For custodial and non-custodial parents, there is no point more contentious than the amount and timing of child custody payments from one to another. Tennessee law states that both parents are equally responsible for their minor child’s “care, nurture, welfare, education, and support”. Even with this expectation understood, the most popular question about child support payments in Tennessee is when they are going to end. This is a question asked by both those paying and receiving payments.

At What Age Does Child Support End?

When a relationship that produced a child dissolves, the court typically puts in place a child support order. A child support order can apply to several situations, including divorce, a legal separation, or child custody without the existence of any other legal relationship. In this order, parents are made legally responsible for the financial support of their child and the maintenance of their child’s life.

This legal responsibility remains until one of the following happens (based on the one that happens second):

  • The child arrives at his or her eighteenth birthday and is no longer in high school.
  • If the child turns eighteen while still attending high school, child support obligations will continue until he or she graduates with their senior class or when their class graduates if the student drops out

In the vast majority of Tennessee cases, these are the situations under which child support responsibility ends. However, as with most things, there are some exceptions to this rule of law.

Exceptions to the Child Support Responsibility Rule

A parent may be required to pay child support for a different period of time, in accordance with the child support order, under specific circumstances.

Child Support Termination Before the Age of 18 

Child Emancipation: If a child successfully seeks and receives emancipation from their parents, it would affect a child’s custody and support order. The emancipation of a minor child is an exception to child support responsibilities in Tennessee. It would result in the termination of parents’ legal responsibility for support, even before the child turns 18.

Extending Child Support Beyond the Age of 18

There are a couple of extenuating circumstances that can extend a parent’s child support obligations beyond the child’s eighteenth birthday and high school graduation.

College Student: If the child enters college, immediately upon graduation from high school or upon turning eighteen, a child custody support agreement can extend to cover expenses while the child is enrolled in full-time classes. This is usually a mutual decision to extend support, though the court can force the issue.

Disabled Adult Child: Support for a severely disabled child can be continued past the age of 18, and even beyond the age of 21. Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-101(k)(1) lays out the details, but let’s summarize:

  • In any circumstance when a child is handicapped or disabled, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), monetary support for that child can be extended until the child reaches twenty-one years old.
  • If the child is ruled severely disabled and is living under the care of one parent, the court can rule the non-custodial parent responsible for continuing child support payments, regardless of the child’s age.

How To Terminate Child Support Payments

You must make a motion with the courts to terminate child support when the age of eighteen or high school graduation (whichever happens second) is reached. Be careful and resist the urge to stop payments without going through the court. This can find you in arrearage (an amount of money that is owed and should have been paid earlier), which can complicate any termination of the court order. Even if you’ve reached what should be the natural end to child support payments, a court can force you to continue until all back payments are made, sometimes with interest. This can be avoided by planning ahead for the child’s birthday or graduation by getting your motion scheduled to file for termination of child support on or near this date.

Can Child Support Orders Be Modified?

In the state of Tennessee, there are circumstances that allow modifications to be made. Orders that cover more than one child are most often modified when the older child graduates from high school and is eighteen.

In theory, this should result in a lower monthly payment. For example, the reduction of one child out of three being covered by a plan might cut a monthly payment by one-third. However, the opening of a child support agreement, for this reason, may not have the expected result. The recipient-parent could use the reopened agreement to pursue a higher payment

Tennessee courts will take a couple of things into consideration when deciding upon a modification. They will examine the reasons and proof provided by the parents, both that of the obligated and recipient. The decision will be made using the Child Support Worksheet, as provided by the state.


Tennessee Child Support Laws

As in any state, there are a lot of rules to consider when deciding, modifying, or ending child support in Tennessee. There is a lot more to know about TN child support and having all of the facts will help guide decisions. Click to learn 21 of the most important things to know about child support in Tennessee.

Every case is different, and because of this, working with an experienced family law attorney should be a high priority. Jed McKeehan is a board-certified, family-law attorney in Knoxville, TN. His expertise in Tennessee child custody laws is extensive.

Getting Jed, or another experienced family law attorney, involved in any Knoxville-area child custody proceedings will increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome. Getting them involved early in the process is essential. You can contact Jed through his website or give him a call at (865) 294-8008.