Child Support in the Mid-South

How it’s calculated; remedies for parents who refuse to pay

If you and your spouse have made the decision to divorce and children are involved, the court mandates that they must be supported financially. However, considerations can vary greatly across state lines.

In Tennessee, child support guidelines require the courts to consider both the mother and father’s incomes when calculating child support. A parent’s gross income includes monies from all sources, including bonuses, overtime, even trust income. Courts can also impute income to parents who do not work but have the ability to work or to those who are voluntarily under-employed.

Tennessee also takes into account (1) the number of days each parent spends with the child(ren), (2) health insurance, (3) day care expenses, (4) other dependent children living with a parent, and, in certain circumstances, (5) “extraordinary expenses” (i.e. private school tuition or expenses for children with certain special needs).  

The laws in Tennessee only require a parent paying child support to pay support until the child reaches age 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last.  

In contrast, Mississippi takes a very traditional approach to child support and simply requires that the parent paying child support pay a flat percentage of his or her adjusted gross income. There is generally no consideration of the income of the parent receiving child support (or lack thereof.)

For example, the parent paying support is required to pay 14 percent of his or her adjusted gross income in support if there is one child, 20 percent if there are two children, etc. There is a presumption that the above percentages are correct for persons with an adjusted yearly income between $5,000 and $50,000. For parents not in that income range, the court must make specific findings of fact as to why they are ordering a certain amount of support.  

As in Tennessee, a parent’s income generally includes bonus and overtime income and courts can impute income to parents who do not work or are deliberately under-employed. The obligation to pay child support in Mississippi continues until the child turns 21.

Both Tennessee and Mississippi afford remedies for parents who refuse to pay child support. The parent not receiving child support can file a Petition for Contempt. A parent who willfully refuses to pay child support will generally be required to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees, and can face imprisonment, loss of driver’s license, and other penalties. Unfortunately, the parent who is not receiving support must file the petition and pay attorney’s fees on the front end until the court hopefully requires the noncompliant parent to reimburse those fees.  

The contempt and enforcement process can be frustrating for many parents because often the parent in noncompliance creates delays by failing to hire an attorney until a day before the hearing, by changing jobs, etc. If the parent obligated to pay child support has regular employment, one way to help avoid having to file a contempt petition is by requiring the child support be automatically deducted from the parent’s wages and paid via wage assignment order. That assignment order requires the parent’s employer to automatically deduct wages from the parent’s earnings and then pay support directly to the parent entitled to support.

As you can see, it is important to understand the differences in the child support laws and equally important to understand your right to require the payment of child support. If you need assistance, consult with an experienced family law attorney to guide you through the process.


— Justin K. Thomas is a divorce attorney with Thomas Family Law Firm, one that focuses on family law in Tennessee and Mississippi. • Learn more:


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