Fichtel v. Zirwas (Tennessee 2019)
A bonus payment, structured to benefit a business, may not be income for child support. Depreciation is not necessarily deductible for child support income. The mother, a doctor, filed a petition to relocate the children to Ohio. She had remarried and taken a job with a much lower income. The trial court denied her petition and calculated support. In determining the father’s income, the trial court excluded a bonus and included depreciation from his business. The trial court also found that the mother’s decision to take a lower paying job was reasonable. The mother appealed the denial of the petition for relocation and the calculation of the father’s income. The father appealed the finding of reasonableness with respect to the mother’s new job. Specific to the child support arguments, the Court of Appeals upheld the district’s court’s decision to withhold the bonus from the father’s income. It found credible the testimony that the bonus was not intended to be income to the father, but was a mechanism to control his tax liability. The Court remanded the case for further findings regarding the depreciation. If found the order did not contain sufficient findings to determine if the depreciation was a reasonable business expense. The Court further found that while the mother’s decision to leave her high paying job was voluntary, it was reasonable under the circumstances.