Top 21 Things To Know About Child Support in Tennessee

Depending on the circumstances, facts and number of children involved, child support issues can range from simple to complex. Parents have a legal obligation to help financially support their children.

What Do I Need To Know About TN Child Support?

In this post, we discuss common questions about child support in Tennessee. You’ll also get straightforward answers. If you need help with child support issues, be sure to call attorney Jed McKeehan today at (865) 588-1096. 

  1. What Are Child Support Payments Based On?
  2. Who Decides What The Child Support Payments Are?
  3. Who Has To Pay Child Support?
  4. Does The Father Always Pay Support?
  5. What Do The Child Support Payments Cover?
  6. Is Child Support Required In Tennessee?
  7. When Do Child Support Payments Begin?
  8. How Are Child Support Payments Paid?
  9. Do Alimony Payments Count Towards Child Support Payments?
  10. What Is “Co-Parenting”? Does It Affect Payments?
  11. When Can The Child Support Be Amended?
  12. How Can You Request Changing Child Support Amounts?
  13. How Often Can Child Support Payments Be Modified?
  14. When Do Child Support Payments Stop?
  15. If A Child Reaches 18 And Has Not Graduated High School, Do Support Payments Continue?
  16. If I Become Unemployed, Will I Still Have To Pay Child Support?
  17. How Many Child Support Payments Can Be Missed Before Going To Jail?
  18. Can The State Of Tennessee Force You To Make Child Support Payments?
  19. Are Child Support Payments Taxable?
  20. How Do You File For Child Support In Tennessee?
  21. Can You Obtain A Passport If You Owe Child Support Payments?

What Are Child Support Payments Based On?

Whether married or not, both parents in Tennessee are financially responsible for supporting their children. The amount of support to be paid will depend on both parents combined income. Also, the number of children involved and the parenting time that gets established will affect child support payments. The support amount will be calculated using a fee schedule and will include income from wages, salaries, commissions, tips, pensions, and retirement plans.

Once each parent’s income is calculated, the court will check for deductions. This can include self-employment taxes paid, Social Security benefits collected and any other credits a parent may have earned for supporting other children.

Be sure to watch our vlog post for more information on what factors determine child custody.

Who Decides What The Child Support Payments Are?

Gavel in Child Support Courtroom Case

Child support payments are decided by the court using Tennessee’s child support guidelines. Keep in mind, an attorney may be able to help you navigate these guidelines in reaching a favorable result.

Tennessee judges and attorneys interpret the child support income worksheets and laws to establish how much support is needed to maintain each child and their quality of life.


Who Has To Pay Child Support?

Both parents are responsible for supporting their children. However, typically the parent who spends less time with the child is the one ordered to pay child support to the other parent.  Even when parents have equal time with the child, the parent making more money will typically be required to pay money to the other parent. The exact amount required to be paid will generally depend on income, the number of children involved and how much time a child spends with each parent. Ordering a parent in Tennessee to make support payments to the other parent starts with applying the facts to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines.

Does The Father Always Pay Support?

Child support obligations in Tennessee do not always fall to the father. It is based on both parents’ income and other factors, including how much time the child/children spend with each parent.

What Do The Child Support Payments Cover?

In general, Tennessee child support payments are designed to help cover the costs of maintaining the living standards of the child or children in question. It is also intended to be used to cover their basic needs. The support money may also be used by the recipient parent to pay for things like utilities and rent payments to ensure a safe living environment.

Is Child Support Required In Tennessee?

Yes, but there are some rare instances where a court may deviate from the support calculated for legal reasons. In this case, the deviation would need to include compelling reasons and will have to be approved by the judge. If you want to make the most compelling case for this, you need to talk with a family law attorney in Tennessee.

When Do Child Support Payments Begin?

Child support payments will start to accrue as soon as both parents physically separate. This is true whether the parents are married or not. Once the order is established, one parent will begin making payments to the other parent. They will also be ordered to pay child support to catch up for any back support. This is money owed for any time period in which payments were not made when the parents initially separated.  

How Are Child Support Payments Paid?

