Starting October 1, 1999, as required by federal law, the Department of Human Services (DHS) became the central collection and disbursement unit in Tennessee for child support payments in Title IV-D cases and all wage assignment cases where the original order was issued on or after January 1, 1994. After October 1, 1999, court clerks who continued to receive payments that should have gone to DHS were handling them in different ways. Some clerks were accepting and processing the payments. Others were returning the payment to the sender (either the obligor parent or an employer), instructing them that it should go to DHS. Still others were accepting the payments, then forwarding them by mail to DHS. In order to clarify this confusion, Commissioner Metcalf of DHS requested an Attorney General’s Opinion to advise the department and court clerks what to do with erroneously received payments.
Clerks Must Accept Child Support Payments
In an opinion dated November 9, 1999, the Attorney General opined that clerks:
• may not refuse to accept payments which should have been sent to DHS;
• may not refuse to accept child support payments regardless of whether or not child support enforcement services are being provided by DHS under Title IV-D; and
• may not refuse to accept payments that would purge the obligor of civil contempt for nonpayment of child support.
The opinion ruled that clerks who erroneously receive payments are required by T.C.A. § 36-5-101 to deposit all child support payments in Title IV-D cases on a daily basis to a bank account from which the State of Tennessee will electronically debit those payments. The clerk is to be reimbursed for the costs of such services pursuant to T.C.A. § 36-5-117. The opinion further stated that the clerks should use the Tennessee Child Support Enforcement System (TCSES) for processing these payments in the same manner as clerks were using the system prior to October 1, 1999. The Attorney General opined that the legislature intended continued use of electronic funds transfer and the TCSES system after October 1 in order to provide for speed and efficiency in processing child support payments. The Attorney General stated that refusing to accept payments or forwarding erroneously received payments by mail frustrated the intent of the law and did not satisfy a clerk’s duties.
It is our understanding that the Department of Human Services is sending a copy of the full text of Tennessee Attorney General Opinion 99-222 (dated November 9, 1999) to all clerks receiving child support payments. If you do not receive the opinion shortly, we can provide you with a copy.