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Child Support and Divorce: Beyond Business, Embracing Responsibility

When parents go through a divorce it can almost seem more like a business transaction than anything else. This is unfortunate because a divorce deals with some of the most personal issues that two people can ever handle together. Your family, your children, your life, and your marital relationship are all part of this equation. That a divorce sometimes turns into the division of assets like when a company goes out of business is more a reflection of the circumstances in which you find yourselves in more than anything else. It’s not personal- it’s just business. This is a phrase that many of us are familiar with from a handful of movies over the years.

Here’s where the trouble lies when you approach a divorce like this. When you approach a divorce like a business transaction it creates problems not necessarily for you and your spouse but for the people around you. While you and your spouse may be completely at ease with the idea of sending your marriage and going through with this divorce, others may be less agreeable or engaged. Primarily, I am thinking about your children as people who have the most at stake in the divorce- perhaps even more than you and your spouse do.

The difficult part of a divorce as far as your children are concerned is that they have just as much of a stake in the divorce as you do but are not able to directly participate in the case themselves. They are named in the title of the case (or at least their initials are) but because they are minor children it is expected that you and your spouse will be advocating for them. It is presumed under the law that you and your spouse act in their best interests when making decisions on behalf of your children.

In no area is this idea more acutely felt than in child support. Your children will come to rely upon child support from you and your spouse even if it is not formally thought of as child support as in a family law case. The financial support that you and your spouse provide for your children will impact how they grow up, how they live daily, and the lifestyle that your children can embody. What is especially difficult about child support is that it is an emotional topic given that money, personal finances, and your ex-spouse are all going to be prominently featured in this equation.

Why is child support such a difficult issue for many families who get divorced?

As we just alluded to, child support is sort of the confluence of many different factors which all come together and make it one of the most contentious subjects in all of family law. Without considering any of the other issues or factors at play here, child support involves a parent paying their ex-spouse money to support the children. Parents must support their children in Texas. To further this goal, courts require that parents going through a divorce also make allocations for the financial support of their children. This is where child support enters the equation.

When you think about all the responsibilities that you have as a parent, financial responsibilities are usually at the top of most people’s lists. You cannot fake your way through financial support. Either you have the money to support your child, or you do not. Fortunately, when you are struggling financially there are usually programs available to help you and your co-parent make ends meet. If you cannot afford to buy your child lunch for school, then he or she can have reduced or even free lunch. Many schools take this opportunity to the next level and offer free meals for students even outside of school days, such as in the summer. There are school supply drives, food pantries, government health insurance- the list goes on and on.

Where you cannot hide shortcomings or issues when it comes to child support. If you are having trouble financially supporting your child, then all bets are off as far as the upbringing and care of your child is concerned. It is not a given that you will be able to rely upon the government if you lack resources to care for your child. The State of Texas expects that you and your co-parent will be able to take care of your child together as a team. This is true even though the two of you may have just gone through a divorce.

In a child custody or divorce case, two parental rights are tied closely together. The first is the right to determine the primary residence of your child. This means that you or your co-parent would be able to determine where your child lives. Ostensibly, this would lead to your child coming to live with you on a “full-time” basis. You may have heard parents ask for “full custody” in a divorce or have talked to parents who have said they have full custody because of a child custody case. For most people, full custody simply means that you as a parent can determine the primary residence of your child. Part and parcel with this right is the ability to spend more time with your child. The parents with whom I have worked in child custody and divorce cases will usually tell you that their number one goal when it comes to their child is to be able to be the parent who spends more time with him or her.

When you are the parent with whom your child resides primarily you are also in a position where you can receive the child support. Here is how that works. Both parents, whether custodial (primary conservator) or noncustodial (nonprimary conservator) have the responsibility to provide for your child’s well-being in various ways. In today’s blog post, we are going to be focusing on the responsibility to provide for your child financially. This financial support is accomplished by providing your child with the essentials, such as food, clothing shelter, and an education. We can also extend medical care into that equation although hopefully, your child does not need medical care as often as food and shelter.

The general rule of thumb that the State of Texas follows is that the custodial parent ends up spending more money on their child during the year due to their being with the child often. There may be differences in your situation, but it would make sense that if you are with your child then you are the parent who will be paying for any incidental costs associated with raising him or her. This includes all the things we just mentioned like food, shelter, and clothing.

Rather than have the primary conservator of your child bear a disproportionate amount of the financial burden of raising your child, the courts of Texas see to it that both you and your co-parent will bear a certain amount of responsibility. This is where child support comes into play. The noncustodial parent of your child will pay the custodial parent a certain sum of child supports each month. That child support is intended to even out the costs of raising a child. It may not be perfect and there is no method for completely making these costs even across the board.