Many Tennessee fathers and mothers wonder if their child support payments will be paid through the state, privately or another method. Both parties may agree that child support payments go between them without having to involve the state. However, a parent may choose to open a support case for enforcement purposes with the state at any point.

Do Alimony Payments Count Towards Child Support Payments?

No, alimony payments do not have a direct effect on payments required for child support. 

What Is “Co-Parenting”? Does It Affect Payments?

Divorce courts in Tennessee define “co-parenting” as the agreed-upon parenting plan as established by the court. The exact parenting schedule will be determined by the court based on the time-sharing of the children. 

For example, let’s say a parent agrees to 100 days per year. However, they end up only watching the child for 60 days. The court may likely decide that child support will be calculated by assuming 60 days of childcare, and not 100 days. 

When making decisions in regards to custody of children, judges in Tennessee consider 15 factors to determine child custody before they make a ruling.

When Can The Child Support Be Amended?

Determining if and when support can be amended is complex. In Tennessee, ordered child support can be modified if one parent can prove a “significant variance.” This is the difference between what is being paid now and what would be paid under a modified order. The variance needs to be at least a change of 15% or more. Other issues that may make a parent eligible for modifying a support order include:

  • A child becomes disabled.
  • A parent’s income decreases significantly.
  • A significant change in health insurance premiums.
  • Increase in cost of child care.
  • A child moves in or out.
  • One parent has another child.

How Can You Request Changing Child Support Amounts?

In any of the previous circumstances, a formal child support modification request would have to be submitted to the court. Changes will take time to complete and the request is a complicated process requiring paperwork and documents to be submitted.

How Often Can Child Support Payments Be Modified?

Both parents have the right to ask for a child support order to be reviewed for possible modification at any time. However, if there are additional steps if the request is less than two years after another judicial or administrative review was completed. In that case, the parent requesting the new review will need to offer the caseworker relevant information that proves what changes have taken place to initiate the modification review.

When Do Child Support Payments Stop?

Parents paying child support are legally obligated to continue paying until a child turns 18. However, if the minor becomes emancipated, the payments can stop early.

If A Child Reaches 18 And Has Not Graduated High School, Do Support Payments Continue?

If the child listed in the child support order reaches 18 but is still enrolled in high school, the payments will continue to be owed. This is until they graduate or complete the grade they were in when they reached 18 years of age. In most cases, however, child support payments will not stop until the child has both turned 18 and graduated high school. One stipulation to consider is if the child is enrolled in an accelerated program. That that case, payments will continue even once the child is enrolled in college if they are still under the age of 18.

If I Become Unemployed, Will I Still Have To Pay Child Support?

If you become unemployed, you will be legally required to pay your child support payments. If you are paying child support and lose your job, you will need to act quickly and file a petition with the court to have your payments modified. In some cases, the court may offer the paying parent the option to apply for unemployment benefits. Payments can be deducted from temporary unemployment wages.

How Many Child Support Payments Can Be Missed Before Going To Jail?

There is no set number of missed child support payments that will send a parent to jail. However, you are probably risking jail time if you miss three months of payments in a row. Typically, delinquent parents will only be sent to jail if they don’t have a job to lose or are repeat offenders. Some will go to jail if it’s proven they have the money available for support payments but are found spending it on luxury items instead. If found guilty of refusing to pay when able multiple times, a parent may be sentenced to jail. The sentencing is up to 10 days in jail for each willing violation against the court order.

Can The State Of Tennessee Force You To Make Child Support Payments?

Tennessee’s Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) and the family law judges have many tools at their disposal to enforce orders. They can use many of the following options to enforce orders and collect payments. Some include:

  • Seizing investment assets and bank account balances
  • Intercepting federal tax returns
  • Withholding income and wages
  • Revoking a driver’s license or other professional licenses
  • Reporting the child support debts to major credit agencies (this can negatively affect your credit score)
  • Placing a lien on personal property or your home

Parents deemed to be violating existing child support orders are considered in contempt of the court. In Tennessee, the parent found to be in contempt may be ordered to pay the fees for the other parent’s attorney. This can also include any fines given and they can spend up to six months in jail.

