Skip to Content

Tennessee’s Child Support Laws

Portrait of a mother with her ex and child talking to an attorney in the background

Parents who never married or were married, and are now splitting up, will most likely need to determine a child support plan for their child or children. There is no “one-size-fits-all” child support system in Tennessee — each parent’s situation is different, so their child support plan will be different too.

Types of Custody

Before determining how much child support will be awarded, parents must know the type of custody arrangement for their children. There are four general types of custody agreements:

  • Physical Custody: If someone is awarded physical custody, they have the legal right to have their child live with them. It also means that the parent is responsible for ensuring the child’s basic needs, such as having food, shelter, and clothing.
  • Legal Custody: A parent with legal custody can make long-term decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. This includes decisions regarding the child’s education, health care, and religious instruction.
  • Sole Custody: This type of custody arrangement means that only one parent is considered responsible for the child. There are differences between sole physical and sole legal custody. With sole physical custody, the child or children lives with only one parent but may have visitation with their other parent if the court deems it appropriate. With sole legal custody, only one parent is responsible for making decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.
  • Joint Custody: Parents who have joint custody have custodial rights to their children. The most common type of joint custody is both physical and legal custody. In this arrangement, parents must make decisions together regarding their child's upbringing and the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents.

There are other forms of joint custody arrangements. One is whether the parents have joint legal custody but not physical custody. This means that the child will live with one parent but both parents have equal rights to making decisions about raising the child. The other form is when the parents have joint physical custody but not joint legal custody. When this happens, only one parent is granted the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing but the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents.

What are Child Support Payments Based On?

Whether parents were ever married or not, each has a responsibility to support their child or children financially. One of the first questions parents ask is concerning how child support payments are calculated.

The support is determined by the income of both parents and how many children they have. That means a judge or magistrate will look at both parents’ salaries, pensions, retirement plans, and any other income a parent receives. Another factor is the amount of time each parent will spend with their child. That means whether a parent has sole or joint physical custody will play a part in determining the amount of child support awarded to the other parent.

Those who make child support payments do not pay a flat fee per child. Rather, the judge or magistrate will look at the above factors, consider any deductions a parent already may make (such as other child support payments), and then determine a monthly payment.

Can Child Support Payments Change?

Thankfully for parents who make child support payments, once a payment plan is in place, it can change if certain circumstances arise. Conditions that could result in a modification of child support payments include:

  • A parent’s income drastically increases or decreases;
  • Either parent has another child;
  • The physical custody agreement of the child changes; or,
  • The child becomes disabled.

Either parent has the right to ask for a modification of child support payments; however, a review of the child support plan will not be made if it’s been less than two years since the initial decision or another change.

Questions About Child Support in Tennessee?

If you have questions about your current child support arrangement or believe you may be making child support payments in the future, it is critical to be in the know about what to expect. The knowledgeable child support attorneys at Peterson White, LLP are here to walk you through the process. Our Tennessee & Kentucky lawyers have seen countless child support arrangements and can give you an idea of what might happen with your case. Reach out to set up a consultation so we can get started working with you.