What child support is not intended to do, however, is allow your child to live the lifestyle that he or she had become accustomed to while you and your spouse were married. Many people operate under the mistaken assumption that the purpose of child support is to allow the child (or their parent) to still be able to remain at a certain standard of living even though that relationship has ended. If you expect that you will be the parent to whom child support is paid you should be aware that child support is paid for the support of your child’s basic needs, rather than to provide any additional quality of life.

One question that I have been asked on more than one occasion by the parent who will be paying child support is whether there is a way to account for or track the child support that is paid. These men and women would like to know whether there is a method to hold their ex-spouse or co-parent accountable for how their child support money is spent. The short answer to this question is that there is no way to do this. Parents must trust their co-parent that he or she is spending child support money in responsible ways and the best interests of their child.

Hiring an attorney is important when the initial determinations on child support are made. From the perspective of the paying parent, you need to be able to have your net monthly income calculated correctly. If you are someone who has more than one job, is paid by commission, or is a contract employee then it can be difficult to always know how much money you earn monthly. On top of this, you may have an irregular income where you earn varying amounts of income each month. The last thing that you want to do is find yourself in a position where your co-parent and their attorney are attempting to argue that you earn more income than you are. It’s not that you don’t want to help your child, but you also do not want to find yourself in a position where you are ordered to pay more child support than you can afford.

On the other hand, if you expect that you are going to be the parent then it is still important that you have an attorney to support your case and advocate on your behalf. For the same reason that the noncustodial parent needs a lawyer to help verify their income and have a correct amount of child support entered into their case, the same applies to you. There are instances from our experience here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan where we have represented parents whose co-parents have tried to lie or conceal their true income to pay less than an appropriate amount of child support.

Our attorneys are skilled at being able to ask for documentation via the discovery process which can allow you to find out any sources of income that your co-parent may have. In some cases, we have even been able to discover income sources that our client was not even aware of during their marriage. Put yourself in that person’s shoes- you were married to someone for years and were unaware of all the income that their spouse was earning. Does that sound at all familiar to you? If it does, then our attorneys could stand to help you in your case. The best way to find out for yourself just how much an attorney from our office could help you in your case is to set up a free-of-charge consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.

Can you and your co-parent agree for no child support to be paid?

That all brings us to the question posed by the title of today’s blog post can you and your spouse or co-parent agree to no child support being paid in your family law case? To answer this question, we need to quickly address the two sides to this issue. On the one hand, families just like yours are given a great deal of autonomy in a child support or family law case to negotiate settlements and avoid the courtroom. The idea that you will have your court orders dictated to you by a judge in your is just simply not true.

You and your co-parent are given wide discretion in negotiations on the topics related to your family law case. Most judges will require that you all attend mediation at least one time before a trial just to make sure that all avenues have been exhausted in terms of being able to make sure that a settlement could have been reached before going to a trial. However, there are limitations to this autonomy given to you and your co-parent.

When it comes to child support, you all will not be able to agree between yourselves to no child support being paid. This would seem to be in opposition to the general point that we just finished discussing regarding how parties such as yourself have a great deal of autonomy over the proceedings in a family law case as far as negotiations are concerned. However, bear in mind that child support is not intended to support your child’s other parent but the children themselves. Since it is in the best interests of a child to have both parents support him or her the court will heavily scrutinize any agreement which you and your child’s other parent come to regarding the payment or nonpayment of child support.

The bottom line is that there are not many circumstances that I can think of where a court would believe that not paying child support would be in the best interests of your child. Therefore, you and your child’s other parent should not plan on being able to completely wipe child support off the board in your family law case. Rather, if child support is a major concern for all of you then it may be better for you all to think creatively about how child support can be worked into your situation.

For example, you may think about negotiating with your co-parent a reduced amount of child support if the two of you will end up seeing your child on a somewhat equal basis and have incomes that are like one another. Because the distribution of time with your child is so even between the two of you then it may not make sense for a standard amount of child support to be paid. You all can break down the amount of time that each of you will be spending time with your child after the family law case comes to an end to figure out how much child support is fair based on the circumstances.

Since child support is an issue that impacts your family so profoundly it is not something to enter without a great deal of planning and forethought. Not having experience in negotiating child support or thinking through the issues related to the subject can put you at a major disadvantage. For that reason, I would recommend reaching out to an experienced family law attorney today to begin building your knowledge base so that you can be as prepared as possible for any upcoming child support-related matter.

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 what the impacts on your family may be if a child custody or divorce case were to be filed.

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