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Contempt for Failing to Pay Child Support in Tennessee: What You Need to Know

Child support is an essential aspect of family law designed to ensure that the financial needs of a child are met. However, when a non-custodial parent fails to pay child support, it can have severe consequences for the child and the custodial parent.

In Tennessee, failing to pay child support can result in a contempt of court charge. This article will explain contempt of court and the possible consequences of failing to pay child support in Tennessee.

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court is disobeying a court order or obstructing the administration of justice (Tennessee Code § 29-9-102). In the context of child support in Tennessee, contempt occurs when the non-custodial parent fails to pay court-ordered child support.

When a non-custodial parent fails to pay child support, the custodial parent can file a petition for contempt of court. The court will then schedule a hearing to determine whether the non-custodial parent is in contempt of court.

If the court finds that the non-custodial parent is in contempt of court, they can be fined, ordered to pay attorney’s fees, and even face jail time (Tennessee Code § 29-9-103). In addition, the court can also order the non-custodial parent to pay the back child support they owe.

A judge has significant authority when dealing with contempt of court charges. However, when it’s due to failure to pay child support, the consequences will depend on factors that affect the payor.

The judge may show leniency if there’s a legitimate reason why the support is in arrears. However, if there is no reason for the non-payment, the judge may deal with the charge more harshly.

How to Avoid Contempt of Court Charges

Making child support payments on time and in full is essential to avoid contempt of court charges. If you cannot make your payments, contact the court and request a child support order modification (Tennessee Code § 36-5-101).

The court may modify the child support order if you can show a significant change in your circumstances, such as a job loss or a medical emergency. However, it’s important to remember that even if a modification is granted, you will still be responsible for paying the back child support you owe.

Enforcing a Child Support Order

Enforcing a child support order can’t be done alone. You’ll need to enlist the services of government agencies (such as the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) agency) or the courts. Hiring a family law attorney to help you navigate the process is also beneficial.

The Department of Human Services administers the Child Support Program in Tennessee. You can apply for enforcement assistance online.

Consequences of Failing to Pay Child Support in Tennessee

Some consequences you may face for failing to pay child support include the following.

Wage Garnishments

All child support orders include the option to enforce payments via wage garnishment. That means the state can order the payor’s employer to deduct child support from their paycheck, as they do other payroll withholdings such as social security and income tax. The payment is then sent to the other custodial parent or the local child support office.

If the payor has a regular job with a steady paycheck, this method is effective for collecting child support. However, other methods must be used if the payor is self-employed, changes jobs frequently, or doesn’t have a job.

Withholding Other Income

Money can also be withheld from sources other than wages, such as bonuses, pension benefits, and commission income. The Administrative Offset Program is a program that state child support agencies can participate in that allows some federal payments, such as federal retirement payments and payments to vendors who work for a government agency, to be intercepted to pay back child support.

Freezing Bank and/or Investment Accounts

Due to back child support, certain accounts can be frozen at financial institutions such as credit unions, banks, and insurance companies. When this happens, the payor must pay off the debt owed before they will release the funds.

Withholding Tax Refunds

Parents who haven’t paid child support are reported to state and federal tax agencies. When this happens, the parent who owes back support money will have their tax refunds withheld until the unpaid child support is resolved.

Often, the non-custodial parent has remarried and is filing a joint return. In that case, money can only be withheld from the portion of the tax return based on the payor’s income, not their spouse’s.

License Suspension or Revocation

A very effective way of getting back past-due child support payments made is for the driver’s license of the non-custodial parent to be revoked or suspended. Child support agencies can also withhold, suspend, or revoke the parent’s professional license (i.e., medical, legal, real estate broker, cosmetology). The same goes for a recreational license such as a fishing or hunting license.

Effects on Passports

If the amount of child support in arrears is at least $2,500, the parent’s information can be submitted to the Department of State, which can reject a passport being issued to the parent. Child support agencies can also get a federal warrant that gives the Department of State the power to revoke a passport and arrest the non-custodial parent when they return to the United States.

Report to Credit Reporting Agencies

When child support payments are reported late, child support agencies are required by federal law to report that to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) monthly. As a result, credit scores can take a major hit, making it difficult for them to obtain credit in the future.

Property Liens

If the payor owns real estate or other kinds of property, such as a vehicle, child support enforcement agencies can place a lien on that property. That means whoever placed a lien on that property has a claim on that property. So before it can be sold, the lien must be paid in full.

Are You Having Child Support Issues? Attorney Hunter Fowler Can Help 

Failure to pay child support in Tennessee can have severe consequences. If you are a non-custodial parent struggling to make child support payments, seeking legal advice and exploring your options is essential. It’s better to take proactive steps to address any financial difficulties rather than face the severe consequences of contempt of court.

It’s crucial to remember that child support is not just a legal obligation but also a moral obligation. Providing financial support to your child is essential to being a responsible parent and ensuring that your child’s needs are met and that they have the financial resources they need to thrive. In addition, by making timely and full child support payments, you can help provide for your child’s well-being and strengthen your relationship with your child.

Attorney Hunter Fowler knows you only want what’s best for your children. So whether you’re the custodial parent who has stopped receiving support payments, or the non-custodial parent who may be struggling to make support payments, Hunter can explain the laws surrounding your issue and help you find an outcome to serve everyone’s best interest.

Contact Attorney Hunter Fowler today to schedule a consultation.