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In 1975, Congress passed a law requiring states to create a enforcement agency. In Tennessee the Department of Human Services administers the child support program. The services are provided through local district attorneys, a juvenile court, DHS staff and private agencies under contract with the state.
Help is available in locating alternate residential parents, establishing paternity, establishing Tennessee Child Support orders, enforcing child support orders and securing and enforcing health insurance coverage. This web page is written as a general guide to help families understand the processes for establishment of child support obligations and collection of child support. Certain procedures may vary in each local office.
If the child’s mother is not married when the child is born, the child does not have a legal father. Fatherhood must be legally recognized to obtain a child support order. Most unmarried parents can legally establish the paternity of their child by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form at the hospital, local health department, child support office, or Office of Vital Records. Anytime a father is willing to acknowledge paternity, the process to obtain an order for child support will be easier. However, if the father does not admit paternity or if either parent is not sure he is the child’s father, genetic tests may be ordered and a court order may be entered establishing paternity depending on the results of the tests and other evidence.
Paternity can be established in Tennessee until the child turns 21. Genetic tests of the mother, the child and the alleged father, can exclude the man as a possible father or can indicate the likelihood that he is the father. Depending on the results of genetic tests, and other evidence presented to the court, an order establishing paternity can be entered. Many times alleged fathers will sign an agreed order for paternity based on the genetic test results.
What are genetic tests?
Certain inherited genetic traits are found in each cell of the body. Every child receives these traits from each parent. Genetic tests compare small samples of blood or cells taken by swabbing the inside of the cheek of the mother, father, and child. By performing tests on the samples taken, scientists can determine if a man cannot be the father of the child or the probability that he is the father. Genetic tests are highly accurate and are widely accepted for the purpose of establishing paternity. If the Child's mother is not available, tests can be made with samples from the father and the child. These tests can be done even when one of the parents is in a different state from the other parent and child.
Can the alternate residential parent be required to cover the child under his/her group health insurance?
Yes, The court will be petitioned to order health insurance coverage if currently available to the alternate residential parent or when it becomes available to the alternate residential parent through his/her employer. The primary residential parent may also be court ordered to provide health insurance coverage. Both parents are responsible for medical expenses.
Enforcement of a Tennessee Child Support order
Once the child support order is obtained, enforcement action will be initiated if the alternate residential parent does not pay as ordered. The duty of support continues until the child turns 18 years of age. If the child is 18 and still in high school, the duty of support continues until the child graduates or the class of which the child is a member when he/she turns 18 graduates, whichever occurs first. If Tennessee Child Support is not being paid as ordered, the child support office will take the legal action available to enforce the order for current support in an effort to collect the balance of unpaid child support.
When an employer or payer of income is identified, an income withholding order is sent. If there is past due support, an amount to pay on arrears is included. Past due child support (arrears) may also be collected by other means even if payments are being made on the arrears. For example, the alternate residential parent may be paying the current obligation and an amount on the arrears balance and still have his/her tax refund intercepted to pay on the overdue balance. The type of enforcement action that is taken depends on the circumstances of your case. Some types of enforcement action are placement of liens on property, license revocation, denial of passports, and credit bureau reporting. Certain rules apply to using each of these methods of enforcement.
Before action to establish paternity or to enforce Tennessee Child Support can take place, the alternate residential parent must be found. Providing information about the alternate residential parents where abouts to the local office is helpful in finding the parent. An address, Social Security number, and an employer’s name and phone number are helpful in locating the parent. If the location of the alternate residential parent is unknown, your case will be placed in “locate status” on the Tennessee Child Support system. The system periodically looks at sources such as drivers licenses, motor vehicle registration, and reported wages to locate an address or an employer for the alternate residential parent. If location is unsuccessful, a federal system and a network system involving other states are used.
What Is The Treasury Offset Program?
