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Texas Child Support Laws: What You Should Know

When children are involved in a divorce, there are always a lot of questions about child support: Who pays? How much? When does it start? When does it end? What is the payment process like?  And what about additional costs that often come up? Do child support payments cover allowances for children or is that something that is worked out between the parents?

Here at Ball Morse Lowe, we understand that divorce with child support can become and is often a confusing process. This blog is aimed at answering questions about Texas child support laws and, at the same time, providing a basic understanding of some additional considerations that are helpful to know before making any final child support decisions.

Our Dallas child support lawyers can assist you in the review and analysis of your or your partner’s child support obligation.

Child Support Payments: Who Pays?

There is an incorrect public presumption that, in a divorce, the father will be ordered to make child support payments. While the father may end up paying child support, there is no law listed in the Texas Family Code that covers child support that requires this. The law actually says that the court may order either or both parents to support a child (Tex. Fam. Code §154.001(a)).  

This law even goes one step further in saying that child support payments shall be determined without regard to the sex of the paying parent, receiving parent, or the child, and also without regard for the marital status of the parents (Tex. Fam. Code §§154.010(1)-(2)).  This does not give much direction towards answering “Who pays?” So let’s dig a bit deeper into child support guidelines.

Court-ordered child support according to Texas Family Code is designed to help equate a child’s living situation in both parents’ home environments.  While conservatorship designations do not determine who pays child support, the non-primary parent (as designated with conservatorship) is almost always the “obligor,” or parent obligated to pay child support.  

However, if the primary parent earns significantly higher than the non-primary parent and both parents share child custody, then the higher earning parent may be ordered to pay child support payments.

How Much? Determining the Right Level for Child Support

The Texas Family Code lays out child support guidelines with exact amounts and calculations for determining child support payments based on the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income and financial resources.  Child support guidelines are presumed to be in the best interest of the child and have gone largely unchanged since 1989.   

The Texas Family Code provides the guidelines for determining child support (Tex. Fam. Code §154.125(b)).  First, the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income must be determined. Then the following percentage is applied to the net resources to determine the exact amount of child support owed based on the number of children to be supported as part of a child support agreement:

# of Children      % of Obligor’s Net Resources Owed

1                   20% of obligor’s net resources

2                  25%

3                  30%

4                 35%

5                  40%

6+               Not less than the amount for 5 children

As of September 1, 2021, the Texas Family Code for child support also provides new guidelines for low-income families (Tex. Fam. Code §154.125(c)).   These new child support guidelines do not change any of the above guidelines but add to them for obligors whose monthly net financial resources are less than $1,000.00.  

In those instances, the court shall presumptively apply the following schedule in determining the appropriate level for child support:

# of Children      % of Obligor’s Net Resources Owed

1                   15% of obligor’s net resources

2                  20%

3                  25%

4                 30%

5                  35%

6+               Not less than the amount for 5 children

If child support is already being paid by the obligor for children not from the marriage, then different calculations must be made to determine the appropriate amount of child support payments.  The law provides alternative manners of determining the proper amount of child support payments in these situations (Tex. Fam. Code §§154.128). 

In lieu of using one of the alternative methods outlined in §154.128, child support in these situations may be calculated by applying the following percentages to the obligor’s monthly net financial resources (Tex. Fam. Code §154.129):

Multiple Family Adjusted Child Support Guidelines
(% of Net Resources of Obligor)

 

NUMBER OF CHILDREN BEFORE THE COURT

 

NUMBER OF OTHER CHILDREN FOR WHOM THE OBLIGOR HAS A DUTY TO SUPPORT

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

0

20.00

25.00

30.00

35.00

40.00

40.00

40.00

1

17.50

17.500

27.38

32.20

37.33

37.71

38.00

2

16.00

20.63

25.20

30.33

35.43

36.00

36.44

3

14.75

19.00

24.00

29.00

34.00

34.67

35.20

4

13.60

18.33

23.14

28.00

32.89

33.60

34.18

5

13.33

17.86

22.50

27.22

32.00

32.73

33.33

6

13.14

17.50

22.00

26.60

31.27

32.00

32.62

7

13.00

17.22

21.60

26.09

30.67

31.38

32.00

 

Effective as of September 1, 2019, the guidelines above apply to situations in which the non-custodial parent’s monthly net financial resources are not greater than $9,200.00, meaning this is the maximum amount of net income that the calculations will be applied to, even if the obligor earns more than that amount.  

The maximum amount of income that is applicable to the child support guidelines is adjusted every six years to reflect inflation and will be published in that same year prior to the effective date in the Texas Register, so the next increase in the maximum amount allowable to be calculated will be calculated in 2025 and become effective September 1st of that same year (Tex. Fam. Code §154.125(a-1)).

Can You Enter into a Child Support Agreement in Texas?

To promote an amicable settlement and child support agreement, the Texas Family Code allows for divorce with child support parties to enter into an enforceable written agreement for child support that varies from the guidelines outlined above, and, if found to be in the best interest of the child, the court will render an order in accordance with the agreement (Tex. Fam. Code §154.124(a)-(c)). It may even address allowances for children, extra expenses, and other matters related to child-rearing costs. However, before you sit down to form a child support agreement with your spouse, seek legal advice from an experienced divorce attorney who can answer your questions about child support payments child support enforcement, and questions about visitation.

