Abney v. Pace (Tennessee 2021)

No. M2020-00182-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2021)
August 2021

If a parent provides  health insurance for a child on top of the court-ordered insurance, the cost must be a reasonable for the parent to receive credit for the premium. In the parent’s divorce decree, the father was ordered to pay support and provide health insurance. The father filed to modify support. The mother answered claiming the father had not provided her with proof of the insurance and she counterclaimed for contempt for failure to pay support. The mother obtained health insurance for the child and requested credit for the premium. She argued no significant variance existed to justify the modification, but this argument hinged on her receiving credit for the premium. The trial court found the father had provided insurance as ordered and declined to give mother credit for her premium. The final order modified support and held the father in contempt but found it cured. While the father had technically failed to pay support as ordered, he ended up with an overpayment as a result of the modification. The overpayment purged the contempt. The mother appealed. The appellate court affirmed. It found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision. Her request for credit for the premium hinged on the definition of reasonable. The trial court properly found the mother’s cost unreasonable as the Father had already provided insurance as ordered. The amount of presumptive support then met the variance requirement for modification, so support was appropriately decreased. Civil contempt is meant to encourage compliance, and it was within the trial court’s discretion to use the overpayments to purge the contempt.