Nash v. Mulle
846 S.W.2d 803 (1993)

  • Mulle knocked up Nash during an extra-marital affair. Since then he had nothing to do with mother or child.
  • After the baby was born and paternity was established, Nash went to Court and received an order for $200 a month in child support.
  • A few years later Nash went back to court and asked for an increase in child support.
    • Nash argued that Mulle’s income had increased dramatically (from $30k a year to almost $300k!)
    • Mulle argued that the child couldn’t possible spend all that money, so it isn’t necessary to give the child so much.
  • The Trial Court awarded Nash $1312 a month in child support, and ordered Mulle to establish a trust for his daughter’s college of $1780 a month (aka a 529 Plan). Mulle appealed.
    • Mulle argued that under Tennessee law (T.C.A. §36-5-101), the maximum he could be forced to pay was just $1310 a month.
      • There are tables that judges are supposed to use when setting child support payments, but those tables maxed out at incomes of $6250 a month. Mulle was making almost $15k a month, so he was off the chart.
  • The Appellate Court reversed the trust. Nash appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the trust was unallowable because it improperly extended the parental duty of support beyond the age of majority.
      • Basically, child support is supposed to only go until the kid is 18, but this trust fund would support the kid in college.
  • The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed and allowed the trust.
    • The Tennessee Supreme Court found that if you extrapolated the tables to Mulle’s income, he would have to pay $3k a month, which is exactly what the Trial Court’s told him to pay.
      • The Court found that it wouldn’t be equitable to cap the amount of child support when one parent was making more money than the tables listed. Courts should instead extrapolate the amount fro the tables.
    • The Court found that while the child support payments may not extend beyond the age of majority, the benefits of those payments can. In this case, even though Mulle’s kid wouldn’t use the college money until after she turned 18, Mulle would be paying it to her before she turned 18.
      • The Court noted that Nash couldn’t be expected to suddenly pay for college when the kid turned 18, she had to start saving now, while the kid was young. Therefore the real ‘need’ for the money was now, while the kid was still under 18.
    • Mulle unsuccessfully argued that there was an equal protection violation because it treats different types of people (married couples and divorced couples) differently without a rational basis. However, the Court found that children of divorced parents suffer economic deprivation, so that was a rational basis.
      • On one hand, the courts can’t force married couples to save for their children’s education, but there was data that kids from divorced parents didn’t go to college as often as children of married couples.
      • Conversely, in Curtis v. Kline (542 Pa. 249 (1995)), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found this argument persuasive and found the use of child support to pay for college unconstitutional.
  • This case shows that whenever the child is the child of a parent with good fortune, then the child should benefit from that good fortune as if the parents had stayed together. It isn’t about daily living expenses only, so if the parent’s income would result in more child support than the child really needs, then the rest can go into a trust for college.