The child support process can be confusing for many people in Texas because they may not know what to expect. Understanding the support laws can help people understand what they might expect. Like other states, Texas has statutory support guidelines in place that help judges to determine the appropriate amounts to order. However, under certain situations, judges may adjust the amount above or below the child support guideline amount.
What determines the amount of support?
Under Texas law, the child support obligations of parents are determined based on a number of factors. An important factor is who has physical custody of the child. This may be the parent who has the child most of the time as reflected in a parenting plan or where the child primarily resides. While a court can order either parent to pay support, the noncustodial parent will normally be the person who is ordered to pay child support. The noncustodial parent is the parent who spends less time with the child, which may be reflected in a parenting plan. The parent who is ordered to pay support is called the obligor, and the parent who receives the support is called the obligee.
The obligor’s payment amount will be based on a percentage of his or her income as well as the total number of children for which support is ordered. The Texas child support guideline amounts are set up as a fee schedule, making it fairly easy to see what you might expect.
A judge must approve the payments that will be made. A judge can adjust the amount of support above or below the guideline amount after reviewing several factors in situations in which the guideline amount would be unfair to the child or parent.
Both parents are responsible for supporting their children. Under the law, the obligee parent is presumed to be making his or her own support payments through the cost of raising the child.
How the guidelines work
To calculate the amount of support from the guidelines, you will need to know the net income of the noncustodial parent. The net income for determining the noncustodial parent’s child support obligations is calculated by deducting specific things from his or her total available income.
For the purposes of child support obligations, the noncustodial parent’s gross income under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062 includes all of the following:
- Military pay
- Unemployment benefits
- Workers’ compensation benefits
- Retirement income
- Alimony received
- Income from rental properties
If the noncustodial parent is underemployed or purposely unemployed to try to keep his or her support payments low, the court can impute income to him or her to determine the child support amount based on what he or she should be expected to earn.
After the gross income of the noncustodial parent has been calculated, several deductions will need to be made to determine his or her net income. The deductions that should be made include the following:
- Social Security taxes or mandatory contributions to a retirement plan
- Union dues
- Federal income tax at the rate for those who file as a single person
- Health insurance premiums for the child if the noncustodial parent is providing insurance for the child or is reimbursing the custodial parent for the cost of health insurance
After subtracting these amounts from the noncustodial parent’s gross income, you will have his or her annual net income. Divide that amount by 12 to arrive at his or her monthly net income.
If the noncustodial parent is paying support payments for children in other households, he or she can be credited for those payments. They will be subtracted from his or her net income before the guidelines are applied. The court will determine the credit by using the alternative method of computing support for children in multiple households under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.129.
Calculating the support amount
After the noncustodial parent’s net income has been determined, that amount will be multiplied by a percentage based on the number of children that will be supported as follows:
- 20% for one child
- 25% for two children
- 30% for three children
- 35% for four children
- 40% for five children
If six or more children will require support, the payment amount must be at least 40% of the obligor’s net income. The child’s health insurance will also need to be covered. Either parent may be responsible for paying the child’s health insurance, depending on which makes more sense.
If the obligor’s net monthly income is more than $9,200, the court can increase the support amount based on the child’s needs and the incomes of both parents.
When the guideline amount is unfair
There is a rebuttable presumption that the guideline amount is fair. There are some situations in which the amount is unfair and not in the best interests of the child. If you believe the guideline amount is unfair before the support order is issued, you can challenge it. The court will then consider the following factors before agreeing to adjust the guideline amount:
- The child’s needs and age
- The ability of both parents to support the child
- Debts and resources
- The obligee’s net resources
- How much time the child spends with each parent
- Child care costs
- Alimony payments
- Legal custody
- Costs of post-secondary education
- Additional employment benefits
- Who provides health insurance
- Other deductions from wages
- Extraordinary expenses
- Costs of transporting the child between the parents
- Cash flow from assets or property
After considering these and other relevant factors, the court can adjust the amount above or below the guideline amount.
What happens if the obligor fails to make his or her support payments?
After you receive an order for support, you will need to collect it. The obligor must pay the ordered amount of support every month. If the order doesn’t specify the payment form, it can be paid by check, cash, direct deposit, or another method.
If the noncustodial parent fails to make his or her payments as ordered, the custodial parent can file a child support enforcement action in court. This is a request for the judge to enforce the support order. The court can take several actions to enforce the support order, including fines, jail time, wage garnishments, bank levies, and others. The Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General also provides child support enforcement services for parents who are not receiving the payments that have been ordered.
Modifying a support order
After a support order has been issued, it is possible to request a modification. Modifications may be made if a parent experiences a substantial change in his or her circumstances, including a job loss, a change in the child’s custody, or relocation internationally. The threshold for securing a modification is high unless the order has been in place for three or more years.
If you need help securing a support order for your child, you should talk to an experienced family law attorney. Vonda Covington at the Covington Law Firm has substantial experience in family law and civil litigation. Contact us today to request a consultation by calling (281) 503-7373.