If you have a child support concern, it is an important matter that can directly affect your child’s welfare, well-being, and future. Child support in the State of Texas is often instigated by divorce, but it can also be a matter that needs to be resolved outside of divorce, such as in paternity cases, in situations involving parenting outside of marriage, and in situations requiring child support modifications. Although child support is based on careful state guidelines, wide-ranging factors can play a role, and the matter can become very complicated very quickly.
The State’s View
The State of Texas – like all other states – requires both parents to support their children financially, and when parents are not together as a couple, child support is the state’s answer to the question of financial support. Further, child support is intended solely for the benefit of the children involved and is calculated in accordance with their best interests. Determining who will pay child support and its amount is based on an exacting calculation process that takes multiple factors into consideration. Better understanding what goes into child support calculations can help you get a feel for how child support is likely to play out in your case.
The Obligor and the Obligee
In Texas, the parent who is required to pay child support is called the obligor, and the parent who receives child support is the obligee. While numerous factors go into calculating child support, the primary custodial parent (if there is one) is generally the obligee. If you and your ex split your parenting time evenly, the higher earner generally has the child support obligation. Because so many factors can be determined relevant, however, there is room for a good deal of variance in the determination of child support.
Determining the Child Support Obligation
Texas begins the process of determining the child support obligation by calculating the obligor’s monthly net resources, which begins with his or her monthly gross income, including:
All salary and/or wages
All interest earned
Any royalties earned
Income from self-employment
Net income from rentals
Any other income that is actually received, including severance, retirement, pensions, social security, unemployment, disability, workers’ comp, and more
From here, the state will subtract the following to come up with the obligor’s net income:
Federal income taxes that are based on a single person who claims one personal exemption and the standard deductions
State income taxes
Social Security taxes
Union dues (if they are withheld from pay)
Children’s health insurance expenses (if they are withheld from pay)
From this amount, the court will allocate a percentage for child support. Consider the following basics (that apply to net incomes of not more than $8,550 per month).
For one child, the obligor pays 20 percent.
For two children, the obligor pays 25 percent.
For three children, the obligor pays 30 percent.
For four children, the obligor pays 35 percent.
For five children, the obligor pays 40 percent.
For six or more children, the obligor is required to pay an amount that is not less than what he or she would pay for five children.
The Duration of Child Support
Child support is designed to provide children with the financial support they need to get off to a healthy start in life. As such, child support continues until the youngest child being supported either turns 18 or graduates from high school (whichever happens later). There are, however, circumstances that can cut child support short, including:
The child being supported becomes emancipated through marriage
The disability of a child who is being supported beyond the age of 18 is resolved
The child being supported dies
State guidelines determine minimum child support obligations, but the court has considerable discretion to move beyond these guidelines if there are relevant factors affecting the best interests of the children that move the court to do so. Such factors can include:
The age, physical health, and mental health of each of the children involved
Each parent’s financial situation, including the ability of each to pay child support and whether or not the primary custodial parent needs the additional income
The childcare costs that would be incurred if the primary custodial parent were to work outside the home (in those situations in which he or she does not)
The resources and income of the parent who seeks child support
The amount of spousal maintenance involved in the case (as applicable)
The amount of time each parent spends with the children
The children’s health insurance costs
The children’s education expenses
Any additional relevant expenses that the obligor is responsible for
Any extraordinary expenses incurred on behalf of any of the children, which can include things like tutoring, counseling or therapy, extracurriculars, and more
The amount of debt each parent carries
Any other factor that the court deems relevant to the case
As mentioned, child support has the capacity to become quite complicated.
Underemployment or Unemployment
If the obligor is willfully unemployed or underemployed as a means of keeping his or her child support obligation down, it is not likely to do him or her any good (nor is it likely to fly with the court). If the judge in your case determines that your ex is up to financial shenanigans, he or she can impute an income for him or her based on his or her earning potential.
