Child support is the responsibility of both parents of a child. This is applicable whether or not they are together. The support of both parents (especially financial support) is essential to help the child get a decent standard of living and meet basic needs. Tennessee recognizes the importance of parents taking responsibility for the care of their child and has child support laws to reflect this.
Child Support Process
Child support services in Tennessee are provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and are available to any parent, regardless of income level. Parents who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically referred to the DHS for child support. Other parents who wish to apply for child support can complete an online application for services at https://csonlineapp.dhs.tn.gov/Home/Login. Alternatively, parents can download and fill an application form from https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/human-services/hs/HS-2912.pdf. During the application process, the parent applying will need to provide details about themselves and the parent being petitioned for child support. This includes full name, address, home, and cell phone numbers, relationship to the child, email address, social security number, age, etc. The DHS provides several services including the location of the other parent, establishing paternity of the child, establishing child support orders, modifying child support orders, and enforcing child support orders. Families that have never received TANF benefits are charged a $35 annual fee once $550 has been disbursed for that year.
The information provided about the other parent in the application is used to try and locate the parent. If the address is no longer valid, the state can make use of locator services to find the parent. This involves searching a statewide or national database for the details of the parent.
Once the parent has been located, a child support notice is served. Afterward, the next step is to establish the paternity of the child. This involves legally identifying someone as the child’s father. If the child was born while the mother was married, her husband becomes the legal father of the child. However, for unmarried parents, a form called the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAoP) can be filled and signed in front of a notary public. If there is a dispute or doubt about who the child’s father is, DNA testing can be requested. If the results come back positive, a court order can be entered, naming the man as the child’s father. The establishment of paternity is only applicable if the child’s paternity has not been previously established. Details on establishing paternity can be found at https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/human-services/documents/345773%20Establishing%20Paternity%2002-19.pdf.
After establishing paternity, the DHS can proceed with establishing the child support order.
Options for Receiving Child Support Payments
Custodial parents in Tennessee receive their initial child support payments in their mail as a physical check. After this initial payment, a debit card would be mailed to the parent which is to be activated for subsequent payments. On the back of the debit card is a phone number that the parent should call for activation of the card. The debit card issued is the Tennessee Way2Go Card. It is a MasterCard debit card that provides a safe and convenient way for parents to receive their child support entitlements. This card can be used to make purchases at any place MasterCard debit cards are accepted, pay bills and buy items online, get cash back from merchants and banks, etc. The card also allows parents to check their balance easily and withdraw cash at ATMs. For further details on the Tennessee Way2Go Card, visit https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/human-services/documents/Frequently_Asked_Questions_Regarding_the_Debit_Card.pdf.
Amount Receivable as Child Support
Child support in Tennessee is calculated based on pre-established guidelines. These guidelines are in turn based on an Income Shares model that determines child support in a way that obligations are split equitably. The guidelines consider the gross income of the parents, the number of children, peculiar healthcare needs, etc. The complete child support guidelines can be found at https://publications.tnsosfiles.com/rules/1240/1240-02/1240-02.htm. The idea of using the income shares model is to ensure that the contribution of the parents to the child’s welfare is similar to what would have been if they were together. Also, the support is determined in such a way that it is not too much for the noncustodial parent to pay. An online calculator is hosted by the state at https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/humanservices/for-families/child-support-services/child-support-guidelines/child-support-calculator-and-worksheet-1.html for estimation purposes so the parents have an idea of how much may be entered in the order.
Child support orders can also be modified to better reflect current financial circumstances such as an increase in income, the addition of another child that a parent is obligated to care for, etc. For full details on the modification requirements and process, visit https://www.tn.gov/humanservices/for-families/child-support-services/review-and-adjustment.html.
Enforcement of Child Support
The enforcement of child support orders is vital to providing the best quality of life for the child. The DHS has several enforcement techniques to enforce compliance with a child support order. Most of these actions are administrative and do not require court involvement. This makes it easy to automatically apply them as certain criteria are met. The enforcement actions include suspension of licenses, denial of passport application, reporting to credit bureaus (which will, in turn, lower credit score), intercepting state and federal tax refunds, intercepting lottery winnings, etc. For extreme cases of non-compliance, court action may be filed, which may lead to the incarceration of the defaulting parent.