Supporting ones own child should not require court intervention, but unfortunately often it becomes necessary to involve the court system to make a parent meet this responsibility. If a parent seeks help from the State of Tennessee in the form of W.I.C.K., Families First, TennCare, Food Stamps or other form of government assistance, they will be asked to identify the other parent and define their role in supporting this child. Child Support Services, a division of the Department of Human Services will then initiate proceedings to collect the support from the other parent despite the wishes of the custodial parent. If paternity has not yet been established this will be accomplished first. Child Support will then be set in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines.
Child Support is also set when parents are divorcing or when unwed parents are unable to agree on visitation and support and one files a Petition in court. A Support Order must accompany any Order of Visitation or Paternity. Parties may wing it on their own or retain competent experienced counsel to represent their interests. Nevertheless, support will be established and become part of the Court’s Order.
Once Child Support is Ordered, it is the responsibility of the party paying the support to meet this obligation, but all to often this fails to occur. When a party fails to meet a Court Ordered obligation that they had the ability to accomplish, they may then be found to be in Contempt of Court for which they can be placed in jail. In Tennessee and especially in Williamson County, our judges are quick to incarcerate a parent who simply refuses to pay their support.
People often come before the court with valid reasons for failing to pay as Ordered. People are often not aware of the procedures required to reduce their support obligations when their circumstances change. Should they have lost a job by no fault of their own or incurred a medical condition or injury or even had another child, they may have been entitled to ask for a reduction in child support. Their failure to do so, places the Court without the remedy of relieving them of their past support obligation, but may serve to mitigate the circumstances and allow the Court to determine that the defendant did not have the ability to pay the support and thereby not throw them in jail. This does not mean that the support arrears are not still owed. This means that the support has been converted to a judgment and is now subject to execution and interest.
Executing a judgment on a dead beat parent is often difficult, but certainly can be accomplished. The driver’s license, hunting/fishing license, handgun carry permit, professional license (ie lawyer, doctor, real estate agent), liquor or beer license, or passport etc may be denied or even revoked for arrears often resulting in voluntary satisfaction of the debt. More often; however, an income tax refund is seized and applied towards the arrears. Or, a law suit, inheritance or other windfall is seized and applied towards the judgment.
Other possessions, such as an automobile, television or boat may even be seized by the Sherriff’s Department and sold with the proceeds applied to the arrears. Diligence such as this requires the services of an experienced attorney and may not be worth the effort or expense. Nevertheless, these remedies are available to parents who find themselves facing raising a child or children without the support or help of the child’s other parent.
By John Milazo