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Tennessee child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this Tennessee child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

How is Tennessee child support determined?

In Tennessee, either or both parents may be ordered to pay child support. The factors the courts consider include:

  • the financial resources of the child
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had continued
  • the child’s physical and emotional health and educational needs
  • the financial resources, needs and obligations of each parent
  • the non-custodial parent’s earning power
  • the age and health of the child
  • all contributions by each parent to the child’s welfare
  • any pension or retirement benefits the parent’s have
  • the amount of visitation the non-custodial parent receives and any other relevant factors

There are official Tennessee Child Support guidelines, designed to be in the best interests of the child, that the courts use to help determine the correct amount of child support. These guidelines will be followed, unless the parents have agreed to a child support amount that’s at least equal to the amount in the guidelines, or the courts find them inappropriate or unjust for a particular case.

The state guidelines are generally based on a percentage of the net income of the parent ordered to pay child support, as follows:

  • One child 21%
  • Two children 32%
  • Three children 41%
  • Four children 46%
  • Five or more children 50%

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later.

Tennessee's custody guidelines:

The parents may agree upon decisions about parenting and custody. If there is no agreement between the parents, then the courts will make these decisions.

In suits requiring the court to make a child custody decision, the court will examine the best interest of the child based on the following factors:

  • the love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents and the child
  • the disposition of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care
  • the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver
  • the importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment
  • the stability of the family unit of the parents
  • the mental and physical health of the parents
  • the home, school and community record of the child
  • the reasonable preference of the child if twelve years of age or older
  • evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person
  • the character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of either parent
  • each parent's past, and potential future, performance of parenting responsibilities, including their willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent

In Tennessee, joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and by considering the child’s reasonable preference, especially for children twelve years of age and older. In Tennessee, the courts have a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of the child when the parents have agreed to this, either in writing or in open court. Neither parent is presumed to be better suited for custody. However, if the child is of a tender age, the sex of the parent may be considered in the custody decision.

Tennessee's medical insurance guidelines:

Generally, the decision as to which parent is going to provide medical insurance coverage for the child and how medical bills will be paid is set out in the marital settlement agreement. If it is not, the courts may order a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the child. Also, the Tennessee courts may order the parent responsible for child support to maintain a life insurance policy benefiting the child.

How permanent are the provisions for Tennessee child support and custody ?

Court orders providing for support and custody of children are subject to change or modification to reflect significant changes in income, and/or living arrangements of the children.

While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, we encourage you to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Most states, including Tennessee, have a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. The payments are withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

How does joint custody work?

Joint custody is now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures as the preferred parenting plan.

Specifically, joint custody is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities of the children, and for both parents to approve all major decisions related to the children.

While joint custody is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Often one parent is named as the primary joint custodian and the other parent is granted visitation. The primary joint custodian typically retains the decision making power to determine the child’s primary residence and school and to designate things such as the child’s primary physician.

How Tennessee determines child visitation:

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree to exactly when visitation will occur, the standard visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays
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