The obligation to pay child support is one of the most difficult aspects of many parents’ divorce or child custody cases. While it is difficult to lose time with your children and have to share in the decision-making for that child with an ex-spouse, it is just as difficult, if not more so, to have to pay money for the support of that child but to have the money go directly to that Co-parent. If you find yourself in a position where you are obligated to pay child support, you are likely interested in learning as much as you can about the subject.
Typically, your final orders in a child custody or divorce case will spell out the specifics of your obligation to pay the support to your Co-parent. The date on which your child support obligation begins, the amount and duration of the Child Support, and an explanation as to when that obligation ends should all be included in your final decree of divorce in your suit affecting the parent-child relationship. If your case has not yet ended, you should be sure to check for this in your final decree of divorce or other final orders before the end of your case. Going into a post-family law case life without an expectation of when the obligation to pay child support ends is not a good plan.
Child support in Texas can be a relatively straightforward process to determine how much child support you will end up owing to your Co-parent after a case. I say this because many people in Texas pay child support based on the statutory guidelines contained in the Texas family code. If your circumstances are abnormal, then differing from the guideline levels of support may be justified. However, for many of us to work in the field of family law, we can oftentimes take it for granted that there may be extenuating circumstances that require a non-guidelines level of support to be paid
if you believe you find yourself in a circumstance where the guideline levels of child support should not be paid then you should speak to your attorney about this at the beginning of your case. They will evaluate your circumstances to determine whether or not this is correct. Nobody would argue that you want what is best for your children. However, it is reasonable to expect that you would not want to pay an unreasonable amount of child support to an ex-spouse or Co-parent after your family law case.
The question that I have received more than once regarding child support would be whether or not child support is still owed even after your ex-spouse or co-parent re-marries. The thought is that when that parent has additional income coming from a spouse that your obligation should end. After all, your child now has three potential sets of income, whereas they only had two before. Is it correct that after your Co-parent marries or remarries that your obligation to pay child support ends?
Texas child support basics
We can’t have a good, worthwhile discussion on anything regarding child support before we understand what it is. In a Texas family law case, the end goal concerning child support will be for a determination to be made on how much money you or your Co-parent will pay to the other each month to support your child. That support is not intended to keep your child living the same lifestyle they were accustomed to while you all were married, but it is intended to meet your child’s basic, ordinary needs such as food, shelter, in clothing.
The state of Texas has set up guidelines contained in the Texas family code, which are intended to ensure that your child has a dependable, consistent amount of support based on the resources available to you. The vast majority of Texas divorce and child custody cases utilized amounts of child support based on these guidelines. If you end up being the parent who is obligated to pay support, your net monthly income would need to be determined first to get an idea of how much in the way of resources the court can consider.
Your wages and salary from your primary job are, for most people, the primary source of net monthly income. I would add commissions from sales jobs, tips, bonuses, and overtime pay as part of this discussion. If you work in a job where your primary income is rather low, but you are paid mostly via tips, bonuses, or commissions from sales jobs, then you have to include these portions in the analysis to have an accurate idea of what your child support obligation is may end up being.
If you have investments, then those investments in their income may generate resources that are considered for your net monthly income. Dividends or interest, as well as capital gains in royalties in certain investments, can be considered when it comes to your net monthly income. Many of us are not able to have actualized gain on our investments to this point, but it is worth mentioning for those who may have substantial investments or maybe at a point in their lives where their investments are becoming vested.
We have seen in this pandemic more and more people begin to work as independent contractors and as self-employed people. Given that we are approaching the end of tax season, you need to think of how many 1099s you were sent by employers this past year to determine whether or not you are technically a self-employed person. Any income you earned from these types of jobs needs to be added up to determine your responsibility for child support. The toughest part for folks in this position is that your income may be unstable, but a court would not be able to consider that.
Finally, the question I received most often as far as what sort of money is counted in determining net monthly income is whether or not Social Security, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, or workers compensation are counted among the sources of income that go into your net monthly income calculation. For child support in Texas, I can tell you that these benefits and payment methods do count as income and will be eligible to go into a net monthly income calculation for your child support. If you have a specific question about the sort of benefit you are receiving, you should ask your attorney very early on in your case so you have an idea of what may not count for calculating child support payments.
Intentional underemployment or unemployment
In a world where most of us are doing the best we can to earn as much of an income for our families as possible, it may come to surprise you that there are people out there who may be purposely working less and earning less money; as a result, then they would be capable of. This happens with some frequency in the world of child support cases. These parents, for whatever reason, would prefer to earn less money or work fewer hours at their current job to avoid paying whatever amount of child support they would have been obligated to do under their former income.
