Tennessee Restricts Judgments for Unpaid Child Support

Starting July 1st, 2017, a new law in Tennessee says that a judgment for unpaid child support can not go back farther than five years of missed payments.

Child support arrearages limited

Why would the legislature do this?   Shouldn’t deadbeat dads be required to support their children?  Yes, both parents should be required to support their children, but there should also be a sense of fairness and common decency about it.  Consider this scenario:

A man is living his life minding his own business, when he is suddenly served with a petition to establish paternity and set child support.  After DNA testing is completed, he learns that he has a 10 year old child he never knew about, because the mother didn’t want him interfering in their lives.  Under prior law, the court would set child support, and award the mother a judgment for retroactive support all the way back to the day the child was born.  If the support works out to be $600 per month, 12 years of that would be $72,000.

Oh, and by the way, that $72,000 needs to be paid in addition to the $600 per month he now has to pay, plus until recently there was 12% interest, and missed payments will result in contempt of court, all his licenses will be suspended, and his credit will be affected.

Everybody hates these cases, and they’re not uncommon.  It’s fundamentally unfair to hit a guy with a judgment like that, particularly after finding out he’s missed 10 years of his child’s life and will never be able to make any of that up.

Some relief for surprised fathers

So, beginning July 1st, 2017, a judgment for child support arrearage cannot go back for more than five years, unless the court finds that:

  • The father deliberately avoided being served with the lawsuit, or
  • The father “knowingly impeded or delayed the imposition of a support obligation”

In either case, the court can award an arrearage back to whatever “date the court determines to be equitable and just”.   Unfortunately, the new law offers no guidance whatsoever with how the court should determine what date would be “equitable and just”.

What this means to you

If you are owed more than five years of back child support, you need to get your petition filed before July 1st.  In any case, if you are in a situation where you need help with divorce, custody, or child support, contact us to find out how we can help you with your problem.