Tennessee Child Support Laws

Child Support Laws as they apply to the state of Tennessee

Tennessee child support laws allow the court system to enforce upkeep payments through jail time, fines, or criminal contempt charges.

The vital question is not how the state enforces child support, but rather what can you do to guarantee that your child gets the emotional and financial support he or she needs for a healthy childhood?

Or if you are the one paying. The questions you might have include;

How do I know that the amount on my child support order is fair? What are the rights of the custodial and non-custodial parent? Is it possible to lower your child support obligation early?


Find all the answers below.

How to apply for child support in Tennessee

As in all states, Tennessee Child Support Laws allow any parent, caretaker, or non-custodial parent to apply for support regardless of income.

Furthermore, under Title IV-D of the social security act, the Tennessee Department of Human Services has the authority to enforce child support and provide related services. So, to apply for assistance/support, below are the steps to take:

There are two ways to apply for child support in Tennessee.

Option 1: apply for child support online in Tennessee.

To apply online, you must first create a DHS account here, then download the application form.

Apart from this service, the DHS may also assist in the location of the non-custodial parent, child paternity establishment, enforce child support orders, review, and modify support orders, and collect child support arrears.

Option 2: locate local child support offices here and apply in person.

What to remember:

According to the DHS, the more information you provide, the easier it will be to process your application. Accordingly, the most helpful documents you may provide are:

  1. Your full names and the other parent’s last known whereabouts or employer.
  2. A photograph, physical description, names of friends or relatives, or the name of the non-custodial parent.
  3. The child(ren) birth certificate(s).
  4. Social security number and as much information as you can provide.


  • The DHS automatically refers-parents receiving TANF or government assistance to local child support offices. Thus, you need not apply for services.
  • Parents who have never received government assistance must pay a $35 annual service fee.

How is paternity established in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the law does not automatically consider the man the father when a child is born to an unmarried couple. Hence, you legally become the father after signing the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form at the hospital or local support offices.

However, when a child is born to a married couple, then the man is automatically the father unless a DNA test proves otherwise.

What to remember:

  • If the parents are unmarried at the time of birth, the mother automatically has custody.
  • You have 60 days to cancel or rescind voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.
  • Either parent may open a case at the local child support office to petition for a paternity test.
  • A Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form is only valid if you sign it Infront of a notary public.

How is child support determined in Tennessee?

Tennessee child support laws are based on the number of children and the combined income(s) of both parents. What that means is the judge may order you to cover child care expenses such as food, transportation, housing, health insurance, extraordinary educational expenses, medical expenses including dental, and any other relevant expense.

Also, “income” refers to all parental income from all sources.

What is the new child support law in Tennessee?

On May 10th, 2020, the state legislature introduced the following changes to Tennessee child support guidelines:

  • The state of Tennessee adopted the Income Shares Model.
  • Gross income now includes income from all sources.
  • Incarceration and enlisting in the army are no longer grounds to find a parent voluntarily underemployed, meaning, the court will not impute your income.
  • Incarcerated parents now have the right to request a modification if the sentence is more than 180 days in jail or prison.
  • The minimum child support order is now $100.
  • The courts may use a parent’s criminal records to determine income if no other evidence is available.

How to calculate child support in Tennessee

To calculate child support in Tennessee, here is what to do:

  • Determine the incomes of both parents.
  • Calculate AGI (Adjusted Gross Income): that means making all necessary deductions such as taxes or existing child support orders.
  • Combine the adjusted gross incomes of the parents.
  • Cross-reference the adjusted gross income with the Tennessee Child support Schedule. (See the snippet below)
  • Take the monthly basic support obligation from step four and divide it by each parent’s AGI.

Confusing, right?

That is why the DHS provides worksheets and a calculator to aid you. What do I mean?

To simplify the process, the DHS made an excel and calculator suitable for mac or windows, an IOS calculator, and worksheets that you can use to estimate your obligation.