This is different from having your hours cut or pay reduced due to something you can’t control, like a global pandemic. Please do not confuse what I am telling you today with what is going on with the pandemic and our economy. However, attorneys in family court judges quickly understand that a pandemic or any other factor can explain away not every reduction in income or a sudden drop in pay. My advice would be to be very careful about choosing your employment around the time of your family law case. If something seems off to an attorney or a family court judge when it comes to your income, then you are likely to suffer consequences.
At the very least, even if you do become unemployed, whether purposefully or not, you will still have to pay child support. A family court would presume income based on earning the minimum wage, and your child support will be based on the net monthly income of a person who earns that much money. There are very few circumstances where an able-bodied, halfway competent parent would be able to avoid paying child support in a Texas child custody or divorce case. Whatever tricks or methods you have thought to employ overtime have been considered by many people before you and were not successful. My advice would always be to do the best you can for your children and be honest with your attorney about your income and assets.
What factors may cause guideline child support to not be in your child’s best interest?
The default setting for child support cases in Texas is that the guideline levels of support outlined in the Texas family code would be considered correct. This means that if push comes to shove. You and your Co-parent cannot agree on an amount of money to be paid for child support. It is likely a family court judge would do the basic calculations I provided you with at the beginning of this blog post to pay child support based on the guideline amounts.
With that said, some circumstances can come into play where you may be ordered to pay either lower or higher than the guideline levels of support. The law in Texas is that a judge must consider all circumstances relevant to your case to make sure that applying the guideline levels of support is not contrary to your child’s best interests. Let’s walk through a handful of those factors so that we can discuss them briefly here in our blog post today.
I think the most obvious consideration is that a judge would look to both your and your Co parent’s abilities to provide for your children from a financial standpoint. This is where circumstances similar to those involving professional athletes and Hollywood actors can become somewhat relevant for you and your family. For instance, if your spouse has very little income-earning ability or a history of doing so, you are a physician, attorney, or higher-level income-earning person. You may be ordered to pay more than guideline levels of support by a family court judge. For that reason, if your spouse is making an offer to you for guideline levels of support to be paid in negotiations, it will be wise for you to consider that offer strongly.
Another factor that a court will consider is whether your child has extraordinary needs or goes beyond that of a typical child. These needs could be physical or educational. For instance, if your child requires some resource through your school district that costs extra money to pay for then, this should be considered in the amount of child support that you become obligated to pay period likewise if your child has a predictable and consistent medical cost that goes over and above what health insurance pays then this, too, should be considered when assessing a child support obligation against you.
On the other hand, if you have to pay large sums of money to visit with your children due to distance or any other factor, this may be considered and may reduce the amount of child support that you have to pay. For the most part, families in any typical divorce or child custody case do not have to bear in mind factors like these. For that reason, if you believe these factors are relevant to your case, then I would recommend you speak to your attorney early and often about them so that they can begin to plan on how to proceed when it comes to adjusting the amount of child support that you are obligated to pay or receive.
What about remarriage?
The question that drew most of you to today’s blog post was whether or not their remarriage of your spouse who receives child support could impact whether or not you have an obligation to pay child support. The bottom line is that simply remarrying that alone does not provide enough justification for a court to cease your obligation to pay child support. Again, additional factors must be in play for a court to consider dropping your obligation to pay child support or at least reducing it.
Earlier in today’s blog post, when we were discussing the obligation to pay child support, we did not discuss the effect of children outside of this current relationship or marriage. For instance, if you have two children with your current wife from whom you were getting divorced, but you have two other children from a prior marriage that you were also responsible for, then that could result in a reduction of your child support obligation for your current divorce case. For the most part, an additional child outside of the court’s purview results in a 2.5 percent reduction in your child support obligation in your current case.
On the other hand, the income of a future spouse will not be considered when determining a child support obligation. This could be a future spouse of yours or the person you are going through the current family law case with.
However, I may be able to see a situation wherein a child custody case, your Co-parents spouse, and their income may be considered somewhat in determining how much child support you will end up owing. This is certainly something that you should discuss with your attorney if he believes it is a relevant consideration. A pure child custody case involving one married party does not come up that frequently so it is worth bringing up to your attorney to get their impression. Keep in mind that in a traditional modification case, this would not be a factor in my opinion and is not one that I’ve seen a court consider when determining child support in this type of situation.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family circumstances may be impacted by a divorce or child custody case. I appreciate your interest in our law office, and we hope that you will return tomorrow as we continue to share information about the world of Texas family law.