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Top 21 Things To Know About Child Support in Tennessee

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Depending on the circumstances, facts and number of children involved, child support issues can range from simple to complex. Parents have a legal obligation to help financially support their children.

What Do I Need To Know About TN Child Support?

In this post, we discuss common questions about child support in Tennessee. You’ll also get straightforward answers. If you need help with child support issues, be sure to call attorney Jed McKeehan today at (865) 588-1096.

What Are Child Support Payments Based On?

Whether married or not, both parents in Tennessee are financially responsible for supporting their children. The amount of support to be paid will depend on both parents combined income. Also, the number of children involved and the parenting time that gets established will affect child support payments. The support amount will be calculated using a fee schedule and will include income from wages, salaries, commissions, tips, pensions, and retirement plans.

Once each parent’s income is calculated, the court will check for deductions. This can include self-employment taxes paid, Social Security benefits collected and any other credits a parent may have earned for supporting other children.

Be sure to watch our vlog post for more information on what factors determine child custody.

Who Decides What The Child Support Payments Are?

Child support payments are decided by the court using Tennessee’s child support guidelines. Keep in mind, an attorney may be able to help you navigate these guidelines in reaching a favorable result.

Tennessee judges and attorneys interpret the child support income worksheets and laws to establish how much support is needed to maintain each child and their quality of life.


Who Has To Pay Child Support?

Both parents are responsible for supporting their children. However, typically the parent who spends less time with the child is the one ordered to pay child support to the other parent.  Even when parents have equal time with the child, the parent making more money will typically be required to pay money to the other parent. The exact amount required to be paid will generally depend on income, the number of children involved and how much time a child spends with each parent. Ordering a parent in Tennessee to make support payments to the other parent starts with applying the facts to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines.

Does The Father Always Pay Support?

Child support obligations in Tennessee do not always fall to the father. It is based on both parents’ income and other factors, including how much time the child/children spend with each parent.

What Do The Child Support Payments Cover?

In general, Tennessee child support payments are designed to help cover the costs of maintaining the living standards of the child or children in question. It is also intended to be used to cover their basic needs. The support money may also be used by the recipient parent to pay for things like utilities and rent payments to ensure a safe living environment.

Is Child Support Required In Tennessee?

Yes, but there are some rare instances where a court may deviate from the support calculated for legal reasons. In this case, the deviation would need to include compelling reasons and will have to be approved by the judge. If you want to make the most compelling case for this, you need to talk with a family law attorney in Tennessee.

When Do Child Support Payments Begin?

Child support payments will start to accrue as soon as both parents physically separate. This is true whether the parents are married or not. Once the order is established, one parent will begin making payments to the other parent. They will also be ordered to pay child support to catch up for any back support. This is money owed for any time period in which payments were not made when the parents initially separated.

How Are Child Support Payments Paid?

Many Tennessee fathers and mothers wonder if their child support payments will be paid through the state, privately or another method. Both parties may agree that child support payments go between them without having to involve the state. However, a parent may choose to open a support case for enforcement purposes with the state at any point.

Do Alimony Payments Count Towards Child Support Payments?

No, alimony payments do not have a direct effect on payments required for child support.

What Is “Co-Parenting”? Does It Affect Payments?

Divorce courts in Tennessee define “co-parenting” as the agreed-upon parenting plan as established by the court. The exact parenting schedule will be determined by the court based on the time-sharing of the children.

For example, let’s say a parent agrees to 100 days per year. However, they end up only watching the child for 60 days. The court may likely decide that child support will be calculated by assuming 60 days of childcare, and not 100 days.

When making decisions in regards to custody of children, judges in Tennessee consider 15 factors to determine child custody before they make a ruling.

When Can The Child Support Be Amended?

Determining if and when support can be amended is complex. In Tennessee, ordered child support can be modified if one parent can prove a “significant variance.” This is the difference between what is being paid now and what would be paid under a modified order. The variance needs to be at least a change of 15% or more. Other issues that may make a parent eligible for modifying a support order include:

  • A child becomes disabled.
  • A parent’s income decreases significantly.
  • A significant change in health insurance premiums.
  • Increase in cost of child care.
  • A child moves in or out.
  • One parent has another child.

