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:
- The child reaches the age of 18 or graduates high school, whichever is later;
- the child is emancipated;
- the child marries;
- the child enlists in the armed forces and begins active duty;
- the child dies; or
- 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.
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;
- interest income;
- trust income;
- capital gains;
- an advance on an inheritance; and
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.
[UPDATE – August 2019. The child support cap has been raised to $9,200.]
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:
- the age and needs of the child;
- the ability of the parents to contribute to the support of the child;
- any financial resources available for the support of the child;
- the amount of time of possession of and access to a child;
- 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;
- child care expenses incurred by either party in order to maintain gainful employment;
- whether either party has the managing conservatorship or actual physical custody of another child;
- the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance actually and currently being paid or received by a party;
- the expenses for a son or daughter for education beyond secondary school;
- whether the obligor or obligee has an automobile, housing, or other benefits furnished by his or her employer, another person, or a business entity;
- the amount of other deductions from the wage or salary income and from other compensation for personal services of the parties;
- provision for health care insurance and payment of uninsured medical expenses;
- special or extraordinary educational, health care, or other expenses of the parties or of the child;
- the cost of travel in order to exercise possession of and access to a child;
- positive or negative cash flow from any real and personal property and assets, including a business and investments;
- debts or debt service assumed by either party; and
- 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.
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