Tennessee child custody case summary on children’s college expenses after divorce.

Christy Keller Elrod Church v. Darrell Gene Elrod

The husband and wife in this Williamson County, Tennessee, case entered into an agreed order of legal separation 2002.  Among other things, it called for the father to pay child support in the amount of $3003 per month, based upon the husband’s annual income of $111,000 per year.

The agreed order also provided that the husband would pay college tuition and books for up to five years of college, up to each child reaching the age of 25.  This was capped at the in-state tuition rate charged at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).

In 2015, the father filed a motion to modify, and this was heard by the court in 2017.  At that time, the husband was 61 years old with an annual gross income of over $280,000.

Various issues were heard, including the college tuition for the youngest child.  The trial court held that the husband was required to pay the full in-state tuition at UTK, without any credit for scholarship or sponsor fees received by the child.  The husband then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  Among other things, he argued that the trial court should have given credit for the scholarship money.

After addressing the other issues, the appeals court turned to the question of college tuition.  It first noted that payment of tuition cannot be ordered, but in this case, the husband had a contractual obligation to pay, since he had agreed to the earlier order.  The job of the appeals court, it noted, was to interpret that agreement.

Tuition at UTK was about $12,000, but the child was attending a school where the full cost of her attendance was over $44,000.  This included housing and meals, and she received over $27,000 in scholarships and sponsor fees.  The husband calculated that he owed only $1,211 in tuition, after deducting the scholarships.

The appeals court agreed with the husband, and disagreed with the lower court, that the scholarships should have been taken into account.  After reviewing earlier precedents, the court found that the unique circumstances of the case called for the credit to be given the husband.

No. M2018-01064-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2019).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

To learn more, see Modifying Custody & Parenting Plans.

See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on Amazon.com.


Memphis divorce attorney and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. JD, CPA founded the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. The firm practices divorce and family law only representing clients living in Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Eads, Shelby Co., Fayette Co. Tipton Co., and the surrounding west Tennessee area. For more information, see our Meet the Team page.