Are Child Support Payments Taxable?

According to the IRS, child support payments are not considered taxable income. They are not deductible by the payor or taxable by the payee. When you are calculating your gross income to determine if you are to file a tax return, payments for child support cannot be included. Additionally, child support cannot be used when calculating the Earned Income Credit.

How Do You File For Child Support In Tennessee?

You may apply for child support online or at the child support office in your area. When visiting the online application website, you may apply through the site or download and print the application to take to the local child support office. You may also choose to mail or fax the application for processing.

Can You Obtain A Passport If You Owe Child Support Payments?

If you are more than $2,500 behind in child support payments, you cannot apply for a U.S. passport. You will need to pay your Tennessee arrears before you will be eligible to apply.


Child support laws in Tennessee play a crucial role in parenting time and child custody proceedings. Because of this, it is in a parent’s best interest to consult with an experienced family lawyer to help navigate this complex issue. The Knoxville Attorney, Jed McKeehan is available to help you best make it through the confusion that can surround custody laws in Tennessee. If you need help (or think you might need help soon, call Jed today at (865) 588-1096


Filing for Divorce in TN: Everything You Need to Know

If someone wants to get a divorce in Tennessee, they have to prove to the court a reason why they should be granted a divorce.

What are the options of “grounds” you can show to the court to get it to grant you a divorce?

Tennessee Code Annotated 36-4-101 lists 15 options that, if proven, can allow you to become divorced.  I will tell you, some of them are pretty out there and do not get brought up any more.  Most people get divorced on the grounds of “inappropriate marital conduct,” because it is the catch-all reason for getting divorced (it can mean anything, including not taking out the trash one time), or “irreconcilable differences” which is the grounds used to divorce people when they come to an agreement prior to an actual trial.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Tennessee?

  1. Either party at the time of the marriage was/is naturally impotent and incapable of procreation.
  2. Either party has gotten married a second time while still married to someone else.
  3. Either party has committed adultery.
  4. Desertion or abandonment by a party without cause for one whole year.
  5. Being convicted of a crime that renders a party infamous.
  6. Being convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve time in a penitentiary.
  7. Either party has attempted to kill the other party.
  8. Refusal by either party without cause to move to Tennessee with their spouse and being absent from Tennessee for 2 years.
  9. The woman was pregnant at the time of the marriage by another man without the knowledge of the husband.
  10. Either party is habitual drunkness or abuse of narcotics by either party and the habit was contracted after the marriage.
  11. Inappropriate marital conduct.
  12. Offering indignities to a spouse and thereby causing a spouse to withdraw.
  13. One spouse has abandoned or turned the other spouse “out of doors,” and has refused to provide for the spouse while being able to do so.
  14. Irreconcilable differences.
  15. For a continuous period of two years or more, the parties have failed to cohabit, and there are no minor children.

Fault and No-Fault Divorces

First, let’s begin with the two grounds of divorce in Tennessee. Tennessee offers both fault and no-fault divorces.

A no-fault ground for divorce means the couple agree to every statement in the petition and are asking the court to approve it. The couple typically state there are “irreconcilable differences” within the marriage. In other words, the divorce is uncontested and no single party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

A fault ground for divorce is used when the couple cannot agree on things and need to argue the terms and conditions in court. This can include disagreements over property and asset division, custody arrangements, spousal and/or child support, just to name a few.

The most common reason given for a fault divorce is “inappropriate marital conduct,” which is a “catch all” phrase that could include anything, even something as simple as not taking out the trash. People often get worked up over the term because they feel that they are being accused of or blamed for something, but again, it is a generic phrase used in this situation. It literally could mean anything and allows you to argue in front of a court.

I am often asked if you need to hire an attorney for a divorce, even for a no-fault divorce. Technically, you don’t have to have an attorney to file for and secure a divorce, but it is highly recommended. A divorce is a lawsuit and things can quickly get serious if there is not someone there to watch your back and give you advice about what terms you should and shouldn’t agree to (especially when it comes to children).

How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced?

