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child support

I have people ask me all the time if the fact that the parents of the child(ren) have lived together after there has been a child support Order has any effect on child support. This question used to be somewhat of a grey area depending on the jurisdiction you were in and the judge hearing your case. However, last year the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed this very issue in Estes v. Estes, 37 TAM 21-8 (Tenn. Ct. App., M.S., Cottrell, Apr. 16, 2012).

In Estes, the parents were divorced in 2001 and reconciled in 2002. They did not remarry. The father was ordered to pay support by the divorce decree. When they reconciled, they shared a bank account into which the Father deposited his paychecks and from which the Mother paid the living expenses for the family. They separated again in 2006. When the Father filed a Petition to Modify Custody, Mother filed a Counter-Petition seeking back child support from 2002 to 2006. The Court of Appeals noted that the parents and children lived together as a family and paid expenses from a joint account. Mother agreed to and participated in this arrangement. Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that the Father had satisfied his child support obligation during the period of reconciliation.

How does this affect you? First, it would still be my advise to modify any prior Orders while you are co-habiting with the other parent of the child(ren). Short of that, as long as you are living together as a typical family unit and income goes into a joint account from which family expenses are paid, then you should be given credit for your child support payments made during this period of time. However, as many of you know, if the State has become involved in enforcing child support in your case, they make you sign documents acknowledging that any payments made that are different than what the Order calls for (i.e. through the State central receipting unit) will be considered gifts. This is in direct conflict with Estes. Nevertheless, I suspect that the COurt of Appeals would uphold the same finding. To be safe, however, have the Order modified to reflect the reconciliation or co-habitation.

Should you or anyone you know need assistance with child support, please contact The Reeves Law Firm and allow us to use our years of experience to your advantage.

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