Child Support is both a crucial an integral part of every case in Tennessee involving children. In both divorce cases with children and parentage and custody cases where the parents were never married to each other, child support must be set according the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. Tennessee law requires both parents to support their children, whether the parents are married and seeking a divorce or whether the parents have never been married and child support can be paid by either the mother or the father. There is no presumption that the father must pay child support to the mother in all cases and the child support laws are gender neutral.
The Tennessee Department of Human Services is responsible for administrating the child support enforcement program and responsible for creating the rules, or the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, which govern child support. Child support is calculated using Tennessee’s “Income Shares Model” which determines child support between the parents by considering, among many other factors, the number of days per year the child spends with each parent, each parent’s total gross income from any source, the costs of work-related childcare, the costs of medical insurance premiums and regular uncovered medical expenses, and many other variables. The actual amount of the child support obligation will be calculated by using the Tennessee Child Support Worksheet as promulgated by the Department of Human Services.
If the parents are married or living together in the same household with their child or children, child support will be due from the obligor parent to the other parent usually beginning on the date of the parties’ separation. If the parents were never married and/or do not live together in the same household, the child support obligation will usually begin at birth of the child. The courts may order retroactive support for periods when the parents did not live together and no support was paid by the obligor parent.
There are many avenues available to the State and/or the parent who should receive child support to enforce a child support order. A non-custodial parent who fails to pay or refuses to pay child support could face incarceration, automatic income withholding (called wage assignment), withholding of income tax refunds, seizure of assets including bank accounts and investment accounts, liens against property, revocation of professional licenses, drivers licenses, and some other licenses, the denial of a passport or passport renewal, and reporting of the child support debt to the credit reporting bureaus.
Once child support has been set according to the Child Support Guidelines the support obligation typically continues until the child reaches the age of eighteen (18) or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. The amount of child support can also be reviewed or modified either administratively by the Department of Human Services or by request of one parent to the court. There are specific rules and laws that govern when child support can be modified or terminated and the parents cannot agree between themselves to modify or terminate a child support order without court approval. Also the parents cannot agree to pay less child support then what is calculated by the Tennessee Child Support Worksheet.
If you have children and are contemplating divorce, or if you have children but are separated and have never been married to your child’s other parent you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney to address your child support concerns.