child support

How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support in Tennessee?

When parents divorce, the court may order the noncustodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent. Child support payments are to provide financial assistance to the custodial parent when raising the children. And while most parents who pay child support understand why the payments are necessary, they may often wonder how long they will be required to make payments.

Courts can issue a child support order under circumstances such as a legal separation, divorce, or even if the parents have no legal relationship. This article will answer questions you may have if you are paying or receiving child support payments in Tennessee and have wondered how long they will continue.

What Age Do Child Support Payments End?

The “age of majority” is when a person is no longer considered a minor and can make their own legal decisions. In Tennessee, that age is 18 years old. The child support order will remain intact until one of the following conditions is met:

  • The child turns 18 and is no longer in high school.
  • The child graduates from high school and has previously turned 18 years old.

In the majority of cases, this is when child support payments would end. However, as with most things, there are exceptions to the rule.

Exceptions

Here are some exceptions that may affect how long payments will occur.

  • Emancipated Minor — If a child pursues and is granted emancipation from their parents, child support payments would end. Emancipation is the only instance that would terminate a parent’s legal responsibility for support prior to the child turning 18.
  • College When a child enrolls in college immediately after graduation or turning 18, the support agreement may be extended to provide extended assistance while the child is enrolled as a full-time student. While this typically happens as an agreement between the parents, the courts can force the issue if necessary.
  • Disabled Adult Child — Per Tennessee Code § 36-5-101(k)(1), if a child is handicapped or disabled as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), child support may be extended until the child is 21. And if the child is severely disabled and is in the care of one parent, the other parent would be responsible for continuing to make child support payments regardless of the child’s age.

Modifying Child Support Orders

There are certain circumstances that will allow support orders to be modified. The most common situation is when more than one child is covered under the order, and one of them meets a condition to terminate child support payments.

Theoretically, removing one child from the order should lower the monthly payment. For example, if you are paying child support for two children, and one reaches the age of majority, the payment would be cut in half. However, that’s not always the case.

When the agreement is reopened, the parent receiving the child support payments could request additional funds to help cover other expenses for the children remaining on the support order if circumstances have changed since the initial order.

Some factors that could increase child support payments, although terminating payments for one child, include a change in the custodial parent’s income, an increase in health insurance costs, or other expenses. The court will examine the request and proof of significant variance and come to a modified arrangement.

Terminating Child Support Payments

When a child turns eighteen or graduates high school, you must file a motion with the court to terminate child support. Although the child may have met the requirements to terminate child support, don’t just stop making payments.

Failing to make payments without going through the courts will cause you to fall behind in your payments. If you are in arrears (meaning you owe money you should have paid earlier), the termination process can become much more complicated.

The courts can even force you to make payments until all back payments have been made and can also add interest to the amount owed. Planning ahead can avoid these problems. When your child’s birthday or graduation is approaching, get your motion scheduled to file to terminate child support.

Get the Expertise You Need with Attorney Hunter Fowler

As with any state, Tennessee has many rules that are considered when modifying or terminating child support. This article provides an overview of what you need to know about terminating child support payments, but every case is different. That’s why you need the expertise of a family law attorney.

Attorney Hunter Fowler is here to protect your legal rights regarding your child support obligation. Whether life’s circumstances require an alteration in child support or you are pursuing terminating support payments, Hunter is ready to help.

Contact Hunter Fowler today for a Murfreesboro attorney who cares about you and strives to improve your situation.