Tennessee Child Support

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Tennessee child support can be obtained by a custodial parent or parent who provides primary support for a child by petitioning the court for an order of support. A parent may seek an order of support as part of a court action for a divorce or as part of a court action to determine the paternity of a child. Court orders for support may also be obtained as separate legal actions brought solely for the purpose of getting child support.

When a parent needs help obtaining an order of support in Tennessee, state child support services exist to provide necessary assistance. The Department of Human Services (DHS) in Tennessee provides these child support services and their support staff offers assistance in locating missing parents and establishing paternity. DHS can also help parents establish an order of support, modify an order of support or enforce an order of support. Those who wish to take advantage of the assistance provided by DHS can visit their website for more information on applying for services or use the online "Find our Offices" tool to find the appropriate regional office to visit for help. 

It is important to note that the services offered are child support services only. Assistance with divorce, custody arrangements or other legal matters is not provided. Further, the parents are not offered legal representation or provided with legal advice.

How is Child Support Calculated?

In the state of Tennessee, guidelines are in place that help to calculate how much child support must be paid. The amount of support determined by these guidelines is presumed to be the correct amount of support and deviation from this amount either by a judge determining support or by parents who create their own agreement is appropriate only when there is a good explanation as to why a different amount of support is in the best interests of the child.

The Tennessee guidelines require that the combined adjusted gross income of both parents first be determined. This means that it is necessary to add up income from all sources from both parents. From this, taxes, existing child support or alimony payments, and other required expenses such as mandatory union dues or mandatory retirement plan contributions are deducted. The resulting adjusted gross income is then used to determine how much basic support the child or children will receive. This basic support amount is also affected by the number of children the parents have, as those with more children are expected to spend more on their basic care.

Once the appropriate amount of basic support is determined, each parent becomes responsible for a percentage of that support amount equal to the share of the combined family income he or she earns. The non-custodial parent will pay this amount to the custodial parent, along with his or her share of medical costs and childcare costs. If the non-custodial parent has some visitation time, however, the support obligation will be reduced based on the assumption that money is being spent to care for the child during the visits.

In order to determine how much support is expected in a particular case according to the Tennessee guidelines, parents may use the Child Support Calculator available for download on the website of the Department of Human Services. Downloadable worksheets are also available from the same website.

Enforcing Child Support

Child support orders in Tennessee are generally enforced through attaching the wages of the parent who is required to pay. Mandated wage attachment means that when a child support order is issued, money is taken directly from the paycheck of the parent who is obligated to pay, even before he or she receives the check.

When this method of enforcement is not sufficient to ensure that a parent pays, there are other enforcement methods used by child support services or by the court who issued the support order. The court, for instance, may hold the delinquent parent in contempt. The delinquent parent may be reported to the credit bureau; may have his or her driver's or professional license taken away; may have liens placed on property or have tax returns seized; and may sometimes face criminal charges.

Modification of a Child Support Order

When a child support order has been issued, it is expected to be followed. In some cases, however, a substantial change in circumstances will occur that will result in a need for modification of child support. At such time, parents may request that the court or child support services review the order to determine if modification is appropriate. 

Tennessee has outlined rules for when modification is appropriate and specifies in Rule 1240-2-4-.05(2)(c) that modification will be granted only if there is a "significant variance," although there are exceptions for low income providers. Essentially, this means that unless there is a 15 percent difference between the current support order without deviations and what the guidelines would specify the support order to be based on the family's current circumstances, there is unlikely to be a modification.

In addition, the Rules of the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Division specify that parents who are a recipient of Families First benefits will have their support order reviewed every 36 months to determine if the required support amount needs to change.

Getting Legal Help

Child support is a fundamental right of all children and parents who wish to get help with a child support case may turn to the Tennessee DHS. However, DHS provides assistance only with child support and not with divorce or custody issues. DHS also does not offer legal advice or legal representation to the parents. Therefore, parents who want to protect their own legal rights, who are involved in other legal actions or who have complex child support cases may benefit from speaking with an experienced family law attorney. 

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