Child support is a subject that almost every parent going through a family law case is aware of though many do not know the basics of the laws that relate to it. You may know, for example, that child support is typically paid by one parent to another to support their children. However, you may not know which parent is more likely to pay child support, how it is calculated and what are the mechanics behind the payment of child support. That is what we are here to discuss with you today. In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss what it means to pay child support, receive child support, and everything in between.
Your court orders, either a Final Decree of Divorce or Final Orders in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, will determine how much child support is paid in your case and the details associated with those payments. This is a crucial point of interest given that you need to be able to understand what your obligations are whether you are paying or receiving child support. If you are going to be receiving child support then you need to know how much child support you are set to get and what to do if your co-parent is late making payments, does not pay, or only pays you part of what you need to be paid.
By the same token, if you are the parent who will be paying child support then you need to be able to understand what your obligations are as far as making payments and how to make sure you are keeping track of those payments so that you are not being taken advantage of by your co-parent. The last thing that you want to do is find yourself in a situation where your co-parent is trying to force you into a situation where you are having to pay more in child support than you need to. Child support frequently pushes parents up to the limit of their budgets each month. You should not be put in a situation where you are forced to pay more each month than you need to. Understanding what you have paid, what you still owe (if anything) and the terms of your order will help you a great deal in this regard.
In some regards, child support is simply because it is a matter of paying a certain amount of money at a certain time of the month to your co-parent (or being paid this money by a co-parent). However, there are almost always some disagreements between parents when it comes to the payment of child support that you need to be able to sort through during this stage of a case. Along the way you can learn how to disarm your co-parent’s incorrect arguments and generally orient yourselves in a way that is based on fairness and most importantly on what your actual court orders say instead of what you believe to be correct or fair.
Child support in Texas is unique due to how the State calculates child support. While you and your co-parent are free to calculate child support however you want, there is a child support calculation that is included in the Texas Family Code. This method of calculating child support is what would be utilized if you all cannot agree on how to pay and receive child support. So, it is useful for you to learn this calculation method even if the two of you will not be utilizing it in your case.
The basics of Texas child support
There are multiple ways to integrate your family into the Texas child support process but probably the simplest is to contact the Office of the Attorney General. Their office can provide you with forms and applications for child support which will be filed with their office. Once this is complete, a member of their office will initiate a meeting between you and your co-parent. You all will be able to come to one of their offices (not a court) and negotiate on subjects such as child support. If you can come to a conclusion that is agreeable to both of you then you can leave, there with child support orders, and never have to go to court at all. However, if you all cannot agree then you would proceed to court and have a judge consider your circumstances.
At this point in the process, it would be a great idea to contact an experienced family law attorney. You can find yourself in a position, quickly, where you can be made to pay child support that is far away from what you should be based on your number of children and your income. Do not put yourself in a position where you are unprepared for a hearing and are instead having to pay play defense against your co-parent who is demanding a certain sum of child support based on any number of factors. An attorney can help you organize your case and prepare to make arguments in child support. Note that other issues like visitation and possession of your child can also get sorted out in these hearings so you must be prepared from all angles to go to court on this issue of child support.
In any event, the Office of the Attorney General can still open a child support case involving your family even if you did not request it, and neither did your co-parent. For example, if you are the parent who cares for your child most of the time you may have applied for public benefits like food stamps or Medicaid. Once you apply for benefits like this you will be opening yourself up to a child support case- whether you have asked for it or not.
Calculating child support
Child support guidelines are clear that a noncustodial parent must contribute income to the care of children of at least twenty percent of their net monthly income each month. An additional five percent will be tacked onto this total for each additional child you have before the court. Please note that a court cannot order that any more than fifty percent of your net monthly income can go towards child support each month.
A question that we receive with some frequency is whether or not an unemployed parent still must pay child support. This is a situation where some parents, believe it or not, will quit their job in anticipation of a child support case and either not work at all or work so little that their income is minuscule. Therefore, the amount of income that a court would be able to assess child support against would be so small as to not be possible for them to pay a fair amount of support based on their prior income. This is not a good plan. First, if a judge picks up on your having done this maliciously you can be penalized by the court on top of paying child support. Secondly, as a baseline, you will be assessed child support off of a minimum wage job so there is a floor to child support that you can expect to pay regardless of your current income.
