How Long is Child Support to be Paid?

The length of time that a parent must pay child support, or a parent can receive child support, varies by state. So it is extremely important that one look to the applicable state’s law when addressing this issue. Tennessee’s law is similar to many other state laws.

In Tennessee, as a general rule, child support will be paid until the age of 18, or the child graduates from high school, whichever is later. This means child support is not payable until a child legally stops being financially dependent on the parents. Child support is not payable during the time the child attends a higher learning education institution such as college. In addition, absent agreement of the parties, support in the form of payment for college will not be ordered by the court. Accordingly, a parent may agree to pay for a child’s higher education expenses as support as part of an agreed Order between the parties. However, if a divorce is contested, a judge has no authority to order a parent to pay for college expenses for their child.

A parent may always agree to do more than the law obligates, however. Sometimes a parent will voluntarily obligate him or herself to pay certain amounts towards or to even cover the entirety of college expenses. This may include tuition, room, board, etc.

There is also an exception for a child who is disabled. If a child is disabled, child support payments may extend beyond the above deadlines. This means understanding what the law requires in terms of child support is critical to drafting the appropriate agreement between the parents.

Another little known factor concerns a limit on child support which is not obvious. One who reads that a child is entitled to child support until the later age of eighteen or graduating high school may think it is as simple as that. But it is not.

The involved Tennessee statute places another limit on child support. It provides that child support ends when the class of which the child is a member of when that child reaches age eighteen graduates, not when the child graduates. This means a child who fails their senior year, may be entitled to no child support during their “second” senior year, if the child turned eighteen during their original senior year.

Parents also make financial decisions based on the support obligations or benefits involved. A parent who believes they will continue to receive child support for a child who failed to graduate their senior year, when they are eighteen, for the entire following year is in for an unhappy surprise. Knowing child support benefits and obligations is critical in family financial planning. Having a knowledgeable attorney can assist in making these important life choices.

About the Author:

Stuart Scott is a litigation attorney with over 25 years of experience. He has tried hundreds of cases in both state and federal court. Some of his noteworthy victories have been featured in local, state and national publications. Stuart is also listed as a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Family Law Mediator. Stuart focuses his primary area of practice on family law. He represents people going through divorce and focuses his efforts on providing his legal services and advice to his clients in this area. Mr. Scott may be reached in our Nashville office at 615-620-1710.