Child support isn’t always cut and dry. Several factors contribute to the amount owed, how child support payments should be delivered, the child’s health insurance payments, and more. Because of this, you may have several unanswered questions about how child support works in Texas. You may also have concerns about paternity, child support in divorce cases, and enforcing your rights if the child’s other parent does not comply with his or her legal obligations.
Whether you are the paying parent or recipient of child support, it is critical to consult with a skilled Texas child support attorney regarding your situation. Disputes over child support can be emotional and heated, but you can rely on a seasoned legal professional. Please contact the Austin, TX Law Office of Ben Carrasco, PLLC to schedule a consultation. You may also find it useful to read on for several FAQs to help you sort out the ins and outs of child support in Texas.
What Is Child Support?
All parents are legally obligated to financially support their children. In Texas, a parent is legally defined as a child’s biological mother and a man who is either presumed to be the child’s father or legally determined to be the child’s biological father, or a man who has signed an acknowledgment of paternity, or an adoptive mother or father.
Child support refers to money that one parent pays to another person (usually the other parent) to support his or her child. The costs of raising a child are considerable, so public policy dictates that parents share in the necessary expenses.
How Does Child Support Come Up in Texas?
Child support can be ordered by a Texas court in various types of cases involving minor children, including:
- Divorce: In addition to determining custody and visitation, termed “conservatorship” and “possession” of a child, respectively, a judge will include provisions for child support in the final order for dissolution of marriage.
- Family Protective Order: Where one parent seeks an order of protection under circumstances involving domestic violence, the court that issues the restraining order may also provide that a parent must pay child support to the other.
- Paternity: There are three ways Texas law determines a child’s biological father, also termed “parentage” under the statute:
- Legal Presumption: A man is presumed to be the father if he is married to a woman and the child is born during the marriage, or if the child is born within 301 days after the marriage ends due to divorce, death, or other reasons designed by law. This legal presumption can only be rebutted under limited circumstances.
- Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP): A man may voluntarily agree that he is the father of a child, even if not married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. There are certain requirements for executing the VAP, since it must be a valid record, signed by willingly the father as an admission that he is the father. In addition, the mother must sign the VAP.
- Proceeding to Adjudicate Parentage: A parent can file a paternity lawsuit to have a court determine the child’s biological father through such evidence as DNA testing. For purposes of child support, it is often the mother who will file this type of case when she wants the father to be legally recognized. However, fathers have standing to initiate the proceedings as well.
- Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship: Upon establishing paternity through one of the above methods, the legal obligation to pay child support attaches; the legal right to seek child support is also conferred. However, there is an additional step necessary to enforce child support rights as a recipient parent. The legal proceeding is termed a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, or SAPCR for short.
SAPCR is appropriate where two people who have not been married must determine custody, visitation, and support for a minor child. The SAPCR may coincide with a paternity lawsuit, or may come after parentage has been legally established. This case is like a divorce, except that the only consideration is conservatorship, possession, and financial support.
What Does Child Support Cover?
Child support is intended to cover basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing, but it also goes beyond these bare necessities. In an ideal world, child support would be sufficient to put the child in the same position he or she would be if both parents lived under the same roof. Therefore, support may also include payment towards:
● Medical care and treatment;
● Educational costs, fees, and school supplies;
● Extra-curricular activities, sports, and lessons;
● Travel and entertainment;
● Personal items, such as clothing, hygiene products, and similar items;
● Amounts for participating in religious activities; and,
● Many other expenses involved with raising a child.
Note that, in most cases, child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the parent whose home is the child’s primary residence.
Who Pays Child Support?
In most cases, the person paying child support is the parent who does not have primary custody of the child. The person living with the child more than half the time (usually a parent) is the one who receives child support.
Can I Pay Directly to the Other Parent?
It may seem easy to simply write a check to the person receiving child support, but your child support order will tell you exactly what to do, and it will most likely direct you to pay child support payments through the registry of the court or the Texas Child Support Disbursement Unit. In fact, if you work for an employer, your employer will likely withhold the child support from your paycheck and send it to the local registry or state child support enforcement agency.
You can, however, provide gifts of clothes, money, toys, etc. directly to your children or to the other parent. Understand that this will not be included in your child support payments.
How Much Child Support Will I Pay/Receive?
The amount of child support is determined by what a judge believes is in the best interest of the child. The initial inquiry about the amount to be paid by one parent to the other involves consideration of official state child support guidelines, because these are presumed by law to be in the best interest of the child. Starting with the paying parent’s monthly net resources up to $7,500, as adjusted for inflation, the formula factors in a percentage of the resources available for child support.
Texas law provides some guidelines based on a percentage of the payer’s net income. Specifically, a non-custodial parent with up to $7,500 in monthly income must pay:
- 20% for 1 child
- 25% for 2 children
- 30% for 3 children
- 35% for 4 children
- 40% for 5 children
- Not less than 40% for 6 or more children
These numbers are altered when the payer also has other children to support in a different household.
