particular payment formula Tennessee is using.
  Fathers' right advocates have been concerned because they say the state is making it too difficult for people who have unfair support orders to get them changed. However, generally, they have applauded the new guidelines as a step in the right direction.
  DHS officials, who wrote the guidelines, say "income share" is used by 33 other states and is fair and takes into account the changing dynamics of the American family.
  The DHS noted that non-custodial parents generally get 80 days a year of standard visitation with their children. Under new guidelines, if a non-custodial parent spends more than 91 days a year with a child, that parent gets a break on child support obligation. In the past, parents got credit for extra time with children, but the state is giving a whole new formula to help calculate how much support is owned.
  However, the biggest supporters of the new model acknowledge that it is much more complicated to figure out.
  Under the "income shares" model, the support is calculated by looking at the incomes of both parents. Say a father, who is the non-custodial parent, makes $60,000 a year and the mother, who is has custody of the two children, makes $40,000. Under "income share," the father would pay 60 percent of the amount of support the DHS calculates two children should get with parents making $100,000 a year.
  It gets more complex when you factor in multiple children from multiple families and non-custodial parents who spend more time with their children.
  DHS says it will have an automated calculator on its Web site soon to help parents figure out the change.
  Guidelines on Web site

  The Department of Human Services has a copy of the new child-support guidelines on its Web site, along with other information about the "income shares" model.