Of all issues in family law, the issue of child support seems to cause the most anger and resentment with people. I have spoken with many people who went into a divorce thinking that the child support process wasn’t a big deal, and that since they were not rich, the judge wouldn’t order them to pay much. After the judge rules, and they are baffled by the amount they are required to pay, they come trying to find a way to avoid paying it.
The truth of the matter is that it is always easier to prevent overpaying on child support BEFORE the final decree is entered, rather than after. After a decree is entered, there is a presumption that it correctly states the situations of the parties involved, and it is much more difficult to change later. As such, I would encourage anyone who has children to consult a lawyer or a Family Law Attorney rather than attempting to do the divorce yourself. There are so many complex issues involving what each parent is required to pay, having a lawyer there to walk you through it and make sure you are representing your own income and expenses properly to the court can be vital.
If a final order has already been entered, and you are seeking a modification of the amount owed monthly based on a significant change in circumstances, keep in mind that that child support is largely a mathematical process once income levels are determined. The most important elements are determining the total income, and then determining if there are any offsetting circumstances, such as significant periods of possession. Sometimes parents can come to an agreement for child support amounts that fall outside of the norm, however that is the exception rather than a rule, especially among people who are looking to hire attorneys. It is important to go over with your attorney all of your sources of income if you are the non-custodial parent, and if you are the custodial parent, to go over areas where you expect the other parent may have income. These conversations are confidential, and your attorney can help you gauge what the likely result of a court order would be.
When a noncustodial parent must pay child support in Texas, it is calculated by multiplying the paying parent’s net income by a statutory percentage explained below.
Child Support Monthly Net Resources
I get a lot of people coming into my office confused about exactly what income counts for the purpose of determining child support. The answer is usually pretty much everything that can be proved as income counts for calculating child support, but there are a few limited exceptions to that.
In order to determine the amount of child support under statutory guidelines, Texas law applies a percentage formula to the “monthly net resources” of one parent or conservator ( the “obligor”). The percentage changes based on the number of children involved starting at 20% for the first child, and increasing by 5% per child after that until the maximum value. That part is simple enough, however the monthly net resource number to multiple that percent by is a little bit more complicated for a variety of reasons.
Child Support Income Inclusions
In general, your child support monthly net resources are the sum of all sources of income or assets from which income could be derived in a given year. Thus, “net resources” includes your salary, wages, tips, commissions, overtime pay, bonuses or any other compensation received for your personal services. This “net resources” calculation applies regardless of whether you are self-employed, a contract employee, or any other unique form of compensation.
Your “net resources” also includes any unemployment benefits, retirement pay, pension income, severance pay, social security benefits (other than supplemental security income), rental income from real or personal property, disability or workers’ compensation benefits, alimony, spousal maintenance, interest income, stock dividends, capital gains, trust distributions, annuity income, royalty income, gifts and prizes.
Bear in mind that the above list is not all-inclusive, either, and that any money received by you will likely be included as part of your “net resources” unless it is a recognized as a specific exception within the Texas Family Code. In fact, when explaining the concept to my clients, it tends to be easier to focus on the various exceptions rather than trying to go over the complete laundry list of items that DO qualify, as the items that DON’T are few and far between.
Child Support Income Exclusions
Some of the exceptions to income being included in the child support calculations include your spouse’s income, the return of capital or the return of principal owed to you on a note; accounts receivable; certain welfare benefits (ex. food stamps or WIC benefits), and foster-care payments. This is usually all accounted for by a spousal support attorney, however.
Finally, you may deduct a limited number of items from your child support monthly net resources. Deductible items are: (a) state income taxes, if any; (b) social security taxes; (c) federal income taxes based on the tax rate for a single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction; (d) union dues; (e) expenses for health insurance coverage for your child; and (f) cash medical support for your child. However, you must bear in mind that you may not subtract deductions for contributions to an individual retirement account or 401(k) plan, insurance coverage for persons other than your child, employee stock purchases or similar items.
Child Support Pay Periods
The other minor point that tends to make things just that much more confusing, is that often people are paid biweekly. Biweekly pay is NOT the same as being paid twice a month, and the calculation changes slightly based on this distinction. If you are paid biweekly, you would multiply your net biweekly income by 26 (the amount of pay periods in a year) and then divide by 12 to reach your monthly net resources. If you are paid twice a month, you would multiply that number by 24 (the amount of pay periods in a year) and divide that number by 12. It is a small, but not insignificant difference that causes a lot of confusion for people. Obviously if you are paid once a month, that calculation becomes a lot easier and you can simply use that value without doing any additional math.
Child support is one of those areas where I find myself doing as much math as I do legal work, which is equally important to any of the legal work I do in this arena. Often as attorneys, we don’t have as much training in the areas of accounting and math as we do legal work, so its important to double check any numbers, as once they become an order of the court, it is a lot more difficult (and more expensive) to do anything about it.
Number of Children to be Supported
Once you’ve established the noncustodial parent’s net monthly income, multiply that number by a percentage that’s determined by how many children the paying parent is supporting.
