One of the most disheartening situations that you can find yourself in as a parent who has gone through a Texas family law case is to have some confusion or doubt about child support. This is just an emotional topic, to begin with. Whether you are paying or receiving child support it is not as simple as paying or receiving money and just moving on with your life. There are emotional and logistical concerns that are involved in the process, as well. We are going to work our way through those emotional, legal, and logistical issues in today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
After today's blog post, we are also going to walk you through the back child support forms that can be filled out and submitted to the Office of the Attorney General if you have questions about the child support that you owe or are owed. Make no mistake, this is not an easy situation to be in whether you are paying or receiving child support. To be told that you owe child support by an ex-spouse may be an annoyance especially if you believe that you have paid your child support in full and on time. On the other hand, if you believe that you are owed child support but are not sure this form can also help you and your family a great deal.
What is child support?
For this section of our blog post, I am going to be writing as if you are the parent who has been ordered to pay child support. Child support is a monetary payment paid by you to your co-parent. This is most likely because of having been previously involved with a family law case of some sort- likely a child custody or divorce case. You can also be ordered to pay child support if you went to what is known as an "IV-D" court and discussed matters related to your income and other factors. As a part of that case, you may have also had child custody and conservatorship issues handed down by a judge.
Child support orders must be written down and then signed by a judge. Having a handshake agreement with your co-parent where you agree to pay her $500 bucks a month plus diapers and formula for your baby’s support is a kind of support, but it is not officially child support the type of which we are going to be discussing today. Child support is formal. It requires you to pay a specific amount of money by a specific date each month. This makes it all very predictable when you get right down to it. There won't be many months where you are clueless about what you need to pay in child support. A well-drafted order will tell you exactly how much you need to pay and other expectations regarding your responsibilities.
How is child support calculated?
This is an important question given that you may have been in a position before where you paid child support of some sort which varied on a month-to-month basis. The sort of situation that I am envisioning is one where your child’s mother would ask you to send her some money each month, but that amount could be different based on any number of reasons. You would find yourself in a position where you could not budget for the child support that you were being asked for because it jumped around each month so much. This is not an ideal situation to find yourself in.
There are guideline levels of support that are laid out in the Texas Family Code. These are the most typical calculation that people use in your situation when it comes to figuring out the child support issue. A percentage of your net monthly income is assessed and then a percentage is multiplied against your income to determine what your monthly child support obligation is going to be. The percentage corresponds to the number of children that are before the court. That much is simple to figure out.
What is not so easy to figure out in many cases is your net monthly income. If you work one job and it is a pure hourly/salaried job then that is not difficult to figure out, either. Working multiple jobs, having real estate income, being a contract employee, and receiving various kinds of disability benefits are all factors that stand to make this calculation more complicated. When it comes to determining this number, it pays to have an attorney to help you do the research, advocate for a position and raise counter-arguments when your co-parent is attempting to argue that your income is higher than it is.
Why are child support orders a good thing for parents?
Since you are the parent who will be paying child support you may be blinking your eyes quickly right now to make sure that you read the subtitle of this section correctly. How could child support be a good thing? You love your child but having to pay an arbitrary amount of money to your co-parent each month sounds like not a good time. If there was a way to simply use that money to buy what your child needs and get it to him or her that would sound a lot better to you. However, the idea of paying your co-parent money to care for your child when you have no control over where that money goes is less than fun idea.
However, I am here to tell you that you should have a set obligation for child support each month rather than having to guess how much your co-parent is going to ask you to pay. Let's consider that it is impossible to budget monthly when you do not know how much money you will need to pay your co-parent. If you are paying hundreds of dollars a month in child support as it is a huge commitment for most people. This puts you behind each month when it comes to the planning that you will need to undertake to be able to pay your bills and take care of other responsibilities that have nothing to do with child support.
Rather than think of your child support order as something that constricts you or limits your spending freedom, I would look at it from the opposite perspective. Having child support on a set schedule allows you to know exactly how much you need to pay and when each month. You can budget your life much better this way. Additionally, your co-parent cannot come back to you and say that she wants you to pay more money for any reason under the sun. Again, this is an advantage for you as a parent. Predictability and consistency are important factors when trying to gain solid footing in a world where you are a parent.
Asking the Office of the Attorney General to review your child support circumstances
The Office of the Attorney General in Texas is the governmental agency that handles child support-related issues. Setting up payments, checking how much you have paid, and how much you have received in child support are all things that you can do through your account with the Texas Attorney General. Payments made directly to your co-parent are not official payments to count on your official ledger of payments. If your co-parent asks you for a check or cash directly, I would hesitate to do that. The last thing that you want to do is pay your co-parent for child support and get no credit for it.
