Downward Adjustments in Alimony or Child Support

Persons seeking to lower their alimony or child support obligations due to changed economic circumstances should be familiar with the term "voluntary underemployment."  Before allowing reduced payments, the court will examine whether the unemployment or underemployment is willful.  It will look at evidence and hear testimony on past and current employment and the reasonableness of taking the current job.

Cocke v. Cocke, 2016 WL 1613205 (Tenn. Ct. App., Apr. 19, 2016)  is a case study in what NOT do if you want to prevail on this issue.  The Mother may have made a strategic mistake by starting things with a petition to modify child support, wherein she asked that the Father be ordered to pay a pro rata share of their 15 year old daughter's private school and extracurricular expenses.  Father responded with a motion to modify child support.

Mother held a journalism degree but limited her work to part-time swim lessons, which she described as "pretty exhausting."  While able to recall precise details about her daughter's soccer expenses, she could not recall much about her own income or produce supporting documentation.  The trial court did not find her believable and granted the Father's motion.  Mother was ordered to pay $11,290 in past arrearages and $113 per month going forward after the proof showed the daughter was spending substantially more time with the Father than reflected in the parenting plan.

Be careful what you ask for when you demand your day in court and know what you can and cannot prove.  Persons seeking to reduce payments should be prepared to detail all income, expenses, efforts to generate more income and/or reasons for remaining unemployed or underemployed.  Once again, the trial court's conclusions on these issues will be given much respect and deference by the Court of Appeals.