In TN Child Support Suits for Contempt, There Can Be a Jury Trial

Tennessee child support law on right to a jury trial for contempt for failure to pay child support from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

Susan L. Brown vs. Fred De Loach Latham and Patricia Peebles Walker vs. Clint Monroe Walker, Sr. – Tennessee child support law

Two cases were consolidated on appeal because both involved issues of contempt for failure to make child support payments.  The question that arose is whether someone accused of contempt can request a jury trial.  The Supreme Court affirmed that there is indeed a right to a jury trial when one is defending against criminal contempt charges, even when done in the context of a civil child support enforcement proceeding.

The first matter concerned Fred De Loach Latham, against whom his former wife, Susan Latham (Brown), had taken a judgment for child support arrears.  She requested he be incarcerated, and he requested a jury trial.  No case details were provided in the opinion as to the amount or duration of arrears claimed or the income of the Father. Continue reading

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In Tennessee Child Support Law, Courts Can Prorate as Children Turn 18

Tennessee child support law on proration of child support in Tennessee family law from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

Sarah Avalon Myatt Clinard (Brown) vs. James Edward Clinard – Tennessee child support law – proration as children grow up

With three children in common, Sarah Clinard Brown and James Edward Clinard were divorced in 1969.  The Mother was awarded custody, and the Father was directed to pay $60 per week as child support.  Less than a year later, the Father began paying $25 per week, prorated for a child having turned 18.  The Mother accepted this $25 per week for 15-years, until the youngest child turned 18-years of age.  No court cases were filed during the entire of the children’s minority.

Then, in 1993, eight years after the youngest child was emancipated, the Mother filed a petition to reduce child support arrearages to a judgment, interest, and for contempt.  The Father conceded he owed arrears, but disputed the amount. Continue reading

Double Jeopardy in Tennessee Child Support Law

Tennessee child support case law summary from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

Dorothy Jane AHERN (Pierotti) v. Robert Francis AHERN – Tennessee’s double jeapardy law and child support.

Dorothy Jane Ahern Pierotti, the Mother and Robert Francis Ahern, the Father  were divorced on June 25, 1993.  The divorce decree included a marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) and child support to be paid to the Mother for the couple’s two children.  The MDA also said that the Father must pay the majority (88.5%) of the health-related costs not covered by insurance, and a majority (88.5%) of the children’s school tuition.

In 1996, the Mother asked that the court to find the Father in contempt of court because he did not pay the full amount of child support.  The Mother claimed that the Father had not paid all of his children’s school tuition, his son’s braces and some dental expenses not covered by insurance.

The trial court judge, who had approved the MDA, transferred the case to the Circuit court in Division 5.  After hearing testimony from the Mother, the Circuit court judge decided the case should be heard in the original trial court and sent the case back to the trial court.  The trial court found the Father guilty of criminal contempt for failure to pay child support and sentenced him to 180 days in prison.  The Father appealed this ruling.

Civil and Criminal Contempt

The trial court ruled that the Father was guilty of criminal contempt because he had the ability to pay the child support and his decision not to pay it was willful and deliberate.  The trial court sentenced him to 6 months in prison for failure to pay support.  However, the law the trial court used for sentencing the Father limited the punishment to a fine of $50 and up to only ten days in court.  Neither the Mother nor the court cited the provision in the law that allowed for up to six months in prison.  Since the Father did not challenge the length of his sentence when he appealed, so the appellate court upheld the sentence.

Double Jeopardy in Tennessee Child Support Law

The Father appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee arguing that according to the rule prohibiting double jeopardy, his case could not be sent back from the Circuit court to the trial court and therefore his sentencing should be dismissed.  The double jeopardy clause appears in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same offense.  Double jeopardy is applied in Tennessee through  Article 1, § 10 of the Tennessee Constitution, which says that “no person shall, for the same offence, be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

The Supreme court agreed with the Father, citing Tennessee cases which ruled that once testimony begins in a trial, jeopardy begins.  Since the Mother had already given testimony in the Division 5 court, the decision by the judge to return the case to the trial court meant the Father was being tried a second time for the same offense.   The Supreme Court found that there was no opportunity for the Father to oppose the Circuit court judge’s decision to send the case back to the trial court, since she determined that it would be returned to the lower courts immediately.  As a result, the Supreme court reversed the convictions for contempt and withdrew the Father’s  sentencing.  The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings that would fit with the Supreme court’s ruling.   While the Father could not be punished for contempt, that is, for not paying the child support, he could still be required to pay what he owed.

15 S.W.3d 73 (Tenn. 2000). 

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

For more information, see Tennessee Child Support Answers to FAQ’s.  For legal updates, news, analysis, and commentary, visit our Tennessee Family Law Blog and its Child Support category.  A Memphis child support attorney from the Miles Mason Family Law Group can help you with Tennessee child support issues including setting or modifying child support. To schedule your confidential consultation about Tennessee child support, call us today at (901) 683-1850.

TN Dad Loses $75K/Yr Job, Works @ Starbucks & Jailed for Child Support

Tennessee law case summary on child support, arrearages, contempt, and voluntary unemployment in Tennessee divorce and family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Teresa Ann Barrett Goodman v Jeffery Wayne Goodman – Child Support Arrearage, Contempt, and Willful Unemployment

The Mother, Teresa Goodman filed for divorce on January 18, 2008 from the Husband, Jeffery Goodman. The couple’s marriage lasted 16 years and, at the time of the divorce, they had a four minor children. The Father was a licensed real estate broker working for Prudential Collins-Maury. Right before the divorce was filed, he took a position with America’s Home Place because the position offered a $75,000 per year salary rather than commission. Continue reading

TN Father Paid $600 /Mo. Arrearage Then Ordered to Pay Up To 1/2 Pay

Tennessee law case summary on child support arrearage in Tennessee divorce and family law from the Tennessee Court of Appeals. 

Ashley King V Kenneth J Wulff – Tennessee Child Support Arrearage Law

The appeals court took on the case of Ashley King, mother and Kenneth Wulff, father. The two were divorced in October of 1991. The father was required to pay child support of $300 per month through the divorce decree. In addition, the divorce decree required that the father pay half of the necessary and reasonable expenses for the college education of the minor children, which included tuition, room, board, and books until the child reaches the age of 23 or graduates. Continue reading

Mason Interviewed on Tennessee Father Owes Child Support for 21 Children

Tennessee Father Owes Child Support for 21 Children

Tennessee Father Owes Child Support for 21 Children

Memphis divorce attorney Miles Mason, Sr. comments on Tennessee child support in the news.View the WREG Interview of Memphis divorce attorney Miles Mason, Sr. regarding father of 21 children not paying child support in Juvenile Court case. Sabrina Hall has the story.Here is the link to MemphisDivorce.com, the story, and video from WREG News Channel 3: Memphis Father of 21 Sometimes Pays As Little As $6 A Month.

Memphis divorce attorney, Miles Mason, Sr., JD, CPA, practices family law exclusively with the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC in Memphis, Tennessee serving clients in Germantown, Collierville and the west Tennessee area.  To learn more about Tennessee child support laws, read and view: