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. A divorce does not relieve a parent of this duty to support a child.
Statutory Guidelines for Child Support
The amount of child support payments is set by statute unless the parents agree to deviate from those statutory guidelines.
The statutory guidelines require a parent to pay a set percentage of his or her net resources based on the number of children for whom support is owed.
The amount of child support calculated using the statutory guidelines is presumed to be reasonable and is presumed to be in the children’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 guidelines provide that a parent paying child support should pay the following percentages of his or her net resources:
- 20% for one child
- 25% for two children
- 30% for three children
- 35% for four children
- 40% for five or children
- not less than 40% for 6 or more children
Effect of Other Children on Child Support
It is not uncommon for one parent or both parents to have children from a prior relationship.
In those cases, a parent may receive or pay child support for the child from the prior relationship
If the parent seeking or paying child support is receiving child support payments for a child from a prior relationship, then it has the following impact.
First, for a parent ordered to pay child support, the amounts that parent receives as child support payments for the child from the prior relationship are not included in net resources as discussed below.
Second, the amount a parent seeking to receive child support may receive under the statutory guidelines is not impacted by the fact that this parent is receiving support for another child from a prior relationship.
However, if the parent ordered to pay child support is already paying child support for a child from a prior relationship then that will affect the amount of child support that parent is ordered to pay.
There is a separate statute and chart that provides percentages when the parent ordered to pay child support has an existing child support obligation for children from a prior relationship.
Financial Documents Used to Calculate Child Support
Depending on the sources of a parent’s income, any number of documents may be required to accurately calculate that parent’s gross income.
At a minimum, most cases will require that the parent ordered to pay child support provide copies of recent tax returns and pay stubs.
Some parent’s have hourly jobs or other jobs with variable income. In these cases, the parent’s income will be annualized and an average monthly wage income determined based on that annual number.
Some parents may try to get creative and work fewer hours or seek a low paying job for the purpose of decreasing any child support they may owe.
In these cases, a court can consider intentional unemployment or underemployment and assign deemed income to the parent based on his or her earning potential.
Net Resources in Calculating Child Support
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 is not the same as gross income.
Net resources are not limited to that parent’s salary.
When calculating net resources, 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
After establishing the parent’s gross income, you then deduct the following items 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.
Calculating the Amount of Child Support
Once you establishe the parent’s net resources and the percentage required under the statutory guidelines, you multiply the two numbers together to establish the amount of child support owed.
One limit is that the percentage established by the statutory guidelines is only applied to the first $8,550 of the parent’s net resources.
This cap on the net resources subject to child support payments is adjusted for inflation every six years. The next scheduled adjustment will occur in September of 2019.
If a parent’s net resources exceed this amount, then the statutory guidelines are applied to the first $8,550 of income and a court may order additional child support as appropriate depending on the needs of the child.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office maintains a child support calculator on its website where you can input your financial information and get an estimate on your child support payments.
Deviating from the Statutory Guidelines
The parties can agree or the court can order child support payments in an amount that deviates from the statutory guidelines.
Some of the factors that might cause the parties or a court to deviate from the statutory guidelines 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.
The Mechanics of How Child Support Is Paid in Texas
Except in very unusual circumstances, child support payments are deducted from the paying spouse’s wages by his or her employer.
The employer then sends the child support payment through the State’s disbursement unit in San Antonio.
The parent receiving child support payments then has the option of receiving the payment via check, direct deposit, or a Visa card reloaded as payments are made.
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.
If the child is disabled, then a parent’s obligation to pay child support may continue indefinitely.
While a child’s death will terminate a child support obligation, the death of the parent who is obligated to pay child support will not terminate a child support obligation.
That child support obligation becomes an obligation of the deceased parent’s estate.
In many cases the estate will have inadequate funds given the lack of future income so the parent ordered to pay child support may also be ordered to maintain a life insurance policy sufficient to meet his or her child support obligations.
Modification of Child Support Obligations
A parent’s child support obligations may only be modified by court order in a subsequent proceeding.
In the case of child support, a parent seeking modification of the child support can do so on either of two grounds.
First, the parent could seek to modify or terminate his or her child support obligations by showing that modification would be in the best interests of the children and that the circumstances of the child, a parent, or a party have materially and substantially changed since the date of the prior order.
Second, the parent could seek modification if at least 3 years have past since the prior order and the amount of child support due under the prior order deviates by the lesser of $100 or 20% from the amount that would be awarded under the current guidelines.
If the child support amount was set by agreement, then only the first ground is available for seeking a modification of the child support amounts.