Names and Social Security numbers of alternate residential parents owing back Tennessee Child Support are submitted to the Treasury Department. Their name will remain on the Treasury Department list until the debt is paid. Income tax refunds and other federal benefits such as VA benefits payments are intercepted to pay overdue child support. If the tax refund is intercepted, any past due Tennessee Child Support owed to the state because of receipt of Families First will be paid first. For cases to be submitted for this program there must be $150 or more in past due child support owed on a Families First case, and $500 or more owed on a non-assistance case.
Income assignment is also known as income or wage withholding. It is the automatic deduction of child support payments from wages, salaries, and other income to pay the ordered child support. All new orders should be payable by income withholding if the alternate residential parent receives wages or other income from an assignable source. Income withholding cannot be used for the self-employed parent.
What Is Meant By “Good Cause” For Not Cooperating?
If you think that helping the Tennessee Child Support office to establish paternity or enforce child support would not be good for you or your child, you may have “good cause” not to try to help get Tennessee Child Support or court ordered health insurance. To claim “good cause”, tell your Families First case manager why you think you or your child will be harmed by your cooperation. Your case manager will tell you more about the reasons for “good cause” and the kinds of proof you will need or things you need to tell us. If you prove you have good cause, you will not have to help. If you do not help the Tennessee Child Support office and do not have “good cause”, you could lose eligibility for Families First benefits.
I Receive Families First – Why Should I Try To Get Child Support?
When you receive Families First, you assign your rights to child support payments to the state. This means DHS will automatically refer your case to the Tennessee Child Support office and any money collected from the alternate residential parent will be sent to the Department for distribution. If you receive child support money directly from the alternate residential parent or the court while you receive Families First, you must send all of it to DHS. If you are eligible, you may receive a “pass through” payment in addition to your Families First check.
We need your help in trying to get support. Helping us may help you and your children in many ways including the following:
Families First and TennCare/Medicaid Recipients
Recipients of Families First benefits and TennCare/Medicaid and Foster Care cases are automatically referred to the Tennessee Child Support office if there is a parent absent from the child’s home. An absent parent is referred to as the alternate residential parent in Tennessee. As a Families First or TennCare/Medicaid recipient, you must cooperate with the child support office in locating the alternate residential parent, establishing paternity, establishing a Tennessee Child Support order, and enforcing a child support order. Families receiving transitional child care must also cooperate with the child support office. As a Families First or TennCare/Medicaid recipient, you may claim “good cause” for not cooperating with the child support office if this might be harmful to you or your child.
As a Families First recipient, you assign your rights to receive child support to the state to pay back the state and federal governments for the benefits you and your child get under the Families First program. This means any support paid on behalf of you or your child must be sent to the state. You must send any Tennessee Child Support payments received directly from the other parent or from any other source to the state. Any payments made through the court clerks office will automatically be sent to the state. Families First recipients may be eligible to receive a payment called a “pass through” payment in addition to the Families First cash payment.
The amount of the Tennessee Child Support “pass through” payment depends on the amount of the child support collected for that month and the unmet need in your Families First budget for that month. You can ask your Families First case manager about your unmet need.
Appeals or Requesting Administrative Hearings
All Tennessee Child Support offices are mandated by federal and state requirements to have an appeal process regarding certain actions taken by the Tennessee IV-D Child Support Offices. Parties to the child support case who do not agree with an administrative action taken by Child Support Services may appeal that decision and request a hearing by submitting the request in writing. They can also go to the local Tennessee Child Support office. You can get a form to use for requesting an appeal from a customer service representative or from the local Child Support Office, however, you are not required to use that form to request a hearing. The written request may be submitted to the Local Child Support Office where the action and decision took place, to any Department of Human Services office or to the Division of Appeals and Hearings.
Tennessee Child support Customer Service
When sending support money to DHS, send a cashier’s check, certified check or money order made out to the Department of Human Services. Write your name, child support case number, the name of the parent who paid the support, and the date the payment was received. Send it to:
Tennessee Child support Agency
Customer Service Number In Nashville
Calling Area: 615-253-4394
Central Tennessee Child Support
P.O. BOX 305200
NASHVILLE, TN 37229
Division of Appeals and Hearings
P.O. Box 198996
Nashville, TN 37219-8996
Telephone: (615) 313-5880