Adult Disabled Children
In the State of Texas, if a child who is younger than 18 requires substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability and will not be capable of self-support, the primary custodial parent can request child support without an end date. If, however, the child becomes disabled after reaching adulthood, this is not the case.
Medical Child Support
In addition to ensuring that children’s financial needs are taken care of, the court addresses the matter of their health insurance. The court will consider a variety of factors in this determination. For example, if one parent can acquire robust coverage at a reasonable rate through his or her work or professional association, the court will likely require that he or she do so. Ultimately, the court will consider the cost and quality of the insurance that is available to the children and will make its decision from there.
Modifying Child Support
In order to have child support modified, you must be able to demonstrate that there has been a change in circumstances significant enough to warrant a modification. One way to obtain a child support modification is if at least three years have passed since the last order went into effect and the new amount calculated is at least 20 percent or $100 more or less than the last order. If this is not the case, however, a change such as any of the following may suffice:
A significant increase or decrease in the obligor’s income
A significant change in the children’s medical coverage
A significant change in the children’s living arrangements
The obligor has become legally responsible for additional children
If you have a child support concern, you very likely also have questions, and the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions may provide you with the information you are looking for.
What should I do if the child support I receive seems too low?
Every parent recognizes how expensive it is to raise children, and if you are the primary custodial parent, this fact is only too obvious. The fact is that child support can be modified. If, however, your child support order is based on all the relevant information; your ex isn’t hiding earnings, and his or her earnings have not increased significantly; your ex is not willfully underemployed (or unemployed), and it has been less than three years since you received the original child support order, you likely have no legal recourse. The state, however, may have services available that can help. If, on the other hand, your ex is hiding earnings; you ex has received a significant pay bump; your ex is willfully underemployed (or unemployed); and/or it has been more than three years since your last child support orders, you can request a child support modification, and an experienced family law attorney can help.
How do I go about obtaining a child support modification?
In order to seek a child support modification, you will need to file your request with the same court that granted your original orders. It is important to note that, even if you and your ex agree on a modification between yourselves, this change is not legally binding. This means that if your ex decides to renege on the deal, you will have no legal grounds for upholding it, and if you are the obligor, you could be held in contempt of court for failing to follow the court’s original child support order.
Can I withhold visitation based on child support that has not been paid?
Many parents believe that if their children’s other parent does not pay the child support, they are obligated by the court to pay that withholding visitation or parenting time is an appropriate response. The law, however, does not see the matter this way. Every child-related decision made by the court is based on the best interests of the children involved, and both of the following apply:
Children are better off when they are allowed to develop deep, abiding relationships with both parents, which means spending time with both parents is in their best interests.
It is in the best interests of children for both of their parents to support them financially until they reach adulthood, and this is what child support is based on.
In other words, the court does not condone you implementing something that is not in the best interests of your children (denying them visitation with their other parent) in response to your ex ignoring his or her child support order, which is also adverse to their best interests. The only appropriate response to your ex’s failure to pay child support is to address the matter with the court.
Do I still owe child support if my children move in with me?
If you pay your ex-spouse child support, but your children have since moved in with you (making you the primary custodial parent), it is only natural to wonder about your child support obligation. The fact is that, unless the child support is modified, it stands just as the court issued it, and you continue to owe your ex-spouse child support. A change of this magnitude, however, could be significant enough to warrant a child support modification.
What can the court do if my ex refuses to pay child support?
The court has considerable power and discretion when it comes to those who are in contempt of court, and because child support is a court order, refusing to pay (or failing to pay) can amount to being in contempt of court. The court can impose any of the following in response:
Wage garnishment, which means that your child support will be taken directly from his or her pay
The Interception of any federal income tax refunds owed to your ex
The suspension or revocation of your ex’s driver’s license, professional licensure, passport, and/or recreational licenses
The collection of any lottery winnings
Additionally, the court can issue contempt of court orders that can result in hefty fines, jail time, or both.