Receiving child support is sometimes easier said than done. Although a parent’s duty to financially support his or her child continues after separation or divorce, some parents ignore their child support obligations. It can be frustrating if you share a child with a parent who ignores a child support obligation. However, Tennessee’s family law courts and the Division of Child Support Services has a number of ways to enforce child support orders through income withholding and imposing liens. Parents who continue to shirk their child support obligations can also face severe penalties, including contempt of court charges, which may result in fines and jail time under certain circumstances.
This article explains how to establish and enforce child support orders in Tennessee. If after reading this article you have questions about obtaining or enforcing a child support order, contact a local family law attorney for assistance.
Establishing Child Support
Following a separation or divorce, one parent will typically spend less time with their child and will be required to pay child support – generally referred to as the noncustodial parent. In Tennessee,the amount of monthly child support to be paid by the noncustodial parent depends primarily on the parents’ relative incomes. For more information on how child support is calculated in Tennessee, see Child Support in Tennessee.
A child support order will identify the monthly support amount. These orders must be obeyed as long as the child support order exists or until the child reaches the age of 18 and graduates high school (unless other requirements are included in the order).
Child support is not automatic, you must get a court order to establish child support. You can obtain a child support order a number of ways. One way is by reaching an agreement with the other parent and having a judge approve your agreement and issue an official child support order. If you and the other parent can't agree, you (or your attorney) may bring a child support action in court. However, if you cannot afford an attorney, you can obtain a child support order through Tennessee’s Division of Child Support Services (DCSS).
Tennessee’s Division of Child Support Services
Tennessee’s DCSS assists parents who need to establish a child support order.
The services provided by DCSS include:
- establishing paternity
- establishing child support orders
- enforcing child support orders
- establishing and enforcing health insurance coverage, and
- obtaining and distributing child support payments.
Read the Tennessee Department of Human Services Child Support Services Fact Sheet for more information on opening a case and the services provided by DCSS. If you are a parent receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), DCSS services will be free, although other applicants will have to pay a small fee for these services.
A child support order registered with DCSS allows funds to be automatically deducted each month from the noncustodial parent’s wages or paycheck. If the noncustodial parent is unemployed or does not receive a traditional income, DCSS can withhold child support from the noncustodial parent’s unemployment payments, Worker’s Compensation funds, Social Security benefits or veteran’s disability benefits.
What Happens When a Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support?
Tennessee’s DCSS and family law judges have several tools to enforce child support orders and collect payments when support is not being paid. These include:
- withholding wages or other income
- seizing bank or investment assets
- intercepting federal tax refunds
- revoking driver’s licenses and/or professional licenses
- reporting the child support debt to credit agencies, which can have a negative impact on credit scores, and
- imposing a lien against home or personal property.
In addition to the above, DCSS may file a child support enforcement action with the court on your child's behalf. You may also hire an attorney to file a child support enforcement action who will argue for you in court, or you may file the paperwork yourself. If you decide to bring an enforcement action on your own and not through DCSS, you will be required to file the correct legal paperwork and represent yourself at the court hearing.
If the judge decides that the noncustodial parent violated the existing child support order, that parent will be held in contempt of court. A Tennessee parent found in contempt may be ordered to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees, fines or be ordered to spend up to 6 months in jail.
If you have additional questions about how to enforce a child support order in Tennessee, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For more information on the enforcement of child support orders in Tennessee and to read the relevant child support statute, see Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 36, Chapter 5, et seq.