A child support obligation generally arises as part of a permanent parenting agreement ordered by the court during a divorce or custody action. The amount of child support ordered is calculated based upon the time that each parent spends with the child; the income of each parent; the obligations of each parent to provide insurance, day care services, and the like; and other similar factors. Because of this, there is not much room to adjust the amount of support owed. There is a process through which the amount owed can be changed, but any modification is done based on the same formula, so there has to be a material change in circumstance. Most commonly, a modification is sought when one parent changes or loses his or her job.
If either parent fails to follow the mandates of the parenting plan, either by refusing to pay child support or by refusing to allow the other parent the proscribed visitation, that parent can be charged with contempt of court and will be given a hearing to explain why he or she has not followed the court’s orders. It is important to note that even if the parent has a valid excuse for not paying support, the amount of arrearage (the amount unpaid) is still due and will collect interest until paid. In most courts in Tennessee, the list of valid excuses is relatively small. For example, unemployment is probably not a valid excuse; neither is poor health unless the parent has gone on disability.
The most important thing that a person in contempt can do before the hearing is get back on track and start following the order. Even if a person has managed to get fifty thousand dollars behind on payments, the court would like that person to be making payments. If the court does not recognize a valid reason for violating the order, the court can order the offender incarcerated for up to 180 days. Remember, though, that the court is most interested in these cases in seeing that the order is being followed and will not throw anyone in jail on a whim.
Child support and contempt are complicated issues; if you are charged with contempt or need to modify a permanent parenting agreement you should consult an attorney. For more information on child support and other family law issues, click here.