Child Support in Texas: From Guideline Levels to Ending Obligations and Everything In Between

Of all the subjects related to family law in Texas, child support must be one of the most contentious in the entire field. The expectation that one parent will be paying their co-parent a specific sum of money each month for an extended period is a tough one for many parents to swallow. On the other hand, if you are the parent to whom child support is paid it is tough to find yourself in a position where you are having to rely upon your child’s other parent for income each month. That you two don’t have the greatest relationship in the world only adds to the difficulties of this scenario.

Child support is intended to help ensure that your child has everything that he or she needs to live daily. Child support is not a guarantee that your child is going to be able to live a specific lifestyle or be able to always have the finest things in life. Rather, child support is intended to level the playing field as it pertains to you and your co-parent. If your co-parent spends more time with your child, then you do that would likely mean that she also takes care of more bills and financial costs for your child.

When you pay child support you do so with the understanding that your co-parent is going to use that money to pay for necessary items on behalf of your child- food, shelter, clothing, school costs, and medical costs. There is no accounting that is available in a child support scenario. I have had many parents ask me if there is a way to track how their child support is spent by the other parent. The short answer is no, and this is a response that frustrates many parents. The idea that you cannot verify how your money is being spent irks some parents.

However, what you are ultimately doing when paying child support is paying the money directly to your child. Since your child is not able to be paid child support, your co-parent acts as a go-between and is responsible for taking care of essential costs on behalf of your child. To that extent, the more trust that you and your co-parent can build between one another, the better off you will be. There is nobody who will try to debate that raising a child with a co-parent is easy. However, whether it is child support or child custody that is an issue between you and your co-parent, the better the two of you can communicate with one another the better off you will be in the long run.

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss the ins and outs of child support. What to expect when you go through a child custody and divorce case where support is an issue, how to manage the expectations associated with child support, and then the logistics of child support- how it is calculated, how it is paid, and how to handle post-child support matters when a modification or enforcement action becomes necessary. Finally, we will introduce how the Office of the Attorney General plays a vital role when it comes to child support.

If you have any questions after reading 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 may be impacted by the various child support scenarios which we are about to cover in this blog post.

Did you know that we post unique content about Texas family law every day? It’s true. Our blog is a great resource for you if you are just starting in the divorce or child custody process and have general questions which you need answering. Additionally, even if you have a specific area of the law that you would like to learn more about, the Law Office of Bryan has you covered. Bear in mind that if you have specific questions about your circumstances then you should reach out to one of our attorneys to schedule a free-of-charge consultation.

Child Support Guidelines- Texas Family Code

One of the most common questions that our family law attorneys receive about child support, especially from parents who are just beginning their child support case, is how much you can expect to pay or receive in child support. While there are ultimately many factors that go into a child support calculation. One of the most important pieces of information for you to have at your disposal is that there are guideline levels of child support as laid out in the Texas Family Code. These guidelines are intended to help parents like you and courts determine what an appropriate level of child support would be in a child support circumstance.

These guideline levels of support are intended to be able to help as many parents and courts as possible determine what an appropriate level of child support is across the vast amount of child support scenarios that may be relevant in your life and that of any other person who goes to court. For this reason, the guidelines must be general in terms of their applicability. If you have circumstances that you consider to be special or unique then you should work with an experienced family law attorney so that those circumstances are not overlooked and the amount of support you pay or receive ends up being incorrect or not appropriate for you and your family.

Of all the challenges associated with the guideline levels of child support in Texas, one of the most significant is determining the income of the paying parent. To make things clearer, the state of Texas refers to a parent who pays child support as a noncustodial parent. On the other hand, the parent who receives child support is the custodial parent. Noncustodial parents do have parental rights and duties but do not live with the child primarily. If you are the noncustodial parent then you have been ordered to pay child support because your child’s custodial parent has your child in their possession more frequently and as a result pays more towards their care than you do, most likely.

If you earn your income from a typical, 9-5 job then your income calculation probably will not be all that complicated. Once you figure out what your monthly gross income amounts to, you can take out things like health insurance and taxes to determine what your net monthly income is. This calculation will be used to ultimately determine how much you will be liable for in child support payments each month. This was an easy situation (relatively speaking) as far as determining net monthly income and then a monthly amount of child support that will need to be paid.

What makes the situation more complicated is when you have an irregular income or are self-employed. This is the far less predictable and simple method of earning an income you are going to need to be very intentional concerning how you calculate your income. The last thing you want is to be a parent who receives child support and you do not pursue every penny of income that your co-parent earns. It is easier for a self-employed person to potentially hide income than it is for a person who earns an income from a company or government job. If you are concerned that your co-parent may try to hide his income, then working with an experienced family attorney is essential. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan can help you uncover rocks and other potential hiding places where your co-parent may be storing extra cash that should be going towards child support each month.

