Tennessee Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court Ruling Remanding Case For New Child Support Calculation

In Tennessee, children have a legal right to be supported by their parents. Child support is how the Alternate Residential Parent or non-custodial parent sends money to the Primary Residential Parent (PRP) or custodial parent to be spent on the child’s needs. Child Child Supportsupport is governed by the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. The amount of child support owed is based on both parents income (calculated using an income worksheet) and the amount of time spent with the child.

Culver v. Culver is a child support case the facts of which are as follows:

Michael Todd Culver (Husband) and Lisa Culver (Wife) were married in 1992. The parties have two minor children. In May 2012, Husband filed for divorce. In September 2013, Wife filed a motion for contempt, alleging that Husband had failed to pay his court ordered portion of the children’s private school tuition. This case was tried in December 2013.

Both parties are college educated and in their mid-forties. Husband is a member of the National Guard, and also an information technologist at CSX Railroad. Wife is an auditor for the city of Chattanooga. Husband’s monthly income was $6,204.00, and Wife’s monthly income was $5,558.00. The parties agreed that they would each keep their own pensions from their respective employers. The parties stipulated that Wife should be the primary residential parent of their two daughters. Husband testified that Wife controlled the parties’ finances during the marriage and made poor financial decisions. Wife alleged that Husband dissipated marital assets.

Husband additionally alleged Wife received $500 per month rent from her sister, who lived with Wife.

In its ruling, the trial court found the value of their house to be $185,000.00, and by subtracting the mortgage of $167,000.00, the court found there to be $18,000.00 in equity. Therefore, the court found that Husband should be awarded $6,000.00 in equity and he was to quitclaim the home to the Wife. The court based the equity determination upon Wife’s spending while she was in charge of the parties’ money while Husband was overseas, and Husband’s dissipation of some of the assets of the marriage once he returned home.

The trial court additionally awarded $53,947 in marital assets to Wife, and $53,216 to Husband. The court assigned $31,709 in marital liabilities to Wife, and $17,041 to Husband. Wife was designated primary residential parent of the parties’ two children. When determining Wife’s income for child support purposes, the trial court found Wife received $500 in rental income each month from her sister.

Wife appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville raising the following  four issues:

  1. Whether the Trial Court erred in valuing the marital residence and its equity;
  2. Whether the Trial Court failed to equitably divide the parties’ assets and liabilities;
  3. Whether the Trial Court erred in denying Wife’s motion for contempt against Husband for his failing to comply with the Trial Court’s order; and
  4. Whether the Trial Court erred in adding $500 per month in alleged rental income to Wife’s income for child support purposes.

The Appellate Court affirmed the first three issues but reversed the fourth regarding the $500 per month rent stating the following:

This Court does indeed extend strong deference to trial courts’ credibility determinations, but here we are confronted with a specific finding of fact for which there is no evidence in the record which we can discern. That the Trial Court did not believe Wife when she denied receiving rent from her sister is not proof that Wife received $500 per month in rent from her sister. The mere allegation by Husband does not establish this as fact. Therefore, we reverse the Trial Court in its adding $500 per month in rental income to Wife’s income for child support purposes. Our holding on this issue requires that this case be remanded to the Trial Court for a new calculation of child support, this time excluding the $500 per month in alleged rental income from Wife’s sister for which there simply is no competent evidence in the record.

Accordingly, the Appellate Court remanded the case to the trial court for a new child support calculation.

If you believe the trial court erred in calculating your income as it relates to child support or are considering divorce and not sure where to start, you should seek the services of a competent, experienced family law attorney. Contact Donna Wagner to schedule a consultation.

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