Child Support in Texas

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on April 10, 2024

Child support concerns 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 child support modification cases.

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. If you have questions or concerns about child support, don’t wait to consult with an experienced Killeen divorce attorney.

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. 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.

Many factors can be determined relevant in these calculations, so there is room for a good deal of variance in the determination of child support. Discuss your case with a Killeen divorce attorney to learn what factors are likely to come into play and affect your child support orders.

Determining the Child Support Obligation

Child support calculations can be complex, but they generally follow the same course.

Calculating Gross Income

Texas begins the process of determining the child support obligation by calculating the obligor’s monthly gross income:

  • All salary and wages, including tips, bonuses, and overtime pay

  • All interest earned

  • All dividends, annuities, and trusts

  • Capital gains

  • Any royalties earned

  • Income from self-employment, including any money earned from side hustles like driving for rideshare companies

  • Alimony – or spousal maintenance

  • Net income from rentals

  • Veterans disability benefits – with the exception of disability pension benefits that aren’t service-connected

  • Gifts and prizes

  • Any other income that is actually received, including severance, retirement, pensions, social security, unemployment, disability, workers’ comp, and more

Income earned by the payor’s spouse is not included in the child support calculation.

Calculating Net Income

The state will subtract the following allowed deductions from the obligor’s gross income 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)

  • Dental insurance coverage for the children addressed by the child support order

  • Payments for the children’s healthcare that come out of pocket

Determining Child Support Percentages

From this amount, the court will allocate a percentage for child support. Child support is calculated according to the number of children addressed by the order. Consider the following basic breakdown of child support percentages in Texas:

  • 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 number of additional children outside the order that the parent is obligated to support also factors in. The amount ordered decreases in relation to the number of additional children the payor is required to support.

Child Support Maximums

There are also maximums that apply to child support in Texas. The cap for net income per month was raised to $9,200 in 2019, and it sets the child support maximum. For obligors with higher earnings, child support is calculated at $9,200 – rather than the amount the obligor actually brings in. However, Texas courts sometimes deviate from preset maximums for a few reasons:

  • The payor earns substantially more than the guideline cap.

  • One or more of the children covered have proven needs that justify higher child support.

Texas courts rarely order child support that fails to reach the preset percentage rates. A rare exception is when the primary custodial parent is allowed to move a considerable distance away from the other parent, and in response to the increased travel expense, the obligor’s child support obligation is reduced.

If you believe that some of these unique designations may apply to your case, work closely with a skilled Killeen divorce attorney to help your case come to its best possible outcome.

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:

  • The child being supported becomes emancipated through marriage or a court order

  • The child being supported joins the military

  • The disability of a child who is being supported beyond the age of 18 is resolved

  • The child being supported dies

  • The support order is modified by the court

There are also instances when child support doesn’t have an end date. A prime example is when the covered child has special needs that require the primary custodial parent’s ongoing care.

Relevant Factors

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 any of these important considerations:

  • 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 costs associated with traveling for visitation 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

Discuss your case with a skilled Killeen family law attorney to determine how these factors will affect your child support obligations.

When the Payor’s Income Is Low

As of September 1, 2021, different child support guidelines apply to those with monthly net resources of less than $1,000.

These payments begin at 15 percent for one child, instead of the standard 20 percent, and they increase by 5 percent up to the point of 5 children – remaining 5 percent below the basic guidelines for each additional child. For example, child support for 3 children is calculated at 25 percent for those with low incomes – rather than the standard 30 percent.

When Information about the Obligor’s Income Isn’t Available

When the amount of the obligor’s net resources can’t be obtained, the court takes the following factors into consideration:

  • Their residence

  • Their earnings history

  • Their overall assets

  • Their career path and current employment

  • Their job skills

  • Their level of education

  • Their age and overall mental and physical health

  • Any barriers to their employment

  • Their job-hunting record – as well as the job opportunities, the wage range, and the potential for employment that apply in their community

Underemployment or Unemployment

Underemployment or unemployment can have an impact on child support payments based on the court’s discretion.

The Obligor Is Unwillfully Unemployed or Underemployed

Sometimes, a parent loses his or her job or becomes underemployed through no personal fault. When this situation happens, the child support obligation may decrease. However, if the child support order is already in place, it won’t decrease automatically. The obligor will need to seek a reduction.

As long as the parent demonstrates good faith efforts to obtain employment that is in keeping with his or her abilities, the court is very likely to use the parent's actual income rather than the amount he or she could be earning to calculate the child support obligation.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is essential to work closely with a seasoned Killeen family law attorney to help you build a strong case.

The Obligor Is Willfully Unemployed or Underemployed

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). Instead, the court will take the following range of considerations into account regarding the parent’s potential income and will base the child support payments on this amount:

  • The parent’s career and earnings history and former pay range

  • The parent’s level of education

  • The parent’s job skills

  • Any job or business opportunities the parent has passed up

  • The job opportunities and employment rate in the parent’s community

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.

The Obligee Is Unemployed or Underemployed

When the parent who receives child support – the obligee – is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, it does not increase the amount the obligor is required to pay. However, if underemployment or unemployment is involuntary, it can increase the payor’s obligation.

Retroactive Child Support

When child support should have been paid but there was no child support order in place, retroactive child support can be ordered. Retroactive child support is calculated according to the obligor’s available resources during that retroactive period. Whether or not the obligor was aware of the obligation during that retroactive period will also be factored in.

Retroactive child support can also be ordered when a parent is determined to have taken measures to minimize child support payments.

Texas courts generally don’t look back more than four years from the time of the request when calculating retroactive child support.

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. However, if the child becomes disabled after reaching adulthood, requests for child support without an end date will be denied.

If your child support case involves disabled children, it is essential to work closely with a skilled Killeen family lawyer to ensure that your children receive the support they need.

Medical Child Support

In addition to ensuring that children’s financial needs are taken care of, the court addresses the matter of children’s health insurance. The court will consider a variety of factors in this determination. 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, any of the following changes in situation may warrant a child support modification:

  • 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 becoming legally responsible for additional children

FAQ about Child Support

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. In such situations, child support can often be modified.

If your child support order is based on all the relevant information, your ex isn’t hiding earnings, your ex’s 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 your ex is hiding earnings, your ex has received a significant pay bump, your ex is willfully underemployed (or unemployed), or it has been more than three years since your last child support orders, you can request a child support modification, and an experienced Killeen family law attorney can help.

How Can I Get 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 caveat 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, withholding visitation or parenting time is an appropriate response. However, the law 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 they consider both of the following points in this situation:

  • Children are better off when they can 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.

What If the Obligor Is in Jail or Prison?

If the parent who owes child support goes to jail or prison for at least 180 days after a child support order has been set up, the state will adjust the child support obligation during incarceration. Further, Texas courts won’t enter a child support order if the obligor is currently in jail or prison for at least 180 days. However, the obligee can seek child support upon the obligor’s release.

If the obligor is incarcerated in relation to either of the following offenses, a child support modification isn’t required:

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.

Unless child support is modified, it stands just as the court issued it, and you continue to owe your ex-spouse child support. However, a change of this magnitude 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 consequences in response:

  • Wage garnishment, which means that your child support will be taken directly from your ex’s 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, 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.

An Experienced Killeen Family Law Attorney Can Help

If you have a child support concern, you need professional legal guidance, and Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is an accomplished family law attorney with the experience, compassion, and legal insight to help.

Your case is important, and we are on your side – so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about how we can help you today.

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