Tennessee Child Support Overview

Child support is meant to ensure both parents financially contribute to their child's care.

Tennessee uses a formula to give judges a guideline for how much child support to award. The formula assumes each parent should contribute to the child in proportion to their share of the combined parental income.

Parents can agree on an amount, and with the judge's approval, it becomes the support obligation. The court won't allow parents to waive child support and generally disapproves of any amount below the guideline.

Estimating parenting time could cost you thousands a year in child support. Let Custody X Change calculate your time.

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The alternative residential parent (ARP), who spends less time with the child, typically pays support to the primary residential parent (PRP). If the PRP has a significantly higher income, they may owe the ARP support. In rare cases where parents have identical parenting time, child-rearing expenses and income, there will not be a support obligation.

Most commonly, child support is subtracted from the parent's paycheck, but it's also possible to pay support online.

Factors in the guideline child support formula

The court considers the factors below to determine child support. To get an estimate of your obligation, use a calculator from the Department of Human Services — either the Excel worksheet, iOS app or Windows program.

Number of eligible children

A parent can receive support on behalf of any minor children they have with the other parent in the case.

Generally, support payments cease when the child graduates from high school or when their high school class graduates, whichever comes later. If the child has a disability, payment may continue to age 21 (or longer if their condition is severe).

Parenting time

Parents receive credit for the number of days they spend with their child annually.

A "day" is more than 12 consecutive hours within a 24-hour period. (The 24-hour period does not have to be the same as a calendar day.) Shorter recurring visits that add up to more than 12 hours may count as a single day if parents agree or the court chooses.

You can calculate parenting time with the Custody X Change app or count manually.

To use the app, make sure your settings are set to "overnights" and "year." If you have visits that last less than 12 hours but span two days, temporarily delete them for the calculation. If you have visits that last over 12 hours but don't span two days, temporarily extend each one into the next day by clicking and dragging.

The numbers above your custody calendar (next to the people icons) will immediately reflect each parent's days with the child that year.

Income

The court adds together each parent's adjusted gross income (earnings after taxes and deductions, as listed in the Child Support Guidelines) so it can set the basic child support obligation, or how much parents are expected to spend together on their child before special circumstances and expenses are accounted for.

The amount of the basic support obligation a parent is expected to contribute equivalent to their percentage of the combined income. For example, a parent making 40 percent of the income pays 40 percent of the obligation.

If the parent paying support only has income from government programs meant for low-income people (as listed on page 21 of the guidelines), neither parent will have to pay support.

Additional expenses

The support obligation is adjusted for the following expenses:

  • The child's health insurance premium
  • Recurring uninsured medical expenses
  • Work-related childcare expenses

The court can consider adding other costs (like tuition and extracurricular fees). In addition, parents can agree to include any cost in the obligation. Extracurricular fees must equal more than seven percent of the basic child support obligation to be considered.

Deviating from the guideline formula

A judge can order more or less child support than the state's formula suggests when circumstances make it necessary. In fact, Tennessee guidelines lay out specifically how a judge should handle parents with especially high or low income.

High income

When combined monthly parental income is greater than $28,250, the guideline says parents should pay the highest basic child support obligation (listed on page 71 of the Child Support Guidelines), plus a percentage of their income over $28,250:

  • One child: 6.81 percent
  • Two children: 7.22 percent
  • Three children: 7.77 percent
  • Four children: 8.05 percent
  • Five children: 8.66 percent

Low income

The court must make sure paying support does not affect a parent's ability to support themself.

When a parent's income falls in the shading on the Child Support Schedule (page 57 of the guidelines), the court does a second child support calculation using only that parent's income. If the result is less than when the formula includes combined parental income, this lower result becomes the guideline payment.

Retroactive child support

Retroactive child support is the amount a parent owes for child-related expenses incurred before there was a support order.

If parents were married, it covers expenses dating back to their separation. Otherwise, it covers expenses back to the child's birth.

The court uses the guideline formula to calculate the total owed. Each parent's income is based on their average adjusted gross income from the past two years. The parent paying support may receive credit for past child-related expenses if they provide sufficient proof.

The amount owed gets broken into monthly payments, usually to last less than five years. The monthly retroactive payment is added to the monthly child support obligation throughout that period.

Requesting, modifying and enforcing child support

Child support is automatically part of divorce and separation cases. Unmarried parents have to complete a child support application, which also starts a case to establish the child's paternity if parents have yet to do so.

To modify a support order, there must be a significant change in circumstances, such as loss of employment. File a Petition to Modify Child Support, which you can get from the court clerk or your local child support office.

If a parent misses support payments, contact your local child support office. It will add a fraction of the owed money (called arrears) to the monthly support amount. Arrears may accrue interest. Arrears payments continue until the parent has no outstanding child support payments, even if the support order ends before that time.

If a parent continues to neglect payments, they risk seizure of their income, suspension of their licenses and, in severe cases, incarceration.

Parents cannot withhold visitation because of missed payments or withhold support because of denied visits.

Using technology to get an accurate child support order

Estimating your parenting time can impact your support order by thousands of dollars a year.

Still, attorneys and the court usually estimate because manually calculating is tedious and time-consuming.

The Custody X Change app lets you quickly and accurately calculate your exact parenting time.

With Custody X Change, you can tweak your schedule to see how even little changes affect your number of days with the child. And you can see how your number of days changes each year due to holidays and other events.

Whether you are the one paying or receiving child support, make sure your parenting time calculation is exact. The number will affect you, your child and the other parent for years to come. It's not a job for estimation.

Estimating parenting time could cost you thousands a year in child support. Let Custody X Change calculate your time.

Calculate My Parenting Time Now

Estimating parenting time could cost you thousands a year in child support. Let Custody X Change calculate your time.

Calculate My Time
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Estimating parenting time could cost you thousands a year in child support. Let Custody X Change calculate your time.

Calculate My Parenting Time Now

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