When people come see me to get divorced, one of the questions that I hear the most is, “I want this done as quickly as possible, how long will it take until I’m actually divorced?”

The answer is, “Well, it depends.”

Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 36-4-101, the absolute quickest that you can get divorced in Tennessee is 60 days after you file the complaint at the courthouse requesting a divorce.

The law says that if you are getting divorced, and you have no children, you cannot get divorced until 60 days after the divorce paperwork is filed.  If you are getting a divorce and you have children under the age of 18, then you must wait 90 days after the paperwork is filed before you are allowed to get divorced.  These time periods are called, “the cooling down period.”  The legislature decided that they preferred that individuals not be allowed to quickly divorce so that they can contemplate and ponder whether getting divorced is actually what they desire to do.

Having said that, those timelines depend on a number of things.  When you file a complaint for divorce, you will not have a divorce trial date until at least 8 or 9 months after you file, at the earliest.  And in a great number of cases, there is discovery, depositions and mediation that need to take place prior to trial, so that trial date can get pushed a number of times so that it can sometimes take years before people get divorced.

The only real way you can get divorced that quickly is if you and the other person reach an agreement before you file for divorce, or you work out an agreement during the period prior to being allowed to divorce.

If you do reach an agreement, you and your attorney can go before the judge after the cooling down period has passed and ask the judge to grant your divorce.  Both people do not have to be there, only one of the parties is needed for this hearing.


How to Maximize Your Tennessee Car Accident Settlement

Regardless of the extent of your injuries, a car accident can be very stressful. Dealing with a damaged vehicle and repairs is much easier than dealing with physical injuries and emotional issues. Remembering these five things can help to make your accident much less traumatic:

5 Ways to Maximize Your Tennessee Car Accident Settlement

1) Keep a record of all expenses and days lost from work due to your injuries. Also, get written documentation from your employer verifying your missed work. This proof will enable you to claim lost earnings. If you’re having difficulty getting your employer to work with you, then your lawyer can assist in obtaining this documentation. If your injuries prevent you from returning to work or school, ask your doctor for a signed letter confirming that you cannot attend.

2) Keep track of time spent by friends and family caring for you and overseeing household and family obligations. If you must now pay someone to mow your lawn or drive you places, you can make those payments part of your claim. If possible, pay those individuals with a check so that you have documentation.

3) Keep all bills and receipts related to your accident. If you don’t save them, you may not be able to prove the amount of your damages. Be sure to save everything, including hospital charges, pharmacy bills, therapy bills, and all other bills associated with your accident. If you buy over-the-counter pain medication, heating pads, crutches, special clothing to fit over casts or braces, or similar items, you may be able to recoup these expenses. If you find such thorough documentation overwhelming, then you should hire an experienced attorney to help you sort, organize, and calculate the total of your medical bills. You don’t want to miss out on any potential reimbursement.

4) Know all your injuries. Injuries caused by accidents may not show symptoms for days or even weeks. Thus, in the days following your accident, you should avoid describing your injuries to the claims adjuster. Don’t give a statement to an adjuster unless you are confident about the status and healing progress of your injuries.

5) Keep a journal of your experiences, and pay close attention to the emotional toll of an accident. Record sleepless nights, pain levels, and limitations or restrictions from regular activities. Be sure to take note of special events, hobbies, and interactions with your loved ones that you missed because of the accident.

By investing a little time and effort before you’ve even had an accident, you can learn how to properly document and record the events related to an accident and save yourself money and potential headaches down the road.

Originally published on

The Ultimate Guide to Tennessee DUI Laws and Penalties

Tennessee DUI Laws

In Tennessee, a DUI is a Class A misdemeanor charge with a minimum sentence for a first conviction of DUI is 48 hours in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for a year and community service assessed.

2nd Offense DUI Laws in Tennessee

A second DUI conviction carries a sentence of a minimum 45 days in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for 2 years and community service assessed.  Never drive drunk, get a taxi or have a designated driver.

