Extraordinary Educational Expenses
The Tennessee Supreme Court recently considered whether a party must prove a "significant variance" in the child support obligor's income before a court can order a child support modification to pay private school tuition. According to Kaplan v. Bugalla, the answer is no.
The court first clarified that private school tuition is an "extraordinary educational expense" as that term is used in the child support guidelines. In this context "extraordinary" simply means "additional" to the base child support amount.
The court then addressed the "significant variance" requirement. T.C.A. § 36-5-101(g) requires a party to establish a "significant variance" between "the guidelines and the amount of support currently ordered" before a court can increase or decrease child support payments. The court held that this provision applies only to modification of the "minimum base" child support calculated under the guidelines--it does not apply to adjustments for factors such as extraordinary educational expenses. Instead the court applied the "substantial and material change in circumstances test," which applied when the case was filed. (The court noted that the guidelines have been revised to more directly address the issue of extraordinary educational expenses.)
The court's holding is not limited to educational expenses. The key point is that the significant variance test applies only to the minimum base child support amount.