Child Support in Texas: When Does the Obligation End?

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One of the primary components of any divorce involving children is the child support obligation. While child support is generally calculated in accordance with careful state guidelines, there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. Further, while many parents are confused about when the child support obligation in Texas ends, the truth is that it depends. If you have questions or concerns regarding child support, turn to the experienced legal guidance of a dedicated Waco divorce attorney.

The Basics

In general, the court hands down a child support obligation to the noncustodial parent (the parent who has a visitation schedule). The basics include the following:

  • Child support payments are calculated according to the state’s guidelines

  • Child support for each child continues until the child reaches the age of emancipation by either turning 18 or graduating from high school (whichever comes later).

There are, however, extenuating circumstances that can lead to significant variances in the court’s orders.

If Your Ex-Spouse Loses His or Her Job

We’ve all faced ups and downs in our careers, and your ex is no different. Further, if nothing else, the past year or so has taught us to expect the unexpected. If your ex loses his or her job, it is likely to amount to a significant financial change for him or her, but this does not mean that he can ignore his or her child support obligations. While your ex can seek a child support modification, the court will very likely expect him or her to find new employment that brings in a similar income. If your ex has failed to make child support payments, these payments are considered in arrears until they are paid – unless and until he or she is able to obtain a modification.

The court recognizes that you, as the custodial parent, do not have the luxury of not supporting your children if you lose your income, and it is not likely to extend this luxury to your ex. Further, the court is very leery of parents who might be attempting to bypass their financial responsibilities by purposefully losing their jobs or by being woefully underemployed. If your ex faces a serious medical crisis that affects his or her ability to continue earning a living, however, this can make a significant difference in his or her child support obligations.

Your Children’s College Educations

The state of Texas addresses child support until the child’s emancipation (as discussed), but if you and your spouse address the matter of college in your divorce negotiations, these arrangements are enforceable (if included in writing). If your agreement is verbal, however, it probably is not legally enforceable.

The college cost terms that are commonly addressed include:

  • Your children’s college tuition

  • The percentage of college costs that each of you will be responsible for

  • Whether or not the child will share financial responsibility for his or her college education

  • The costs in addition to tuition that you will address, including room and board, books, transportation, incidental expenses, and more

  • Any GPA or other conditions each child must meet in order to receive the college funding and any attendant terms

  • Who the payments will be made to (and when)

  • Whether or not there is a financial cap on the overall obligation

  • When the obligation ends (upon graduation, upon turning 21, or after four years of college, for example)

Extenuating Circumstances

There are also extenuating circumstances that can significantly alter how child support will be ordered in your case.

If Your Child Has a Physical or Mental Disability

If your child has a serious physical or mental disability that precludes him or her from living independently and that requires you to provide ongoing care, your ex’s child support obligations may continue indefinitely. Further, the court will take the following into consideration in calculating your ex’s child support obligation:

  • Your child’s current and future medical expenses

  • The amount each of you pays toward these expenses

  • Any programs that are available to help provide for your disabled child

  • Each of your overall financial resources

The court readily understands the magnitude of your situation and will take the matter into careful consideration in determining your child support terms.

If Your Child Becomes Legally Emancipated

If your child becomes legally emancipated before graduating from high school (or reaching the age of 18), your ex’s child support obligation will end. A minor can become emancipated at the age of 16 or 17 via any of the following mechanisms:

  • By getting married

  • By joining the U.S. military

  • By petitioning the court for legal emancipation

Do Not Conflate Child Support with Child Custody

Every parent has a financial responsibility to support his or her children, and every parent also has the right to spend time with his or her children – and these are separate matters. If your ex has made a unilateral decision to halt your child support payments, it puts you in a very difficult position that can leave you feeling desperate. You should not, however, take matters into your own hands by putting the kibosh on your ex’s visitation schedule (because this approach is very likely to backfire on you). If your ex is not living up to his or her financial obligation to your children, it is time to consult with a dedicated divorce attorney – who has the experience, legal insight, and skill to effectively and efficiently address the matter with the court. Child support and visitation are not interchangeable, and withholding visitation in the face of absent child support payments can lead to you being in contempt of court (for failing to adhere to the court’s orders as they relate to child custody). The court ultimately does not adhere to the philosophy that two wrongs make a right.

Seek the Experienced Legal Guidance of a Waco Divorce Attorney

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Waco is a resourceful divorce attorney who dedicates his practice to protecting the financial and parental rights of clients like you. For more information about how we can also help you, please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 today.

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