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Supporting Tennessee Children: Establishing Child Support and Paternity

Establishing Child Support and Paternity in Tennessee

As a parent, it is important to ensure that your child has access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, and medical care. However, providing these essentials alone can be challenging, more so when the other parent is absent or unwilling to provide their share.

This is where child support comes in. Child support is a court-ordered monetary allowance that aims to support the needs of the child by providing financial assistance from both parents.

This article seeks to explore how to apply for child support in Tennessee and how to establish paternity if necessary.

Ways to Apply for Child Support

In Tennessee, there are different ways you can apply for child support. The first and most convenient method is through the online application portal provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

By creating a DHS account, you can easily apply, monitor, and manage your child support case online. Alternatively, you can download the application form provided on the website and submit it in person or by mail to the nearest DHS office.

Services Offered by DHS

Once you have applied for child support, DHS offers specialized services in ensuring that your child receives financial support from the non-custodial parent. These services include locating the non-custodial parent, establishing paternity, enforcing and supporting court orders, reviewing and modifying support orders, and collecting child support arrears.

DHS has a broad mandate to ensure that children receive financial support from both parents. Required Information/Documents

To apply for child support, you need to provide relevant information and documents that will help DHS locate the absent parent and establish paternity if necessary.

Some of the critical documents you need to submit include the full names of the parents, the last known whereabouts and employer of the non-custodial parent, a photograph of the non-custodial parent, physical descriptions, the birth certificate of the child, and the social security number of both parents.

Referral and Service Fee

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for government assistance in the form of a referral fee. Therefore, you should ask your DHS representative about any available referral programs.

In addition, there is an annual service fee of $35, which is deducted from any child support payments the non-custodial parent makes. The fee is offset by an increase in the overall amount collected.

However, if you receive cash assistance or cover the healthcare benefits of the child through the state, the fee is waived. Automatic vs.

Legal Father

Establishing paternity is essential in determining child support. Paternity refers to the legal establishment of the biological father of a child.

In Tennessee, unmarried parents must establish paternity through a legal process. A legal father has the right to custody, visitation, and legal decision-making for the child.

On the other hand, an automatic father is one who is legally married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.

Custody and Paternity Test Petition

If the mother has custody, the presumed legal father must submit a petition to establish paternity and obtain visitation rights. As the petitioner, you have a 60-day rescind period to withdraw your petition once you submit it.

If the presumed father files the petition, the parties may agree to a DNA test to establish paternity voluntarily. If the presumed father refuses to take a DNA test or if the results are negative, the mother may move forward with the legal process of establishing paternity.


In conclusion, applying for child support and establishing paternity requires an understanding of the legal process required in Tennessee. By following the steps provided, you can ensure that your child receives the financial support they need to succeed and grow.

It is vital to seek the assistance of a professional service provider who will guide you through the legal system and answer any questions you may have to ensure that your child gets the best possible outcome.

Determining Child Support in Tennessee

When parents separate, ensuring that children continue to receive financial support is critical. In Tennessee, child support is calculated based on the Income Shares Model that takes into consideration the incomes of both parents and the number of children involved.

Here is what you need to know about determining child support in Tennessee.

Basis for Child Support

Tennessee uses the Income Shares Model to calculate child support. This model considers the combined income of both parents, childcare costs, and income from other sources such as bonuses and investments.

The number of children involved also affects the amount of child support. The details of the calculation process can be complicated, but DHS has made it easier through its worksheets or online calculators.

Changes in Tennessee Child Support Guidelines

Over the years, there have been significant changes to Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines. Recently, the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Council updated the Income Shares Model to reflect new financial realities and ensure that children receive adequate financial support.

Some notable changes include:

Gross Income: The Income Shares Model now uses gross income to calculate child support. Gross income combines income from employment, self-employment, and passive income sources.

The previous model used net income, which deducted taxes and other expenses, leading to disparities in child support awards. Voluntary Underemployment: In the past, some parents deliberately reduced their income to lower their child support obligation.

Now, a parent’s earning potential will be used to calculate support if they are shown to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed. Incarcerated Parent Modification: Parents who are incarcerated can now file for a child support modification.

This recognizes that a parent’s income may be reduced while they are incarcerated, which can affect their child support obligation. Minimum Child Support Order: A minimum child support order has been introduced to ensure that even parents with a low income contribute towards their child support obligations.

Criminal Records as Evidence: Tennessee law now allows the introduction of criminal records as evidence during child support proceedings. If a parent has a criminal record, it can be used to prove their income or earning potential.

Calculating Child Support

To calculate child support in Tennessee, you need to determine the incomes of both parents, calculate Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), combine the incomes, and then cross-reference the combined adjusted gross income with the Tennessee Child Support Schedule to find the monthly basic support obligation. DHS provides worksheets or online calculators to simplify the process.

These worksheets are used to input information about the parents’ incomes, childcare costs, and existing child support obligations.

