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Child Support In Tennessee

The legal requirement to provide financial support for a child is both a common and significant issue that arises in many courtrooms in the state of Tennessee. Whether it’s a petition for contempt due to a parent’s failure to pay, a petition to change (i.e., modify) the amount of money owed, or the very beginning of establishing support, each of these can impact a person’s past, current, and future income and freedom.

Starting Support

Support for a child (or children) can arise in many ways. When a couple is granted a divorce, a parenting plan is incorporated as part of the divorce if the couple shares custody of any child. As part of the parenting plan, the court will establish, among other things, child support by inputting predetermined variables into an algorithm (i.e. calculator) to determine how much support, if any, is owed from one parent to another. Many factors are taken into consideration in computing how much support is owed, and it is of great importance that a person speak to an attorney about all of these factors before an amount is finalized.

Further, support may be ordered when a couple who was never married has a child, and the court is needed to create a parenting plan, laying out what rights each parent has. As part of the plan, the court will again calculate how much support is owed by one parent to another, just as if the couple had been divorced and set a parenting plan. Finally, a parent may ask a court to establish child support alone to ensure that support is being made from one parent to another. A court will then calculate the amount of support owed without ruling on other issues that arise in a full parenting plan.

Support To Someone Other Than Parent

In some cases, support can be established to be paid to entities or individuals other than the legal parents. For example, in a dependency and neglect matter, where a child is removed due to allegations of abuse or neglect, a court can order the legal parents to pay the Department of Children’s Services a monthly amount set by the court. Additionally, if another person is granted custody of the child due to allegations of abuse or neglect, those individuals may be granted support as well.

Modifying The Amount Owed

Several circumstances can change the amount of support owed to another. A significant change in one of the parent’s income can justify changing the support owed, whether such a change results in an increase or decrease. Additionally, when visitation amounts for each parent are changed, the support owed can then be recalculated. A brief consultation with an attorney can provide all the scenarios that can justify changing the amount owed.


It is important to note that any adoption makes the adopting parent responsible for future support should the parents divorce or otherwise require a court to set support. For example, if a stepfather is to adopt his stepdaughter and later divorce, the stepfather may then be responsible for child support if such is required based on the calculator results.

Failure To Pay

Once a Tennessee court orders a person to pay child support, whether it’s to another parent, the Department of Children’s Services, or anyone else for that matter, the willing failure to do so can be considered a “Contempt of Court,” which may result in multiple negative consequences, including incarceration. Such contempt cases can be brought by either the person or entity owed the support or by a local child support office, through the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.

Support vs. Gift

While many supporting parents often wish to provide assistance outside of the court ordered amount, such assistance is often considered a “gift,” which typically does not count towards the monthly obligation. For example, if a father decides to purchase a brand new set of shoes for his child, the father cannot then tell the primary parent that the father can discount the cost of the shoes from the monthly total. Additionally, the father could still be held in contempt and sentenced to jail for refusing to pay that amount.