What is Included in the Payor’s Net Resources?
For purposes of child support, the net resources of a paying parent are not the same as what he or she earns as income through an occupation. Instead, a judge considers all funds that come into the non-custodial parent’s control on a monthly basis, including stock dividends, rental amounts from income property, trust account proceeds, interest, and many other sources of income. However, the net resources do allow an adjustment for:
● Social Security taxes;
● Income taxes;
● The cost of health insurance for the child;
● Union dues, if any; and,
● Non-discretionary contributions to retirement, under some circumstances.
Are Texas’ Child Support Guidelines Set in Stone?
If there is evidence to contradict the presumption that the guidelines are in the child’s best interest, a court may depart from them in deciding on child support. The law allows such a departure where the guideline amount is unjust or inappropriate, based upon consideration of all relevant factors. There are 17 items that the statute allows a judge to consider, such as:
● The child’s age and needs;
● The ability of each parent to contribute to financial support;
● All available financial resources;
● The division of custody and visitation between the parents, whether they come to an agreement or a court makes a determination;
● Child care costs incurred due to the parents seek or maintaining employment;
● Alimony or spousal maintenance one parent receives from the other, as in a divorce case;
● The presence of benefits or perks either parent receives from an employer or other business entity;
● Provisions regarding healthcare insurance;
● Any special or extraordinary expenses incurred by either parent or the child;
● Costs involved with travel for the parent who has visitation;
● Debts; and,
● Other factors designated by law.
Generally, if a parent obtains more than $7,500 in monthly net resources, a judge may order higher support to cover the child’s needs.
When Does Child Support End?
Child support generally ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school – whichever comes later. However, if the child is mentally or physically disabled, the court may order an indefinite period of child support. In the divorce agreement, the paying parent may agree to continue supporting through college. Parents can also agree in the divorce agreement to split college expenses.
Can the Amount Be Changed?
Only a court can change the amount owed in child support, and this can only happen if circumstances change. If a paying parent loses a job or encounters other financial problems, he or she can ask the court for a modification. Likewise, a parent receiving child support can ask for an increase if the paying parent gets a better job.
Can We Make Our Own Agreement?
You can typically make a written agreement together, as Texas law encourages parents to compromise on child support. If the court finds it to be in the best interest of the child, an order based on the agreement will be signed by the judge.
Note that, in such a situation, the agreed child support order creates a legal obligation for the payor and a right for the recipient parent. If necessary, the recipient can enforce his or her rights as allowed by law.
Will I Have to Go to Court for a Child Support Order?
If you cannot agree on child support with the child’s other parent, or if a judge does not find the agreement on child support to be in the child’s best interests, you may have to go to court. A hearing to determine child support is similar to a trial, so you will have the opportunity to present evidence, testify, and question witnesses. Depending on the circumstances, a judge may issue an order based upon official state child support guidelines. Where there are facts indicating a reason to depart from the guidelines, the court turns to the 17 factors listed by statute.
Will I Pay/Receive Child Support During Divorce Proceedings?
If child support is being considered as part of a divorce case, it may be appropriate for a court to order temporary child support for the duration of the proceedings. A divorce can take several months, even years, before a final decree is entered by the court on such matters as child custody, visitation, and support. The parent having conservatorship over a minor child during this time should not be in the unfortunate position of bearing child care costs alone.
As with permanent child support, parents are encouraged to agree on the amount. However, the custodial parent can file a Motion for Temporary Orders to have a judge make a determination. Again, the presumption is to apply official state child support guidelines, but the court may depart where they do not meet the child’s best interests. A temporary order for child support is signed by the judge and becomes a legally binding obligation, just as a permanent order would be. It can last until a final order is signed regarding child support.
Does Child Support Change if the Paying Parent Has Other Children?
Yes, because one factor that allows a judge to depart from the official state child support guidelines is if the payor is obligated for another child. These numbers are altered when the payer also has other children to support in a different household.
Who Pays for the Child’s Health Insurance?
The parent responsible for paying child support generally is also given a legal duty to provide health insurance for the child. The payer may be ordered to add the child to their insurance policy provided by their employer, or they may be required to pay the cost of insurance to CHIP or Medicaid.
What if Someone Doesn’t Make the Payments?
If the payer doesn’t pay child support, he or she may be subject to wage garnishment, collection of lottery winnings, suspension or revocation of driver’s license and professional or business licenses, suspension of passport, interception of federal income tax refunds, and contempt of court orders.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Represent Me in a Texas Child Support Case?
There is no legal requirement for hiring an attorney, but there are many benefits to retaining legal counsel. Lawyers know the laws that apply to your case, especially the child’s best interest standard that is the primary consideration in a child support case. You are at a disadvantage and you put your legal rights at risk if you try to represent yourself.
With so many factors involved in child support, make sure you understand your child support responsibilities and/or rights. Contact experienced family law attorney Ben Carrasco to get your questions answered.