The general rule in Tennessee is that the duty to support your child ends when your child turns 18 years old. Once they reach 18, they’re on their own. The amount of the support order is initially determined by the state guidelines. The guidelines establish the presumption for how much money the parent required to pay support must pay. This presumption can be rebutted only if there are unique circumstances such as a child who has a disability.

The state law also provides that the obligor (the person who is paying a child support order) can seek to terminate the order if the child has reached the age of 18 years of age or has graduated from high school – unless an exception applies.

An exception for disability

The statute further provides that the child support order should continue past the age of 18 if:

  • The child has a handicap or disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this case, the order will be extended until the child reaches 21-years of age.
  • The child:
    • Is severely disabled
    • Is living under the care and supervision of a parent
    • The family court determines it would be in the child’s best interest for the support order to continue
    • The obligor can financially pay the support order

In the second case, the court can extend the order as it determines is in the child’s best interest.

A key point is that the duty to pay child support for a severely disabled child applies only if the child was severely disabled before he/she turned 18. If a child becomes disabled after age 18, the non-residential parent can voluntarily agree to pay support but generally can’t be forced by court order to do so.

The determination of a “severe disability” is usually based on:

  • Medical records
  • A Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) award
  • School records
  • Other forms of medical or governmental evidence

Disabilities include physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

An exception for college

Tennessee law may require that a parent pay for a child’s college if the net income of the parent being asked to pay support is more than $10,000 a month – a princely sum for some folks, we know.

Parents can enter a voluntary agreement, which becomes part of a court order. Once it’s part of the order, it becomes enforceable, which means each parent can seek to hold the non-paying parent in contempt if they don’t pay the agreed to amounts.

An agreement can clarify how much each parent pays for tuition, room and board, books, administrative fees, and every-day expenses. The agreement, especially if it’s made before the child applies to any college, should include a cap, since four years in college can cost more than a home. (There’s a big difference in cost between four years at Vanderbilt and four years at UT Knoxville, you know.)

Of course, if your child is ready to start working right out of college, or gets a fully paid scholarship to play the kazoo at Memphis State University, then you’re in a different boat. You may need to modify the order, but we can chat about that during a consultation.

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville family lawyers understand the ins and outs of child support. We can generally explain, once we understand your finances, how much child support will need to be paid. We work with parents to draft support orders that take all of their children’s needs and hopes into consideration. To discuss all your martial and childcare issues, call our caring Knoxville family lawyers at (865) 637-6258 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.


Leave a Comment