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Tennessee Child Support
Child Support in Tennessee

In Tennessee, either or both parents may be ordered to pay child support. The courts consider these factors:

  • the financial resources of the child;
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had continued;
  • the child's physical and emotional health and educational needs;
  • the financial resources, needs and obligations of each parent;
  • the noncustodial parent's earning power;
  • the age and health of the child;
  • all contributions by each parent to the child's welfare;
  • any pension or retirement benefits the parents may have;
  • the amount of visitation (whether the noncustodial parent's visitation is over 110 days per year or under 55 days per year) the noncustodial parent receives;
  • and any other relevant factors.

The court may require that health insurance be provided for the child or the maintenance of an insurance policy for the benefit of the child. The court can require that the child support payments be paid through the clerk of the court. The posting of bond, wage assignments, and wage withholding may also be ordered. Standardized forms for determining child support are also available. Child support is described in Tennessee Code Annotated; Volume 6A, Title 36, Sections 36-5-101 and 36-5-501 and Tennessee Court Rules Annotated, Supreme Court Rules; Tennessee Uniform Administrative Rules Act, Title 4, Chapter 5.

Tennessee child support is typically calculated by using a Child Support Worksheet. The worksheet generates an appropriate Tennessee child support obligation according to each spouse's income and other relative numeric factors such as taxes paid and retirement contributions. Once this amount is determined it is essential to take a look at any appropriate Tennessee child support deviation factors that may be applicable to the situation. Additional information about Tennessee child support can be found in the Tennessee state statutes.

In 2004 and 2005, Tennessee promulgated the income shares model as a major overhaul of its child support regime. As described in 1240-2-4-.03, the Income Shares Model presumes that both parents contribute to the financial support of the child in pro rata proportion to the actual income available to each parent.

The Income Shares model differs from the Department's prior Flat Percentage model, established in 1989. Although federal law requires consideration of only the income of the alternate residential parent, under the Income Shares model, both parents' actual income and actual additional expenses of rearing the child are considered and made part of the support order.

The Income Shares model for determining the amount of child support is predicated on the concept that the child should receive support at the same level that the child would receive if the parents were living together. While expenditures of two-household divorced, separated, or single parent families are different from intact family households, it is very important that the children of this State, to the extent possible, not be forced to live in poverty because of family disruption, and that they be afforded the same opportunities available to children in intact families consisting of parents with similar financial means to those of their own parents.

Child support payment schedules may be arranged in various ways by the courts, sometimes weekly, biweekly or monthly, or the parents may be allowed to work out a schedule on their own for court approval.

The child support guidelines are found in Chapter 24 of the Rules of the Tennessee Department of Human Services - Child Support Services Division. Deviations from the child support guidelines are permitted only if there is a significant reason for a departure. For example, if the parent with the support obligation assumes responsibility for unusual expenses relating to the child--chronic medical care expenses, for example--the child support obligation calculated using the guidelines may be appropriate.

Tennessee requires wage withholding for a current child support obligation. Historically, income withholding was used only to collect past-due child support. Under Tennessee law, the court is required to issue an income withholding order immediately upon entering a child support order. If a parent with a child support obligation loses his or her job, the court has the ability to intercept tax return payments as well as to attach a percentage of unemployment or Social Security benefits pursuant to both Tennessee and federal law.

Calculate Tennessee Child Support

Other Expenses and Deductions

Extraordinary expenses are either add-ons, where the expense is added to the support payment, or deductions, where the amount is deducted, and indicated as either mandatory or permissive. Extraordinary medical expenses are considered mandatory deductions.

Generally, the decision as to which parent is going to provide medical insurance coverage for the child and how medical bills will be paid is set out in the marital settlement agreement. If it is not, the courts may order a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the child. Also, the Tennessee courts may order the parent responsible for child support to maintain a life insurance policy benefiting the child.

Child Support Enforcement

Child support is mandatory, and non-payment of child support is considered a criminal offense. If a noncustodial parent does not pay child support, he or she is subject to enforcement measures in accordance with Federal and Tennessee child support law to collect regular and past-due payments. These can include:

  • withholding of wages and other income;
  • seizure of assets identified by the Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) program;
  • interception of federal tax refunds;
  • denial of passport applications using the IRS Treasury/Administrative Offset program;
  • revocation of driver's licenses, professional licenses, and various other licenses;
  • reporting of child support debt to the credit reporting agencies;
  • and placement of liens against real or personal property.

More information about Tennessee Child Support Enforcement can be found at their website.


Generally, the child support obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later.

Deviation Factors

Deviations from the Guidelines may be appropriate for reasons where the court finds it in the best interest of the child. In such cases the tribunal shall consider all of the income available to the parents. Deviations must include written reasons for the deviation, the amount that would have been otherwise awarded, and a written finding from the court of how application of the Guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in the particular case and how the best interest of the children is served by the deviation.

The court may consider a deviation from the presumptive child support order, other than for other bases discussed previously in the Guidelines, for the following reasons:

  • extraordinary educational expenses ("reasonable and necessary expenses associated with special needs education or private elementary and secondary schooling");
  • special expenses, such as "summer camp, music or art lessons, travel, school-sponsored extra-curricular activities, such as band, clubs, and athletics [w]here special expenses exceed seven percent (7%) of the monthly basic child support obligation";
  • the child is in legal custody of another entity, such as the legal custody of the Department of Children Services;
  • time-related travel expenses;
  • extreme economic hardship;
  • low-income parents and
  • high-income parents.

Unemployment and underemployment are not considered valid reasons to depart from the child support requirements calculated using the child support guidelines.

Private school tuition, for instance, is a permissive add-on.

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