1 child = multiply the monthly net income by 20%
2 children = multiply the monthly net income by 25%
3 children = multiply the monthly net income by 30%
4 children = multiply the monthly net income by 35%
5 children = multiply the monthly net income by 40%
For 6 or more children, the amount must be at least the same as for five children
EXAMPLE SUPPORT CALCULATION
Support calculation for a parent with $2,000 net monthly income and two children: $2,000 (net monthly income) x .25 (25% for two children) = $500 per month in monthly child support.
If a paying parent’s net income is greater than $7,500 per month, the child support calculation applies only to the first $7,500; after that, the court may order additional support if the circumstances warrant a higher payment-but the additional amount can be no greater than “the proven needs of the child.” A parent who believes that guideline support is too high or too low can ask the court to make an adjustment, and there’s a long list of factors that the judge can consider, in Texas Family Code Section 154.123. Note, a parent who has an obligation to support multiple children living in different households will pay slightly less than the guideline amount for children living in the same household, based on some rather complicated calculations contained in Texas Family Code Section 154.128. Learn more about Child Custody.
Although the state of Texas does not provide an on-line calculator, Travis County has one. You can try it here: Travis County Child Support Calculator.
How long must the paying parent pay child support?
A noncustodial parent is required to pay child support until the child reaches the age of 18; the court can order support to continue until a child graduates from high school if the child is enrolled and regularly attending. A court may order child support for an indefinite period if the child is physically or mentally disabled. Child support can also end if the child marries or enlists in the military, becomes legally emancipated, or marries. As a part of a divorce settlement, the paying parent may agree to continue supporting a child through college, or the parents can agree to share college expenses.
How is child support paid?
Every child support order in Texas contains an income withholding order (IWO) that requires the paying parent’s employer to withhold the child support amount from the paying parent’s paycheck and send it to the state child support enforcement agency or a local registry, which in turn sends it to the other parent. However, self-employed parents or those who work on commission aren’t subject to income withholding orders and must pay support directly to the other parent. Parents can also agree to direct payments. However, having payments go through an agency or registry means that there’s a clear record of payments, which is helpful in an action for enforcement.
Get more detailed information about understanding and calculating child support in Texas, click here.
If I am being denied access to my children, do I still have to pay my child support?
Yes. Texas law is clear that even if the other parent is denying you visitation, you are still required to pay your support and you can still be held in contempt for failure to pay. If you are being denied access to your children, you should pursue an enforcement action against the parent denying you access.
Am I required to guarantee child support payments with a life insurance policy?
You are not required, under Texas law, to guarantee your child support with a life insurance policy. However, many parents receiving support ask the paying parent to purchase a policy for that purpose, and some judges will include a provision in the divorce judgment requiring that the paying parent have life insurance. If you don’t have the life insurance that they require, you will be in need of finding a company to take out a policy with. There are many websites online that compare life insurance policies, such as Life Insurance Shopping Reviews and many more, to help you make an informed decision. If you have an existing policy, the courts may require that you maintain your children as beneficiaries as long as you are required to pay child support. So if you’re looking to get a life insurance for someone other than yourself, you may want to check out this resource to learn more about it.
Can the amount of child support be changed?
A child support order can be modified if circumstances change (or if enough time passes). A parent who is unable to pay child support because of losing a job or other financial problems can ask the court to modify the support order downward. A parent who is receiving support can ask for an increase based on the other parent getting a better job or otherwise earning or receiving more money, or based on changes in the receiving parent’s income or resources. In order to qualify for a modification of support, the person asking for the change must be able to show that the circumstances of the child or either parent have substantially changed since the order was made, unless three years have passed since the order was made. If three years have passed, then the person asking for the change must show that the amount of support under the current guidelines would differ by at least 20% or $100 from the original amount ordered. Only a court can change the amount of child support. Don’t rely on the other parent’s word that it’s okay to pay less support-you can always be required to pay the amount that was originally ordered, no matter how long the other parent waits to ask for it and no matter what verbal agreements you made.
What happens if someone doesn’t pay child support?
A parent who fails to pay child support can be subject to any of the following methods of collection:
- Wage garnishment
- Collection of lottery winnings
- Interception of federal income tax refunds
- Suspension or revocation of any driver’s licenses, professional or business licenses, or even fishing licenses
- Suspension of passport
- Contempt of court orders, which may result in prison or fines or both
Child support in the state of Texas is a crucial component of family law that aims to ensure that both parents contribute financially to the upbringing of their children, even after a divorce or separation. Understanding the intricacies of child support, including how it is calculated, enforced, and modified, is essential for parents navigating the legal system. In this comprehensive overview, we’ll delve into various aspects of child support in Texas, providing a detailed understanding of the relevant laws, guidelines, and procedures.
1. Child Support Guidelines in Texas:
Texas utilizes an Income Shares model for calculating child support, which considers the income of both parents to determine the financial responsibility for supporting the child. The primary goal of these guidelines is to estimate the amount of money that would have been available for the child’s care if the parents had remained together.
