A petition for civil contempt is one of the most effective ways to force a parent to pay child support if they simply have stopped paying. A petition for contempt is a document that asks the court to hold the parent in contempt for failing to pay child support. The court is given the power to hold the parent in contempt under Tenn. Code Ann. 29-9-104.
You may start the process by having your Tennessee lawyer draft the petition and filing it with the court. The delinquent parent (defendant) is then served with a copy and ordered to appear in court on a certain date to answer. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, they may ask the court to appoint one for them. The defendant will be required to complete a form called the Uniform Affidavit of Indigency. This document helps the court determine if the defendant really cannot afford an attorney. The next step is a hearing before the court.
At the hearing you must show several things in order to hold the defendant in contempt. You must show that there was an order requiring the defendant to pay child support (if you are divorced this will probably be in your final decree). You must show that the defendant failed to follow the order by not paying child support. These first two are usually fairly easy to establish. The third item that must be established is that the defendant was willful and deliberate in not paying child support. This basically means that they could have paid child support but didn't. For example, if the defendant did not pay because they were in prison, they may have a defense.
If the defendant is held in contempt, the court can fine and/or incarcerate them in the county jail. Punishment for contempt can be up to 10 days for each count. If a defendant has missed 5 payments, then they could go to jail for 50 days. In addition, the court may award the petitioner a judgment for the unpaid child support.