Access Tennessee child support calculator or excel worksheets here. You may also access child support calculation instructions and other useful material here. Or call 1-800-838-6911.

How to modify child support in Tennessee

Tennessee child support guidelines are very specific on what a substantial change in circumstances is. By that I mean to qualify for an order change, the change must affect the existing order by 15% (increase or decrease). For low-income families, the percentage change required is a 7.5% change between the current order and the modified support amount.

What do I mean?

According to the DHS, some valid grounds for modification are disability, a “significant variance” in parental income, emancipation, and additional children. What is important to realize is. Said changes and similar ones might negatively impact a parent’s earning capacity. Meaning, there are plenty more grounds for child support order modification, but the guiding principle is. There must be a minimum 15% change between the amount of the existing order and the proposed order.

For better clarity, consult with a family court attorney or continue reading.

What to remember:

  • Either parent has the right to request changes.
  • You may request for modification in person at DHS headquarters (in writing) or through this number (615) 313-4880.
  • Criminal activity and incarceration are not valid grounds for support order reduction.
  • Parents may choose administrative modifications to avoid going to court.
  • Both parents must complete an Affidavit of Income and expense.
  • The courts and DHS both have the authority to conduct support order modifications.

When can I ask for support order modification in Tennessee?

Most parents face enforcement action because they failed to act on time. I say that because Tennessee child support guidelines allow parents to petition for modification whenever they experience a significant change in material circumstances.

Therefore, if you lose your job, if your work hours decrease, or if custody or visitation arrangement changes, you should contact the local court or DHS for modification before your arrears pile.

What happens if you do not pay child support in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the DHS or court can only enforce child support after either parent obtains an order. Once you obtain an order and the other parent refuses to pay, the DHS or court will issue an income withholding order to the delinquent parent’s employer.

However, if that collection action does not yield the expected results, the DHS may use any of the following collection tools.

  • Seizing of assets and investments held by the delinquent parent.
  • Interception of state, local or federal tax returns.
  • The DHS through other state agencies may also revoke the delinquent parents’ drivers, professional, or business license.
  • The DHS may also forward the paying parents’ information to credit bureaus or impose a lien against his/her personal property.

What is the punishment for contempt of court in Tennessee?

Failure to pay child support in Tennessee may also result in civil contempt of court charges or criminal liability. What is crucial to remember is that if the judge holds you in contempt, you risk up to ten days in jail or a $50 fine.

However, Tennessee code 29-9-104, reads, quote “if the contempt consists in an omission to perform an act which it is yet in the power of the person to perform, the person may be imprisoned until such a person performs it.”

That means the judge can order your imprisonment until you honor your obligation.

Also, non-support in Tennessee is a class A misdemeanor, and “Flagrant Nonsupport” is a class E felony. Flagrant nonsupport happens when a parent persistently fails to pay support for six consecutive months or owes more than $1000 in back child support.

A class A misdemeanor in Tennessee carries up to eleven months and twenty-nine days in jail or a $2500 fine. In some cases, both. Whereas a class E felony is punishable by up to six years in prison and a $3000 fine or both.

If you are facing such charges, it is in your best interest to honor your obligation or lawyer up to keep yourself out of prison.

Additional Reading: CPS Case Laws – How long does a CPS conviction stay on your record?

When does child support end in Tennessee?

18 is the legal age of emancipation in Tennessee, but that does not mean that your support obligation necessarily ends on your child’s 18th birthday. By that I mean the parents can agree to extend support through college or university.

Also, payments may continue until the child’s 19th birthday if he or she is still in high school or indefinitely if the child is severely mentally or physically disabled.

Tennessee emancipation laws

To apply for emancipation in Tennessee. The minor seeking emancipation or a “next friend”, could be a lawyer or parent. Can petition the courts for emancipation.

Also, any minor who gets married or joins the U.S. army become fully emancipated. However, the state only issues marriage licenses to minors above 17.

If Interested you can call (800)372-8346 for further assistance.

More Tennessee Laws

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