How Can You Request Changing Child Support Amounts?

In any of the previous circumstances, a formal child support modification request would have to be submitted to the court. Changes will take time to complete and the request is a complicated process requiring paperwork and documents to be submitted.

How Often Can Child Support Payments Be Modified?

Both parents have the right to ask for a child support order to be reviewed for possible modification at any time. However, if there are additional steps if the request is less than two years after another judicial or administrative review was completed. In that case, the parent requesting the new review will need to offer the caseworker relevant information that proves what changes have taken place to initiate the modification review.

When Do Child Support Payments Stop?

Parents paying child support are legally obligated to continue paying until a child turns 18. However, if the minor becomes emancipated, the payments can stop early.

If A Child Reaches 18 And Has Not Graduated High School, Do Support Payments Continue?

If the child listed in the child support order reaches 18 but is still enrolled in high school, the payments will continue to be owed. This is until they graduate or complete the grade they were in when they reached 18 years of age. In most cases, however, child support payments will not stop until the child has both turned 18 and graduated high school. One stipulation to consider is if the child is enrolled in an accelerated program. That that case, payments will continue even once the child is enrolled in college if they are still under the age of 18.

If I Become Unemployed, Will I Still Have To Pay Child Support?

If you become unemployed, you will be legally required to pay your child support payments. If you are paying child support and lose your job, you will need to act quickly and file a petition with the court to have your payments modified. In some cases, the court may offer the paying parent the option to apply for unemployment benefits. Payments can be deducted from temporary unemployment wages.

How Many Child Support Payments Can Be Missed Before Going To Jail?

There is no set number of missed child support payments that will send a parent to jail. However, you are probably risking jail time if you miss three months of payments in a row. Typically, delinquent parents will only be sent to jail if they don’t have a job to lose or are repeat offenders. Some will go to jail if it’s proven they have the money available for support payments but are found spending it on luxury items instead. If found guilty of refusing to pay when able multiple times, a parent may be sentenced to jail. The sentencing is up to 10 days in jail for each willing violation against the court order.

Can The State Of Tennessee Force You To Make Child Support Payments?

Tennessee’s Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) and the family law judges have many tools at their disposal to enforce orders. They can use many of the following options to enforce orders and collect payments. Some include:

  • Seizing investment assets and bank account balances
  • Intercepting federal tax returns
  • Withholding income and wages
  • Revoking a driver’s license or other professional licenses
  • Reporting the child support debts to major credit agencies (this can negatively affect your credit score)
  • Placing a lien on personal property or your home

Parents deemed to be violating existing child support orders are considered in contempt of the court. In Tennessee, the parent found to be in contempt may be ordered to pay the fees for the other parent’s attorney. This can also include any fines given and they can spend up to six months in jail.

Are Child Support Payments Taxable?

According to the IRS, child support payments are not considered taxable income. They are not deductible by the payor or taxable by the payee. When you are calculating your gross income to determine if you are to file a tax return, payments for child support cannot be included. Additionally, child support cannot be used when calculating the Earned Income Credit.

How Do You File For Child Support In Tennessee?

You may apply for child support online or at the child support office in your area. When visiting the online application website, you may apply through the site or download and print the application to take to the local child support office. You may also choose to mail or fax the application for processing.

Can You Obtain A Passport If You Owe Child Support Payments?

If you are more than $2,500 behind in child support payments, you cannot apply for a U.S. passport. You will need to pay your Tennessee arrears before you will be eligible to apply.


Child support laws in Tennessee play a crucial role in parenting time and child custody proceedings. Because of this, it is in a parent’s best interest to consult with an experienced family lawyer to help navigate this complex issue. The Knoxville Attorney, Jed McKeehan is available to help you best make it through the confusion that can surround custody laws in Tennessee. If you need help (or think you might need help soon, call Jed today at (865) 588-1096

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