The Texas Family Code establishes specific percentages of the noncustodial parent’s income to be allocated for child support. As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, these percentages are as follows:
- 20% of the noncustodial parent’s net resources for one child.
- 25% for two children.
- 30% for three children.
- 35% for four children.
- 40% for five children.
- Not less than 40% for six or more children.
It is crucial to note that these percentages are applied to the noncustodial parent’s net resources, which are determined by subtracting certain allowable deductions from their gross income.
2. Determining Net Resources:
Calculating child support starts with determining the noncustodial parent’s net resources. This involves a two-step process:
a. Gross Income: The starting point is the gross income of the noncustodial parent. Gross income includes wages, salary, tips, bonuses, commissions, and other forms of income. It is a comprehensive assessment that aims to capture the parent’s financial capacity to contribute to the child’s support.
b. Deductions: Certain allowable deductions are subtracted from the gross income to arrive at the net resources. These deductions may include federal income tax, state income tax, Social Security tax, union dues, and health insurance premiums for the child. Deductions are designed to reflect the actual income available for child support after accounting for necessary expenses.
3. Additional Expenses Considered:
Child support in Texas is not solely based on the percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income. The court may also consider additional expenses related to the child, including:
a. Health Insurance: The court may order the noncustodial parent to provide health insurance for the child if it is available at a reasonable cost through their employer or other means. The cost of health insurance is factored into the child support calculation.
b. Child Care Costs: Reasonable and necessary child care expenses incurred by either parent due to employment or education may be considered. These costs are added to the child support obligation.
c. Extraordinary Expenses: The court has the discretion to order additional support for extraordinary expenses that exceed the basic child support obligation. These may include medical expenses not covered by insurance, educational expenses, or other costs related to the child’s specific needs.
4. Deviation from Guidelines:
While the Texas Child Support Guidelines provide a standard calculation, the court has the authority to deviate from these guidelines if it determines that the standard calculation would be unjust or inappropriate. Deviations can be based on various factors, and the court may consider the needs of the child, the ability of the parents to contribute to the support, and any extraordinary medical or educational expenses.
5. Enforcement of Child Support Orders:
Once child support orders are established, they are legally binding, and failure to comply with these orders can lead to enforcement actions. The Texas Child Support Division, under the Office of the Attorney General, plays a crucial role in enforcing child support orders. Enforcement mechanisms may include:
a. Wage Garnishment: The court may order the noncustodial parent’s employer to deduct child support payments directly from the parent’s wages. This ensures consistent and timely payments.
b. Driver’s License Suspension: Failure to pay child support may result in the suspension of the noncustodial parent’s driver’s license. This measure encourages compliance with child support orders.
c. Liens and Seizures: The court may place liens on the noncustodial parent’s property or seize assets to satisfy outstanding child support obligations.
d. Contempt of Court: A parent who willfully fails to comply with child support orders may be held in contempt of court, which can result in fines or imprisonment.
6. Modification of Child Support Orders:
Child support orders are not static and can be modified under certain circumstances. Either parent can seek a modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances that justifies a modification. Common reasons for modification include:
a. Change in Income: If there is a significant change in either parent’s income, such as job loss, job change, or a substantial increase in income, the court may consider modifying child support.
b. Change in Custody Arrangements: A change in the custody arrangements, such as the child spending more time with the noncustodial parent, may warrant a modification of child support.
c. Changes in the Child’s Needs: If there are substantial changes in the child’s needs, such as medical expenses or educational costs, the court may consider modifying child support to accommodate these changes.
d. Automatic Review: In Texas, child support orders are subject to automatic review by the Attorney General’s office every three years. This review assesses whether the child support order needs adjustment based on changes in circumstances.
7. Online Child Support Calculator:
The Texas Attorney General’s office provides an online Child Support Calculator on its website. This calculator allows parents to input relevant information, such as income, deductions, and additional expenses, to estimate the child support obligation. While this tool can provide a preliminary estimate, it’s essential to note that the court makes the final determination, and the online calculator is for informational purposes only.
8. Paternity Establishment:
Before child support orders can be established, paternity must be legally established if the parents were not married at the time of the child’s birth. This can be done voluntarily through an Acknowledgment of Paternity, signed by both parents, or through legal proceedings if there is a dispute over paternity.
Establishing paternity is a fundamental step in ensuring that both parents are recognized legally, and it forms the basis for child support obligations.
Child support in Texas is a comprehensive system designed to prioritize the well-being of children by ensuring that both parents contribute financially to their upbringing. The state’s guidelines provide a structured approach to calculating child support, taking into account the income of both parents and additional expenses related to the child.
Understanding the factors involved in child support calculations, enforcement mechanisms, and modification procedures is crucial for parents navigating the legal aspects of child support. Consulting with a family law attorney can provide personalized guidance based on the specific circumstances of each case and ensure that the child’s best interests are prioritized.
It’s important to note that laws and guidelines may be subject to change, and individuals seeking information on child support should consult the most recent legal resources or seek advice from legal professionals.