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Can a Parent Refuse Visitation If Child Support Isn’t Paid in Tennessee?

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Can You Prevent the Other Parent From Seeing Your Shared Child if They Haven’t Paid Child Support?

Child support is an integral part of a Tennessee parenting plan. The courts attempt to ensure that a reasonable amount of child support is ordered based on factors including both parents’ incomes, their parenting schedule, and the needs of the child. A fair support agreement helps make certain that both parents contribute to the necessary expenses for raising their child, even if one parent does not have legal custody or equal residential parenting time.

It can be very frustrating and financially challenging for the custodial parent if court-ordered child support payments go unpaid. However, the legal system in Tennessee treats child support and visitation as two separate issues. The failure of a payor to stay current on child support payments does not legally affect their right to visitation with their children. If the parent receiving payments withholds visitation due to unpaid child support, they would be violating the terms of their parenting agreement and may face legal consequences. If you have concerns about unpaid child support, a Clarksville child support attorney can evaluate your situation and help you explore alternative legal methods for enforcing the payments ordered by the court.

What Can Happen if You Try to Prevent Visitation by a Non-Paying Parent?

Tennessee law emphasizes the importance of both parents having a relationship with their children, regardless of the status of child support payments. The state’s courts prioritize the child’s best interests, which typically include maintaining regular and consistent interactions with both parents. Keeping support payments and parenting time arrangements separate ensures that financial disputes do not compromise the child’s welfare and access to both parents.

While it may be tempting for an upset payee to try to persuade the payor to catch up on their support payments by withholding visitation, it is not an effective method and could result in legal difficulties. If a payee interferes with the court-ordered visitation schedule as a means to recover child support payments, they are effectively breaching a court order and could be held in contempt of court. In the worst-case scenario, the payee could face fines or jail time. Luckily, enforcement mechanisms are in place for collecting unpaid child support that do not involve denying visitation rights.

How Can You Ensure Child Support is Enforced?

Tennessee has a comprehensive system to ensure that parents fulfill their financial obligations toward their children. If you are not receiving the support defined in your parenting plan, your first step should be to contact the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) child support enforcement office to report the non-payment and request their assistance in collecting the overdue support. You should also reach out to an experienced child support attorney to discuss effective enforcement options, including:

  • Wage and income withholding: The Tennessee DHS may issue automatic wage withholding orders, directing employers to deduct a specified amount from the payee’s paycheck and forward it to the state for application towards the child support obligation.
  • Intercepting tax refunds: If the payee is significantly behind on their child support payments, the payor can request that their tax refunds be intercepted to satisfy some of the unpaid balance.
  • Taking legal action: A judge might hold the payee in contempt of court for violating an existing child support order, potentially resulting in jail time or fines. Unpaid child support may also lead to the revocation of state-issued licenses, such as driver’s licenses or professional licenses. In severe cases where the payee has moved out of state or taken other extreme measures to avoid paying support, they may be charged with flagrant non-support, which is a Class E felony.

Is a Failure to Pay Child Support a Legally Viable Justification for Modifying a Tennessee Parenting Schedule?

On its own, non-payment of child support is not a valid reason to request a modification in your parenting schedule. However, if the payee is not fulfilling other important parenting obligations, you may have a reason to seek modification. Under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-101, a request for modification must provide evidence of a material change in circumstance that warrants the alteration. Examples of material changes may include a failure by the other parent to stick to the current parenting plan or a change in their circumstances, such as a new marriage or a change in employment and working hours, which could impact the well-being of the child. The court will examine the information provided with your modification request to determine if the desired changes serve the best interests of the child. A knowledgeable Tennessee modifications attorney can help you determine if changing your parenting schedule is appropriate for your situation.

Can a Payee Seek a Modification of Their Support Payments?

Sometimes, payees become delinquent on their child support obligations due to financial hardships, such as job loss. If the current child support order does not accurately reflect their economic situation, they may be able to request a modification to their payments. While this typically does not change the amount of back child support they owe, it may make it easier for them to catch up and avoid legal consequences.

How Can Our Law Firm Assist You?

If you are considering refusing visitation to a payee over unpaid child support, it’s time to speak with a lawyer about other, more effective methods of recovering back child support payments. Taking matters into your own hands and withholding parenting time can backfire and lead to unintended consequences. Our skilled child custody lawyers at the Law Office of Hibbeler & Associates can ensure your rights are protected and your child’s best interests are served throughout the legal process. Contact our firm today at 931-236-2711 to schedule a free 30-minute case evaluation.

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