Modifying Child Support in Tennessee

In Tennessee, child support orders can be modified if significant material conditions have changed since the original order. These changes could include a variance in income, disabilities, emancipation, additional children, among others.

As a parent, it’s important to know how to modify child support so that you can ensure your child receives fair and adequate support.

Grounds for Modification

Tennessee courts require a significant change in circumstances to modify child support. This change should be expected to last for at least six months and should significantly affect the child’s welfare.

Examples of a significant change could include a decrease in income, increase in income, or change in living arrangements. Parents should contact DHS if they are unsure whether their circumstances qualify for modification.

Requesting Modification

Either parent can request a modification of a child support order. The request can be made in-person or in writing.

It is best to notify DHS of changes as soon as possible to ensure that modifications are made promptly. If the parents come to an agreement regarding the modification, the modification can be processed administratively through DHS.

However, if the parents cannot agree, the matter may need to be heard in court.

Percentage Change and Timing for Modification

Many parents wonder when it is best to modify child support or how much change is required to modify the existing child support. In Tennessee, courts require a change of at least 15% before considering a modification.

However, if a family is low income, a modification can be made on as little as a 7.5% change. Parents should act promptly when circumstances change to avoid accruing arrears and to ensure that their child receives adequate financial support.


Determining and modifying child support orders can be complex, but it’s essential to ensure that children receive adequate financial support. Parents should familiarize themselves with the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, including recent changes, to ensure compliance with the law.

Additionally, parents should be proactive in monitoring their circumstances and seeking modifications when necessary. Contact DHS if you have any questions regarding child support in Tennessee.

Enforcing Child Support in Tennessee

Child support is a legal obligation owed by each parent, and its payments are necessary to support the needs of the child. Despite the legal obligation, sometimes, one of the parents refuses to fulfill their responsibilities.

Enforcing child support orders is thus necessary to ensure that the child’s welfare and needs are met. This article will explore the methods of enforcing child support orders in Tennessee, punishments for non-payment, and the termination of child support.

Enforcement Process

The enforcement process of child support in Tennessee begins with obtaining a court order. If the non-custodial parent refuses to comply with the order, DHS can issue an income withholding order, which deducts the amount owed from the non-custodial parent’s income.

Other collection tools may be used as well, such as seizure of assets, interception of tax refunds, license revocation, credit bureau reporting, and lien against personal property. If messages sent to non-custodial parents are ignored, DHS can refer the case to the Attorney General’s office or a private collection agency.

Punishments for Non-Payment

If a non-custodial parent does not comply with child support orders, the court may hold them in contempt and subject them to civil or criminal penalties. Failure to pay child support may lead to civil contempt of court charges, which can result in a fine or prison time until the obligation is fulfilled.

Furthermore, non-payment of child support can also lead to criminal liability, with Flagrant Nonsupport being a Class E felony with 1-6 years of imprisonment for non-callous offenders and a Class A misdemeanor for first-time non-callous offenders.

Child Support Termination

In Tennessee, the legal age of emancipation is 18. Thus, child support usually terminates when the child reaches this age.

However, there are instances where child support may continue beyond the age of 18 if certain conditions apply. For instance, if the child is pursuing their education, child support termination can be extended to 19.

Additionally, if the child is disabled and cannot support themselves, the court may order indefinite support. If the child gets married, joins the military, or turns 18 before completing their high school education, the child support obligation terminates.

Emancipation in Tennessee

Emancipation means that a minor is released from the control and support of their parents. In Tennessee, minors below 18 can file a petition for emancipation in a court of law.

They will also need to find a “next friend” who is at least 18 or a legal guardian to help them in the process. Emancipation can occur if the minor marries or joins the U.S. Army, and Tennessee also allows minors above 17 years to get married with parental consent.

Once emancipated, the minor is considered to have legal capacity, including the ability to enter into contracts, manage their finances, and file lawsuits.


Enforcing child support orders is essential to ensure that children receive the financial support they require. The methods of enforcement depend on the circumstances surrounding the non-payment of child support order.

DHS offers various tools to help enforce the orders, and failure to do so can result in civil or criminal penalties. Child support terminates when the child reaches the legal age of emancipation, but other conditions may apply that require the support to continue.

Minors in Tennessee can seek emancipation through the courts, depending on certain conditions. In conclusion, enforcing child support orders in Tennessee is crucial to ensure the well-being of children.

The process involves obtaining a court order, utilizing various enforcement mechanisms, and holding non-compliant parents accountable through civil and criminal penalties. Child support may continue beyond the age of 18 under specific circumstances such as education continuation or disability.

Emancipation is possible for minors through a legal process. The importance of child support enforcement cannot be understated, as it provides children with the financial support they need for their upbringing.

Remember, ensuring child support is not just a legal obligation but a fundamental responsibility for the betterment of children and their future.

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