Potential warning signs that your co-parent may be able to hide their income (at least to an extent) is that he is either self-employed, has an irregular income- or both. Imagine a scenario where you must track down paystubs from a corporate job, rental/investment income from a property owned across the country as well as other streams of income that he has from appreciating assets that you were not even aware of even a few months ago. These are some of the challenges that you will need to meet head-on in your child support case to ensure that your child receives the correct and fair amount of support.

How do multiple children from different relationships figure into a child support calculation?

One of the factors which is often overlooked when it comes to calculating child support is that of paying child support when you have children from other relationships. Let’s say that you have two children who are involved in the case currently before the family court. In addition, you have three other children for whom you also pay child support. This is a situation that you need to submit before the court to receive credit for the money you pay in child support each month for those children. You can receive a reduction of 2.5% per child who is not before the court but for whom you pay support. Three children not before the court mean that you could receive a reduction of approximately 7.5% in your child support “bill.”

When does child support come to an end?

Your obligation to pay child support comes to an end when either your child graduates from high school or turns 18 years old- whichever occurs later. This is an important distinction that you need to be clear on. Our office has run into multiple situations where a parent has misinterpreted this portion of a child support order and stopped paying child support at the earlier of these two dates. Sometimes the issue can be resolved with a simple letter, email, or phone call. However, in other situations, if you are not communicating with your co-parent then a huge child support bill may be owed because of this misunderstanding.

There are exceptions to this general rule, however. Bear in mind that child support comes to and once your child reaches adulthood. However, this may not be an appropriate endpoint for child support purposes for all your children. For example, if your child suffers from a disability then he may never be able to live independently. As a result, you and your co-parent may agree to extend child support until your child turns 25 to allow you all some extra time to figure out what the best course of action will be concerning your child. Paying child support for this longer period allows your co-parent to keep their heads about water while paying for the day-to-day needs of your child.

Having special needs is a factor for you and your co-parent to consider when it comes to figuring out how much child support is appropriate for you to pay each month. The guideline level of child support may be inappropriate if your child has consistently high medical bills, medications, and pocket medical expenses which are not covered by your health insurance. For that reason, you should speak to your co-parent about what factors exist in your life which need to be considered for child support purposes.

Another relevant factor would be if you earn an income that is far higher than the average person’s. We have all heard about celebrities paying extremely high amounts of child support. The main reason why celebrities pay so much more than most people in child support is due to their earning an income that is so much greater than the average person’s. If your co-parent is a high earner, then you should discuss that with your attorney. Depending upon the extent of their wealth or income, you may be due a higher than guideline level of child support.

Child support modifications

Let’s consider a situation where you or your co-parent believe that a modification or change in the amount of child support paid each month needs to occur. A modification in the context of Texas family law issues can occur if you can show that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred between you, your co-parent, or your child since the last time that you were in court. This material and substantial change must have occurred, and the proposed modification(s) must also be in the best interests of your children.

One of the most common reasons why parents will ask for a child support modification- either an increase or a decrease in child support- is due to a change in income. Whether that change in income is an increase or a decrease, you will need to be able to show a court why the proposed modification is either based or not. If you oppose the proposed increase in child support, then you need to be able to show a court why the modification is off base. Your income may not have increased to the extent that your co-parent contends that it has. Or, while you may have seen an increase in income you may have incurred additional expenses in your life which are out of your control and more than cancel out the increase in income.

Another interesting scenario that may have arisen involves a change in custody. Let’s say that five years ago you and your spouse got a divorce, and your spouse was named as the custodial parent. However, one year ago you asked the court to modify your final decree of divorce to name you as the custodial parent. The court agreed to do so, and you are now the custodial parent. As we mentioned earlier in today’s blog post, a custodial parent does not pay child support typically. With that said, a change in custody and conservatorship regarding your child almost surely is a material and substantial change sufficient to end your child support obligation outright (not including any back child support which you may owe).

Finally, we wanted to mention the role of the Office of the Attorney General regarding child support. The OAG handles the payment of child support from you to your co-parent or vice versa. After your child support case, you can set yourself up with an account through the OAG’s website to track child support payments and keep up to date with child support overall. Payments of child support are typically withheld out of a noncustodial parent’s paycheck, sent through the OAG, and onto the custodial parent’s bank account.

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