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Tennessee Child Support Modification

Every parent must financially support their minor children. For parents that aren't together as a couple, an order of child support typically helps to fulfill this duty. In Tennessee, most cases involve the alternative residential parent (ARP) paying support to the primary residential parent (PRP).

The child support amount is based on a calculation where the determining factor depends on both parents' gross income. The court uses the state guidelines to arrive at the figure and this amount is a presumed correct amount. However, there are times when the amount needs to be adjusted due to changing circumstances.

Child Support Modification Definition

A child support modification occurs when an order is changed, but the obligation remains. For instance, a parent can file a petition with the court to increase or decrease the child support amount due to a change in jobs or other factors that alter income. The support amount will only be changed if the parent requesting the modification can show that there's been a "significant variance" as defined by Tennessee law.

Tennessee Child Support Modification Summary

There's no substitute for reading statutes when it comes to knowing the "letter of the law." However, a more accessible presentation of the law can be useful to better understand what a law says. The chart below provides a concise summary of child support modification laws in Tennessee.


Tennessee Code Annotated:

  • Section 36-5-101 (significant variance standard)
  • Section 34-1-102 (parental guardian rights and responsibilities)
  • Section 36-5-901 (overdue support)
  • Section 36-5-115 (support orders)


Significant Variance Standard


Courts have the authority to increase or decrease a child support amount when there is a "significant variance" between the child support guidelines and the amount of child support ordered.

A significant variance is defined as the following:

  • At least a 15% change in the gross income of the ARP;
  • A change in the number of children that the ARP is legally responsible for and supporting;
  • A child supported by the order becoming disabled;
  • The parents voluntarily agreeing to an order to modify support (the modification must be in compliance with the child support guidelines) and submitting completed worksheets with the agreed order; and
  • At least a 15% change between the amount of the current support order and the proposed amount of the paying parent's pro rata share of the basic child support obligation if the current support is $100 or greater per month and at least $15 of the current support is less than $100 per month.

If the parent requesting the modification qualifies as a "low-income provider" then different rules apply. For the modification, there must be at least a 7.5% between the current order and the modified support amount.

A low-income provider is a person who:

  • Isn't willfully/voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when working at their full capacity according to their education and experience; and
  • Has an Adjusted Gross Income at or below the federal poverty level for a single adult.

Health Care Needs Exception

If there are issues with a child's health that require more support, Tennessee allows for a modification regardless of whether the support will result in a significant variance.

Intentional Arrears

The court may deny a request for a child support modification if the ARP is intentionally behind on child support.

A parent who's behind in child support won't be denied just because they aren't current in their payments; the action must be intentional.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Tennessee Child Support Modification: Related Resources

Connect with an Attorney for Help with Tennessee Child Support Modification

While your child has the right to be financially supported, the support should be in sync with the parents' financial situations. If you need help determining whether you're eligible for a modification, obtaining your co-parent's income information, or with any other support issue, connect with a local Tennessee attorney right away.

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