What You Need to Know About Tennessee’s Child Support Laws
Child support is one parent’s obligation to pay the other parent for the support and maintenance of their child. Here’s everything you need to know about Tennessee’s child support laws.
Tennessee uses statewide child support guidelines that take into account both parents’ gross income combined with parenting time to determine a child support order. Child support in Tennessee includes a Primary Residential Parent (PRP) who receives the child support and an Alternate Residential Parent who pays the child support.
What is Child Support?
Any divorce, legal separation, or paternity lawsuit in Tennessee will raise the issue of child support. Tennessee law states that both parents are equally responsible for the care, nurture, welfare, education, and support of their child.
In most cases, the alternate residential parent will be the only one to pay support to the parent with whom the child spends the most time. The most important factors for courts to determine child support orders are each parent’s income and how much time the child will spend with each parent. Each parent’s gross income is calculated through worksheets and applied to child support guidelines to determine how much support the court will order.
Determining Parents’ Adjusted Gross Income
Getting a child support order begins with the application of the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. To use these worksheets, each parent must determine their gross income with Tennesee’s Child Support Worksheets. Income parents will have to claim include:
- Earned income (salary, wages, commissions, tips, severance pay)
- Alimony payments from other relationships
- Capital gains (profit from capital investments & real estate)
- Business income
- Rental income
- Unemployment or disability income
- Investment income
- Retirement income
- Winnings and prizes (from gambling, lottery, prizes)
- Gifts (including inheritance)
- Windfalls (any other unexpected profits)
Income that is not included when calculating gross income for parents is other child support payments from other relationships, public assistance from welfare programs, adoption assistance subsidies, or the child’s income.
If a parent is voluntarily unemployed, a judge will determine an income based on the parent’s employment history, education, and training and order that amount to be paid.
Courts will use each parent’s adjusted gross income determined by the child support worksheet combined with the statewide child support guidelines to determine how much will be paid.
Child Support Guidelines
Tennessee’s child support guidelines are very detailed to ensure the most beneficial support order for the child. Courts will apply each parent’s income to the guidelines to determine the amount of support. Although the most important factors are income and parenting time, there are several other factors the guidelines will take into account.
The guidelines allow adjustments to be made for health insurance, education costs, and work-related child care. They also take into account “add-ons” which include extra-curriculars, tutoring, camps, or sports that a child may want to participate in.
Since parenting time is a primary factor in determining child support, the support orders may change from the basic child support obligations depending on how much time the alternate residential parent sees their child. If the alternate residential parent spends 69 days or less with their child, their support order may increase, while spending over 92 days with them may reduce the amount ordered.
Paying and Modifying Child Support Orders in Tennessee
Child support may be paid from a parent’s income or property, including pension or retirement funds. Typically, payments are made through income withholding where the alternate residential parent’s employer will take the amount out of the parent’s paycheck and send it to the state’s disbursement unit to pay the parent. However, if a judge approves, payments can be made directly to the parent or to a court clerk.
If a parent refuses to pay child support, Tennessee has several ways to ensure the money is received. Enforcement measures include:
- Liens on parent’s property
- Revoking certain licenses
- Seizing bank accounts
- Denying passports
- Reporting to credit bureaus
Parents can ask to modify child support orders in special circumstances. If an adjustment to a child support order is made, however, it cannot be retroactively granted. Situations in which a child support modification may be granted include:
- If the parent moves the child to another state
- If the amount is inadequate or excessive
- If either parent has a significant change in income
- If the child requires more support such as medical issues or therapy
FAQs About Child Support in Tennessee
How long do I have to pay child support?
Child support payments are required until the child turns 18, or until they graduate high school if they are expected to turn 19 before graduation.
What if both parents spend equal time parenting the child?
If the parents decide to have equal parenting time or split custody, which means each parent cares for one child full time, courts will use different guidelines to determine if child support is necessary and how much should be paid.
Can parents decide on child support on their own?
Parents may agree on child support orders on their own terms as part of a divorce settlement agreement, but it must be reviewed, approved, and signed off by a judge.