Children with disabilities and other impairments
If you have a child with a special need then you should be prepared to pay more than the standard amount of child support as outlined in the Texas Family Code. That calculation is based on no external circumstances that are out of the ordinary influencing costs associated with your child. However, that is not the case most likely if you have a child with a disability or significant impairment of some sort. The Family Code does condition additional language that you should speak to your attorney about regarding special needs and caring for a child with those types of needs. Negotiating on this point is important. You do not want to be put in a position where you may receive less child support than you ought to if you are going to be the parent who receives rather than pays child support.
What I like to do with clients when I go into mediation or engage in negotiation on child support in a situation like this is to be as detailed as I can be. Come in with doctor's bills, insurance co-pays, and things of this nature rather than assuming that you will be able to "figure it out" on the fly with your spouse. This is probably not going to work well. The more precise and detailed you can be the better off you and your child are going to be. Remember that it is not required that you all agree to a certain number for child support. Rather, what you need to keep in mind is that the specific circumstances of your child are what matters. The guidelines level of support as contained in the Family Code is not.
How is child support paid in Texas?
Child support can be paid as a paycheck deduction in Texas if there was a Wage Withholding Order established in your divorce or child custody case. A wage withholding order is typically drafted by the party who will be receiving the child support and submitted to the judge for his or her signature after your divorce. The judge will take the signed order, give it to the clerk of the court and that clerk will send it to the paying parent's employer. That employer will then withhold income from paycheck(s) in line with what the order states are necessary.
Please note that payments need to go through the State Disbursement Unit for Child Support of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It is not a good idea for you to make direct payments of child support to your co-parent. Many parents do this, and I can tell you it is not wise. Consider that these are informal payments and are not officially acknowledged on your OAG ledger for child support. For example, if you owe your ex-spouse $1,400 each month in child support and you make your payments directly to her then your online account will not reflect these payments. Your ex-spouse cannot go into her account and make those payments manually. The OAG keeps track of payments online for your benefit. However, on their child support website, you will only see the payments made- no parent can manually update the ledger to reflect payments made directly from one parent to the other. If you want to pay your child support by check you may do so through their office.
It is your responsibility to keep up to date with what information is included in the OAG’s system. Having to keep up with this information may seem like it is adding insult to injury but that’s life in the big city, as they say. If information begins to become outdated, then this is an area that you will need to update on their behalf. Keep in mind that the OAG is not going to seek out updated information on your behalf. Rather, if you change employers, move, or have any other change to your child support order then that is something that you will need to update and contact them about if there are any issues.
Even if you have a wage withholding order set up in the child support system you need to make sure that these payments are going to your co-parent. The best way to do this is to be an active reviewer of your child support account on the Attorney General's website. Do not assume that just because you see a line item on your paystub for child support withholding that the money is necessarily going to your co-parent's account. You should verify that each withholding results in a child support payment. Whatever your employment and child support situations are you need to bear this in mind as you plan for your future needs and those of your children.
If you are considering a jump into self-employment you need to still think about your child support obligation. The wage withholding order that you signed four years ago after your divorce will not magically follow you out the door of your 9-5 job and into the world of contracting. So, even if you no longer have an employer besides yourself you need to verify that the money that you need to pay each month in child support is getting handled correctly. Falling behind in child support is no laughing matter. There are penalties, interest, and even the possibility of jail time or deferred adjudication when it comes to not paying child support. Courts and judges take this subject very seriously and you need to as well, as a result. Remember- these are payments that are going towards the betterment of your children, ultimately, and are not just going to support the lifestyle of your co-parent.
In any event, child support is a tricky subject. With budgets getting tighter and tighter with inflation and other concerns the child support that you are ordered to pay could be onerous to take on as far as a monthly budget item is concerned. 20% or more of your paycheck is no laughing matter. When you consider that rent/mortgage, food, clothing, and health insurance (for you and your kids) are other monthly costs that can fluctuate upwards there is no wonder that this is a subject that many people get bent out of shape about. As I mentioned earlier in this blog post, however, it is best to pay what you need to and to do so on time. The consequences of failing to pay child support or even failing to pay the entire obligation on time can be onerous for a parent.
Another consideration to make is that if you are the parent who receives child support then you may be underpaid child support. There are expenses daily that you incur which are not reflected in the guideline levels of support as outlined in the Family Code. There are extracurricular activities, "Keeping up with the Joneses" costs, and an array of daily costs that come up from time to time that cannot be reflected in child support. If your child has a field trip, birthday party, fundraiser or other cost pop up you are not able to ask your co-parent to pay you more child support as a result of these once-in-a-while costs. A modification of child support is possible but there must have been a material and substantial change in your family's development to justify filing suit.
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 consultations 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 as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.