What the OAG allows you to do is request information about your child support order. You can sign a form and return it to their office to find out the status of your child support obligation- whether you are the parent who pays child support or is the parent who receives child support this can be a useful tool for you to have in your toolbox to make sure that you are set up correctly on child support. Allowing yourself to be owed money or to owe money and be unaware of that fact is a mistake and one that can cost you time, and money and hurt your child.
For starters, you need to understand that the OAG and their attorneys do not represent you, your co-parent, or your child. This is a common misunderstanding that people have when it comes to the OAG. You may be under the impression that the OAG represents your co-parent who receives child support payments from you. It may have seemed like their representatives or attorneys in the past have been hostile towards you or even aggressive in trying to get you to agree to a child support obligation. While that may have been true, their office represents the State of Texas. The OAG protects the State from having to pay benefits for your child like Medicaid when it otherwise should not have to were you paying child support or medical support. Additionally, the OAG can make sure that your medical support goes to reimburse the state for any benefits paid out on behalf of your child.
Many times, if you have not gone to court to have your child support order, you would have gone through a local child support office. This is an OAG office near your home where employees of the OAG work. You and your co-parent may have been asked to come in and speak to one of these employees to see if you would be able to negotiate a settlement on child support. If you did, then that agreed-upon child support number could have been recorded in an order and sent to the OAG. This way you can get child support set up without ever having to go to court.
An issue may arise, however, when you consider that the child support that you were ordered to pay may not comply with the guidelines for support as outlined in the Texas Family Code. If that amount of child support is either too high (goes beyond the income that you earn based on the criteria laid out above) or too low (cannot support the needs of your child and is therefore not in their best interests) then you reach a situation where that child support may be in line for a review. By completing this Request for Review form, you can ask that the OAG take a look at the child support order to make sure that it is in line with what child support you ought to be paying or receiving.
You would then have an opportunity to briefly let the OAG know why you are requesting the review that you are. It could be that you and your co-parent disagree about how much child support you owe her for back or past due child support. This happens quite a bit when informal child support payments are being made directly to your co-parent. That can complicate matters due to the OAG website not being completely accurate as far as child support is in place. Either of you can request that the OAG review what is owed (if anything) and report back to both of you. At that point, you would know just where you stand as far as child support is concerned.
The OAG will then review your situation and determine whether a review is required based on your circumstances. If a review is appropriate by the OAG, then your co-parent will be notified of your request and the pending review. The OAG will then contact both you and your co-parent to let you know the results of the review and if anything has changed as far as the amount of back child support that is owed. Much of the time a meeting can be set up at a satellite OAG office where you and your co-parent can meet to see if you can settle on an amount of back child support or even modify the current child support obligation.
Page three of the form asks you to fill out some details about your gross monthly income, specifically the sources of that income. We have already talked about how your salary and wages are counted in your income which should not surprise anyone. If you are drawing a pension or retirement pay from a former employer that will also need to be listed in addition to Social Security or unemployment benefits. Rental income as well as dividends from investments are also sources of income that would need to be disclosed on this child support form.
Deductions are counted against your income and will be used to decrease the amount of money that you have in terms of your income. Dues that you pay to a union, health insurance, dental insurance, and other types of insurance payments which are made monthly will also need to be disclosed. You should go through your checking account to determine how much you pay for these types of things each month so that you are not unnecessarily skipping over a source of deductions which can save you money.
The final page of the form asks you to tell the OAG if the income of the other parent has changed substantially. This is important, as well, because your income may have increased or decreased and thus made it impractical for you to pay the old amount of child support. For instance, if you have always earned $75,000 but two months ago you lost your job and are now only earning $40,000 per year that would justify a reduction in child support. That can be supported by filling out a child support form like this or you can file a modification with the court that issued your court orders previously.
A child support modification would look at your circumstances, those of your co-parent, and your child to determine if a material or substantial change has occurred. If it has then you can ask to have your child support obligation reduced. Please note that this would have no impact on the child support that you owe as far as back child support is concerned. Even if you can get future child support obligations decreased you would not be able to do so for back child support. These payments would remain the same unless you can negotiate a reduction of those directly with your co-parent and the OAG. Working alongside an attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is a great way for you to be able to confirm any back child support and possibly decrease the amount of support you are obligated to pay in the future.
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 how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.
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