Law Office of David L. Scott

How Do I Enforce A Child Support Order in Tennessee?

Failure to pay or delinquent payment of child support obligations is a national epidemic

The Social Security Act of 1935 requires states to have programs in place to provide child support. Tennessee has rigorous procedures to determine child support obligations, enforced by the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

All too often a parent does not meet child support obligations. According to a 2013 census report, approximately 7.1 million parents were owed a total of $37.9 billion in 2011. However, only 62.3 percent of this owed child support was paid.

In Tennessee, the parent owed payment is the primary residential parent (PRP) and the parent owing child support is the alternative residential parent (ARP).

Despite the millions of PRPs owed over $14 billion by delinquent ARPs, only 26.1% of these parents sought government assistance to compel payment. So non-payment of child support obligations is a real problem. Fortunately, in Tennessee there are many options to force payment of the amount owed (called the “arrearages”).

One good option is wage garnishment, which means that any arrearages can be automatically withdrawn from the ARP’s paycheck. However, there are limitations to wage garnishment. The garnishment is usually limited to about 25 percent of the ARP’s disposable income, and obviously no money is withdrawn if the ARP quits the job or gets fired.

However, wage garnishment works well if the ARP was not working and became delinquent in payments, but then got a good job that could support the original child support payment plus the additional amount due for arrearages. In this case, a second option to consider is payment of interest on the amount not originally paid. The law allows a 12 percent simple interest on this.

But what if the ARP is well off and not working, and simply not paying the PRP? The law has an answer for that, as well. For example, a lien can be put on the ARP’s real property, making it difficult to sell without paying any child support owed. Also, if the ARP is a person of leisure, an application for renewal of a state-issued license (such as a hunting license) could be denied due to arrearages.

If none of this works, then perhaps jail time will force the ARP to reconsider. If the ARP fails to pay child support pursuant to a court order, a motion can be filed to find the person in contempt of court (due to failure to comply with the court order requiring child support). If found in contempt, the ARP can be sentenced to up to 10 days in jail for each failure to abide by the terms of the court order concerning child support.

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