22 Feb 2013

What happens if back child support is owed in Tennessee?


When back child support is owed, the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) may intervene on behalf of the parent seeking it. Tennessee child support laws provide this program so that parents who are owed money can take the necessary steps to enforce child support and recover what was never paid.

The laws specifically allow for retroactive child support from the date a child was born, the date of a divorce/separation or the date when a parent abandoned a child. If these circumstances apply to you, it could mean owing a lot of money.

Collecting Back Child Support in Tennessee

Once a parent falls behind on payments or suddenly refuses to pay, the other parent usually will do what he or she can to get all owed money back. Unfortunately those who fall behind can cause a significant financial burden.

This is especially true if you also are required to pay interest charges and fees. The other parent will stand a better chance at receiving back child support if it was court-ordered. But even if it wasn’t, they still have options available for going after the parent not supporting a child.

If a parent not receiving support does not want to hire an attorney, the Tennessee Department of Human Services is the agency that handles these types of cases. The other parent may fill out an application for child support enforcement with DHS.

TOP (or another agency) may work with the parent to get the child support automatically taken from federal payments, such as income tax refunds.When a parent’s child support isn’t court-ordered, a hearing is usually set. This is where the course of action to be taken will be decided.

Besides getting the money from federal payments, there are other options for receiving back child support. One of the more common ways to get it is through wage garnishment. But you face other significant problems such as having your driver’s license suspended, property seized, passport denied, being ordered to pick up trash on highways, and even jail time.

Options When Back Child Support Is Owed 

There may be options you can seek if you owe support. One of the first things you might want to do is talk to an attorney. It’s important that you make efforts to meet your financial obligations.

In some cases, part of your child support may be dismissed. One way this could happen is if your child lived with you for a portion of time and you can prove you provided necessaries (food, shelter, clothing, and education expenses).  But, the evidence laws on seeking credit for necessaries can be tricky.

Unless the court will allow credit for necessaries, note that interest on child support owed might be owed regardless. Generally, this requires an agreement to pay off your back child support within a certain time period.  A payment schedule sometimes can be arranged. Or you may need to take out a loan to pay some of the arrearage in a lump sum.  Depending on the situation and the judge, offering a lump-sum payment of arrearages could make the difference between having to go to jail and not.

Keep in mind that there is the possibility of an error in the amount of support owed. So make sure you verify the correct amount.  Always keep canceled checks or other proof payment – forever!

For more information, see Child Support Enforcement & Collection in Tennessee Family Law FAQs.

Contacting a Child Support Attorney in TN 

For help in understanding your rights, contact an attorney at the Miles Mason Family Law Group. We can help you understand the impact Tennessee child support laws may have on your case. Seek legal counsel immediately if you owe back child support.  Learn from an attorney experienced in such matters if you have any way to reduce the amount claimed to be owed.

Miles Mason


Memphis divorce and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. is the founder of Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. For more information about our professional staff, see our Meet the Team page.

2 Responses to What happens if back child support is owed in Tennessee?
  1. Hello,

    I have question, I was involved with a woman, 6 yrs ago. She supposedly had gotten pregnant by me. But she claims she had a miscarriage. She lives in Tenn, I live in Illinois. I got a lawyer, to show me the miscarriage medical report from her doctor, it shows she did miscarry, and she even wrote a letter saying that she wasn’t pregnant by me. I still have all documents. However, 9 months later she informs me she did have a child, and wants me to take a DNA. I was shocked, but I agreed to take one. Suddenly, she disappears for 5 years, after trying to locate her for 5 yrs. I finally, catch her on a social network (facebook) she says I have to pay the state of Tennessee, back child support. Is this true??

    • Miles Mason

      You really should speak with an experienced family law attorney from the county in which the purported mother lives. If there is a pending child support action or a court order you don’t know about, you need to know that asap.


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