Child Support Laws in Tennessee

By Tom Streissguth

The state of Tennessee provides for child support payments in cases where couples with minor children are divorcing. State law and guidelines set the amount of support, as well as the enforcement mechanism for collecting past-due support payments, health insurance payments, and reimbursement of uncovered medical expenses.

State Agencies

The Tennessee Department of Human Services administers the state's child support program. The Child Support Receipting Unit in Nashville processes child support payments, which are set by the court and given in a final divorce decree. The custodial spouse can ask the DHS child support enforcement agency to locate missing payors, establish paternity, modify support orders or collect past-due child support with garnishment orders issued by the courts.

Families First

Anyone enrolled in the state's public health program known as Families First must assign any child support payments to the program. The state uses the child support to reimburse the Families First benefits, then passes on any excess amount -- known as a "pass through payment" -- directly to the custodial parent. State law also requires that any parents that have enrolled in Families First send any support payments received directly from the non-custodial parent to the state. The state will review the child support amount every three years and may modify the amount if circumstances change.

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Either parent can appeal a decision or order in a child support case, or an administrative action taken by the state child-support agency. Parents can petition to modify support orders or change any adverse action by the child support agency; the latter appeal carries an appeal deadline of 15 days from the date of the order. In the case of a license revocation, the deadline is 20 days. Petitioners file appeals with the Division of Appeals and Hearings in Nashville; this agency then sets a date for a hearing on the matter, which usually takes place by telephone.

Enforcement Actions

Tennessee law allows for a variety of actions by child-support agencies in the case of past-due or unpaid child support. These include diverting federal tax refunds or other federal benefits such as Social Security payments; denying an application for a passport; an order of garnishment of wages; or seizure of assets such as money from a bank account. Those falling behind on child support in Tennessee also risk having their driver's license suspended or revoked.

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