Tennessee child support case summary on income determination.
Ronald Mercer v. Brandi Chiarella
View oral arguments on YouTube.
The parents in this Williamson County, Tennessee, case were never married and had one child together. The father resided in Tennessee, and the mother, who was the primary residential parent, resided in Chicago. Most recently, the father had been awarded 86 days per year of parenting time, and his child support obligation had been set at $1550 per month.
In 2017, the father filed a petition to modify the child support. The mother responded by requesting an increase. The final hearing on this motion came in 2020, and the most contested issue was the father’s income. The father called his CPA, Sherry Conner, as a witness, who testified that he earned the bulk of his income from interest, based upon loans he had made during his years playing professional basketball.
After hearing the evidence, the trial court, Judge Michael Binkley, set the father’s income at about $154,000 per year, and the mother’s at about $10,000 per month. Based upon this finding, the trial court set the father’s child support at $838 per month, and also awarded him attorney’s fees of about $14,000. The mother then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The mother first argued that the father was voluntarily underemployed, and that income should have been imputed for that reason. However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that this issue had not been raised in the trial court. Therefore, that issue was waived.
The mother next argued that the trial court should have based the father’s income not on just a single year, but by averaging the previous two years. However, once again, the appeals court pointed out that this issue hadn’t been raised in the lower court.
Finally, the mother pointed to the father’s assets, and argued that the lower court should have imputed a reasonable rate of return on those assets. The appeals court acknowledged that the child support guidelines allowed imputing income to significant non-income producing assets. Unfortunately for the mother, however, there was no evidence in the record as to what those assets were. There was some evidence as to assets several years earlier, but the trial court had rejected this evidence as being too old.
The appeals court agreed that this had been a proper approach. Therefore, it ruled that the trial court’s judgment was correct. The appeals court also affirmed the award of attorney’s fees to the father, but declined to award attorney’s fees for the appeal.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
No. M2020-00602-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 25, 2021).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more, see Child Support Laws in Tennessee.
See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring actual examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on Amazon.com.