Category Archives: Child Support

Can My Spouse Avoid Paying Child Support By Quitting His or Her Job?

It is not uncommon for a spouse ordered to pay child support in a Texas divorce proceeding to have a change in income after the divorce.

Sometimes that happens for reasons beyond their control, such as layoffs or a need to change their lifestyle following the divorce.

But sometimes a parent will attempt to manipulate their child support obligations by intentionally reducing their income by changing jobs or reducing the hours he or she works.

So what impact does that have on the parent’s child support obligation?

The Impact

This is an unfortunate situation as the impact of a reduction in income or loss of a job has a negative impact on the child.

When a job is lost or income reduced due to normal economic conditions or reasonable changes in circumstances, it is unfortunate.

When a job is lost or income reduced in an attempt by one parent to reduce the child support that the other parent receives, it is purely malicious and harms the child’s well being.

Understand How Child Support Is Paid In Texas

Before going further, it is important to understand how child support is usually paid in Texas.

At the time the court enters a final decree of divorce, the court will also sign an income withholding order for the child support payments.

That income withholding order is then sent to the obligor parent’s employer as well as any subsequent employer.

The employer then deducts the amount set out in the income withholding order from the spouse’s paycheck and sends that amount to the Attorney General’s Child Support processing unit.

The AG’s office then sends payment to the parent receiving payment of child support. But that payment is dependent on the obligor parent’s receiving income.

If the parent ordered to pay child support has no income – then no funds are withheld and sent to the AG’s office. This means no payment of child support is made to the parent receiving the support.

Impact Of A Reduction In Income

First, let’s look at the impact of a reduction in income for the parent ordered to pay spousal support.

Initially, nothing changes as the amount of child support that parent is required to pay can only be modified by court ordered.

So long as the parent’s paycheck includes enough income to withold the child support in full, then that amount is withheld and paid through the AG’s office.

But in this case the parent can seek a modification of the child support order with the court.

In order to get a court order modifying the child support amount, the parent will have to show a substantial change in circumstances or that the amount he or she should pay under the child support guidelines as applied to current income is at least $100 less than the prior order.

When the parent paying support files for a modification, the parent receiving support will receive notice of the motion and have an opportunity to challenge that modification.

If the parent contesting the modification can show that the reduction in income is due to intentional underemployment or an intentional reduction in hours, then the modification will likely be denied.

This has the effect of leaving the economic burden of the lower income on the spouse seeking to game the system.

Impact Of Intentional Unemployment

But what happens if the parent ordered to pay child support simply refuses to work?

In that case – the parent receiving child support will not receive any payments because there is nothing being withheld from the other parent’s paycheck.

That leaves the entire burden on the child.

The parent ordered to pay child support might seek a modification to reduce the amount owed – but the parent receiving support will have an opportunity to challenge that modification as discussed above.

If the parent is intentionally unemployed, then the court will likely not grant a reduction in the child support payments.

But the child support obligation does not go away.

Instead, the unpaid amounts accrue as unpaid child support. The Attorney General’s Child Support Division maintains a record of payments and missed payments.

Once that parent is re-employed, withholding will continue and the spouse entitled to receive child support can seek to have the withheld amount increased to begin making payment on the missed child support payments.

There are also other collection options available that are beyond the scope of this article.

If you would like to schedule a consultation to discuss your divorce case, then please send me an e-mail or send a request through my contact page.

General Rules for Child Support in a Texas Divorce

This article provides an overview of the rules governing child support in a Texas divorce case. It touches on subjects such as the duty to support, calculating child support based on statutory guidelines, basis for deviating from statutory guidelines, as well as medical and dental support.

Duty To Support

By law, a parent has a duty to support his or her child with clothing, food, shelter, medical and dental care, as well as an education. This duty continues even when parents divorce.

In the context of a divorce, the duty to support a child arises when one parent is ordered to make child support payments to the other parent. One rationale for this obligation in a divorce is to make sure that the children are not exposed to unequal environments where one parent has significantly more means than the other parent.

This means that the non-primary parent must assist financially with the costs and expenses the primary parent incurs when the child lives with that parent.

In addition, parents may be ordered to provide support for an adult child if that adult child is disabled.