What to Do If You Get Pulled Over

Okay, so you have been pulled over by a police officer, probably late at night, and probably shortly after you’ve left an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages.  The officer has already asked for your license, insurance information and (possibly) registration, which you are required to provide, and begins to inquire about your recent alcohol consumption.  Asking how many drinks you had tonight, the officer suspects that you might be intoxicated.  What do you do?


Because the Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination, you have the right to refrain from answering any and all questions that the police officer asks you.  This means that you do not have to tell the officer how many drinks you had (or tell him you only had 2, which is what everyone says).  You do not have to answer the interrogating questions.

If you are afraid that you might slur your words or fear your nervousness will cause your speech to stumble, you have the right to remain completely silent or cite your right to refrain from speaking.  If you do not say anything, the officer can’t testify later in court that you were slurring when he pulled you over.  Your refusal to speak cannot be held against you.

Do NOT get out of your car unless the officer asks you to do so.  First of all, police officers tend to get very defensive if you jump out of the car when they pull you over.  The officer doesn’t know if you are armed or what your intentions are when you suddenly flee your vehicle, therefore it is not wise to give them the wrong idea or a reason to draw their weapon on you.  The officer is likely experiencing some amount of nervousness (albeit not as much as you) when they pull you over.  Don’t make it worse!  If the officer orders you to get out of the car and asks you to perform any number of field sobriety tests, you are not required to complete any of these tests.

Field sobriety tests are NOT the same as chemical testing which is discussed below.  Field sobriety tests check for coordination and balance–acts people don’t normally perform sober or drunk–can set you up for failure.  You are not required by law to complete these tests and refusal to comply cannot be held against you.  While these strange exercises are called “tests” to give them the feel of authority, they are merely subjective tests which are performed to give the police officer more “proof” that you are under the influence.  No matter how well you perform these “tests” they can be manipulated and used against you in a court of law and officers can arrest you even if you feel that you passed the tests because they are based on the officer’s subjective opinion.  Why incriminate yourself by trying to stand on one foot and touching your nose when you can barely do that stone sober?  If you are charged with DUI based on failing sobriety tests, a review of the field sobriety test video will be critical to the validity of the test.

The breathalyzer is a device used by the police to determine your blood alcohol content.  Although these tests are widely used, they do not always provide correct information about one’s level of intoxication.  However, all states have what is called an Implied Consent Law. The government has decided that when you obtain a driver’s license, it is a privilege that comes with certain implicit obligations.  By obtaining a license, you (unknowingly) have agreed to submit to chemical testing of your blood, breath, or urine, at the request of a police officer.  If you refuse to comply with chemical testing, such as the Breathalyzer, you will receive automatic vehicle sanctions.  Usually your license will be automatically suspended for failure to comply with chemical testing.  If a chemical test shows that you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater, this is enough to prove that you are legally intoxicated and you may be arrested on criminal DUI charges.

While you must submit to chemical testing, these tests are not infallible and do not necessarily mean you will be convicted of a DUI.


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Lemon Law in TN: What It Is and Why It’s Important

The Lemon Law in Tennessee

What is the lemon law? That’s a term you may have heard before.

A “Lemon” is a motor vehicle sold or leased after January 1, 1987, that has a defect or condition that substantially impairs the motor vehicle; and the person you bought it from cannot repair the vehicle after three attempts or the vehicle is out of service for repairs for a cumulative total of 30 or more days during the term of protection.  This Law is ONLY applicable if the vehicle was bought new.  So the lemon law does not apply to used vehicles at all.  If the above conditions apply though, the manufacturer is required to replace the motor vehicle or refund the purchase price.

“Substantially impair” means to render a motor vehicle unreliable or unsafe for normal operation, or to reduce its resale market value below the average resale value for comparable motor vehicles.

The term of protection is defined as one year from the date of original delivery or the term of the warranty, whichever comes first.

In order to take advantage of the lemon law protections, I would recommend reporting any problem within the first year or within the term of the warranty, whichever comes first.