Termination of Child Support

A parent’s obligation to pay child support will continue until one of the following events occurs:

  1. The child reaches the age of 18 or graduates high school, whichever is later;
  2. the child is emancipated;
  3. the child marries;
  4. the child enlists in the armed forces and begins active duty;
  5. the child dies; or
  6. a court order changes or modifies the support obligation.

One thing to remember is that the death of the parent obligated to pay child support does not terminate the child support obligation. Rather, the obligation is then payable by the parent’s estate.

Statutory Guidelines for Child Support

The Texas legislature set forth statutory guidelines concerning the amount of child support a parent may be ordered to pay based on that parents net resources and the number of children entitled to support.

The guidelines provide that a parent should pay a set percentage of his or her net resources based on the number of children for whom support is owed. There is a separate statute and chart that provides percentages when the parent ordered to pay child support has existing child support obligation for children from a prior relationship.

The amount of support suggested by applying the guidelines is presumed to be reasonable and an order awarding that amount is presumed to be in the child’s best interest.

These guidelines will apply in most cases unless the court decides that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances.

Net Resources

The statutory percentages used to determine the amount of a parent’s child support obligations are applied to that parent’s “net resources.” Net resources are not limited to that parent’s salary.

For example, the court would first identify the parent’s gross income which includes wages and any of the following income:

  • interest, dividend, and royalty income
  • self-employment income;
  • rental income;
  • deemed income
  • severance pay;
  • spousal maintenance or alimony
  • unemployment benefits;
  • disability benefits;
  • workers’ comp benefits;
  • retirement benefits;
  • pensions;
  • interest income;
  • trust income;
  • capital gains;
  • an advance on an inheritance; and
  • gifts.

Once a court determines the parent’s gross income, the court will then deduct the following to establish the parent’s net resources:

  • social security taxes;
  • income taxes for a single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction;
  • medical insurance costs for the child paid by that parent; and
  • dental insurance costs for the child paid by that parent.

An important note is that the applicable percentage in the statutory guidelines is only applied to the first $8,550 of the parent’s net resources. This is the Texas child support cap.

Note – this cap is adjusted for inflation every six years with the next scheduled adjustment coming in September, 2019.

Deviating from the Statutory Guidelines

A court may order child support in an amount that differs from the statutory guidelines if the court finds that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances.

Some of the factors a court might consider in determining whether application of the child support guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances include:

  1. the age and needs of the child;
  2. the ability of the parents to contribute to the support of the child;
  3. any financial resources available for the support of the child;
  4. the amount of time of possession of and access to a child;
  5. the amount of the obligee’s net resources, including the earning potential of the obligee if the actual income of the obligee is significantly less than what the obligee could earn because the obligee is intentionally unemployed or underemployed and including an increase or decrease in the income of the obligee or income that may be attributed to the property and assets of the obligee;
  6. child care expenses incurred by either party in order to maintain gainful employment;
  7. whether either party has the managing conservatorship or actual physical custody of another child;
  8. the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance actually and currently being paid or received by a party;
  9. the expenses for a son or daughter for education beyond secondary school;
  10. whether the obligor or obligee has an automobile, housing, or other benefits furnished by his or her employer, another person, or a business entity;
  11. the amount of other deductions from the wage or salary income and from other compensation for personal services of the parties;
  12. provision for health care insurance and payment of uninsured medical expenses;
  13. special or extraordinary educational, health care, or other expenses of the parties or of the child;
  14. the cost of travel in order to exercise possession of and access to a child;
  15. positive or negative cash flow from any real and personal property and assets, including a business and investments;
  16. debts or debt service assumed by either party; and
  17. any other reason consistent with the best interest of the child, taking into consideration the circumstances of the parents.

Medical and Dental Insurance

One parent in the divorce will be ordered to provide medical and dental insurance for the children. Usually, this is provided through one of the parents’ employers and often times by the spouse ordered to pay child support.

In that case, the costs of the medical and dental insurance premiums are deducted from the parent’s net resources prior to applying the statutory guidelines.

If medical and dental support is provided by the parent receiving child support payments, then the amount of the child support payment may be modified to compensate for those costs.

Agreed Child Support by the Parties

As with most issues in a divorce, the parties may reach an agreement on the amount of child support a parent will pay. While the law favors and encourages parents to reach an agreement on child support, any agreement is still subject to court review to confirm that it is in the best interest of the children.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your divorce case, then please send me an e-mail or send a request through my contact page.