If you have a lemon, you must notify the manufacturer of the problem in writing by certified mail. The manufacturer has an additional opportunity to repair your car within 10 days. If the manufacturer cannot repair your car and the manufacturer has an informal dispute settlement procedure that complies with Federal Trade Commission regulations, the refund and replacement provisions of the Lemon Law won’t apply until you submit to the procedure. You are not bound by the decision and can still seek available legal remedies, including asking a court to award a replacement vehicle or reimbursement of the purchase price (less a reasonable allowance for use), plus attorney fees and court costs.

You can read more about the lemon law in my column for the Knox Focus.

Public Intoxication in Tennessee

My name is Jed McKeehan, and today, we’re going to talk about the term public intoxication and what that statute says about people who may or may not be publicly intoxicated. It’s codified at Tennessee Code Annotated 39-17-310, and that statute says that if someone is in a public place and they are under the influence of a controlled substance and they are a danger to either themselves or others, then they may be arrested and charged with public intoxication.

The Tennessee public intoxication law also states:

(a) A person commits the offense of public intoxication who appears in a public place under the influence of a controlled substance, controlled substance analogue or any other intoxicating substance to the degree that:

(1) The offender may be endangered;
(2) There is endangerment to other persons or property; or
(3) The offender unreasonably annoys people in the vicinity.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

That’s the entirety of the law on public intoxication in Tennessee. So when I read this law, a few things jump out at me.

First, you don’t even have to be drunk driving to be arrested for being drunk. If you are drunk and in a public place, you have met the first criterion for possibly being arrested for public intoxication.

That’s why its important to know that restaurants and bars are not actually public places. They are private businesses. While they may usually be open to the public, they are allowed to refuse to serve individuals, making them private places. So you cannot get arrested for public intoxication if you are in a private business, and obviously you cannot get arrested while in a private residence.

However, once you walk out on the street, or are at a public park, or any other place owned by a government entity, you are fair game.

Second, you don’t have to be under the influence of alcohol only. If you are under the influence of narcotics of some kind, the police can arrest you for public intoxication.

Finally, you can read for yourself what a person has to be doing to violate the public intoxication law. Unreasonably annoying people in the vicinity?!?!?! That seems pretty vague. Drunk people annoy me all of the time, can I get them arrested?

The language here is very broad, “endangering themselves,” “endangering others,” those are broad terms that could mean almost anything and the legislators may have designed it that way to allow the police to have broad abilities to arrest individuals.

The lesson here is, if you are enjoying any kind of intoxicant, minimize your time in public places.

What Are a Father’s Rights in Tennessee to a Child Born Out of Wedlock?

Father’s Rights in Tennessee

Unfortunately, this issue comes up a lot in this day and age, and it’s surprising how few people know the answer.

So, a couple that is not married has a child. Then something happens and the mother is no longer allowing the father to see the child and he is all upset and worked up about this. What rights does the father have in Tennessee?

The answer is, none. Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-2-303 states, “Absent an order of custody to the contrary, custody of a child born out of wedlock is with the mother.” What can the father do? He needs to go to juvenile court and file a petition for custody. Then the court will go about having a hearing or setting a mediation when the father can attempt to get some established custody/visitation rights.

A court order or mediated agreement is the only way that the father can get his visitation and custody rights protected. Otherwise, the father is completely at the mercy of the mother to allow him visitation with their child.

Tennessee Child Custody Laws: What You Need to Know

Whether you’re married or not, it’s necessary to put a child custody arrangement in place if you and your child’s other parent decide to part ways. But how does a court determine what the arrangement will be?

There are actually several factors used to determine child custody in Tennessee.

You may have heard that mothers typically get the vast majority of the time with children when there is a custody determination, and fathers usually get every other weekend. That’s not the case anymore, and judges typically start with a 50/50 split unless there’s a reason not to.

So what is the judge required to consider when making that determination?

Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-106 lists 15 factors that the judge is to weigh in making their decision as to custody. And only one of these factors is the child’s preference. If a child is 12 years old or older, they will be able to say where they want to live, but it’s not a guarantee. That’s only one of the 15 factors. Some of the other factors are continuity in the children’s lives, where have they lived previously, their relationship with siblings, and the parents’ work schedule.

Click here to read each of the 15 factors used to determine child custody in Tennessee.