When Does Disbursement of Child Support Start? When Does It End?

Disbursement of child support begins on the start date designated in the Final Decree of Divorce, which indicates the final and effective terms of divorce. Child support payments must continue until the obligation is no longer owed.  

If temporary orders are entered to determine how life will look while the divorce is pending, it is likely that interim child support will be ordered during the pendency of the divorce case.  In those instances, the start date for the interim child support payments will be designated in the temporary orders and the interim support will terminate once the Final Decree is signed by the judge, unless otherwise ordered.  

If drafted correctly, the Final Decree shall allow for the interim support to end at the same time the final child support begins, leaving no lag time in-between the court-ordered child support obligations.

An obligation to pay child support continues until one of the following occurs (Tex. Fam. Code §154.001(a)):

  1. the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later;
  2. the child emancipates through marriage or by court order; or
  3. the child dies.

If the child is disabled in a manner consistent with the legal definition, then child support may continue for an indefinite period of time (Tex. Fam. Code §154.001(a)(4)).

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What Is the Child Support Payments Process Like?

Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, child support payments must be sent to the state disbursement unit (SDU) at the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) (Tex. Fam. Code §154.004).  The office is more commonly referred to as the child support services. Payments must be received by the first day of each month unless a different date is agreed to by the parties as part of a child support agreement.  Once received, the OAG will record the payment before dispensing it to the other parent.  

It is likely that an Income Withholding Order (IWO) will be ordered in your divorce, which orders the obligor’s employer to withhold the child support amount from the obligor’s paycheck and send it to the SDU for the child support payments.  If the parties agree, then the IWO may be suspended until a delinquency occurs, but if the child support is ordered by the court without an agreement of the parties, then the IWO is required (Tex. Fam. Code §154.007). If the non-custodial parent is paid monthly, the child support payment may be withheld each month through payroll deduction. If paid weekly, or biweekly, the payment amount can be divided up through each check to make the cost easier on the parent who has the obligation to pay. Copies of the obligor’s payment histories over the years can be obtained from the State. 

If the obligor would like to make additional child support payments, they should be made directly through the Texas Child Support Portal. This will create a traceable record of the payment. This is especially helpful if the obligor has an arrearage on their court-ordered child support.

Additional Considerations Concerning Texas Child Support

There are a few additional matters that must be taken into consideration when discussing child support services and payments. Insurance, visitation laws and regulations, and additional coverage for child care expenses and child-rearing costs are all factors when forming a child support agreement.

Medical and Dental Insurance

Child care expenses can involve additional costs to take into account within the scope of child support services. The law requires that parents provide medical and dental insurance for the child as additional support, and the obligor is the one who is tasked with paying for that coverage )Tex. Fam. Code §§154.181, 154.1815, 154.182, 154.1825).

If the non-paying parent has coverage available for the child through their employment, then the obligor will pay “cash medical support” to the other parent for the cost of covering the child.  All medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance are usually split 50/50 between the parents upon presentation of receipts.

Overlap of Child Support and Visitation

The law views visitation separately from child support, and a court order for child support may not be conditioned on whether the other parent allows the obligor to have possession of or access to the child (Tex. Fam. Code §154.101).  Child support must be paid in full on time, even if the non-paying spouse denies visitation.  

What about if parents share custody in a 50/50 manner, with each parent having equal time with the child? In these instances, parents may agree to no child support if that agreement is in the best interest of the child and includes medical and dental coverage as part of child support payments.

Extra Areas of Support

Each family is unique and values different things.  Depending on what is most important in a family, the parties may agree to include additional Texas child support obligations in a divorce.  

While these are not covered in the Texas Family Code for child support guidelines, parties are welcome to agree outside of court to whatever terms they would like included in the final decree of divorce that will obligate one or both parents to pay for certain things for the child.  These child support agreement “extras” should be taken into consideration with all other forms of support. 

Here are some of the most common examples of “extras” that one parent agrees to pay for the child in divorce settlements:

  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Sports involvement
  • Purchase of a car for the child, and/or payment of car insurance for the child
  • Summer camp
  • Private school tuition
  • College and/or graduate school
  • Regular contributions to a college savings plan 
  • Religious or culturally significant events, such as a bar/bat mitzvah, quinceañera, or confirmation celebration

Any agreement that is included in the final decree is enforceable as long as it is categorized as an additional child support obligation.  It is a good idea to include as much detail as possible to leave little room for discrepancies in interpretation if and when child support enforcement and court-ordered child support come into play.

Make sure that you seek legal advice from an experienced divorce attorney before you sign any agreement. It’s important that you understand what you’re agreeing to. Please review the qualifications of the attorneys you’re considering as well. The hiring of an attorney is a serious matter.

Our Expert Texas Child Support Attorneys Can Help You

If you are facing a divorce with child support, it is best to have an experienced Texas family law attorney by your side to help navigate child support guidelines and ensure that your child support payments are fair and paid in compliance with laws and requirements.

An experienced divorce attorney can act as your advocate throughout the divorce process and can help with figuring out child care expenses and disbursement of child support.  

At Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC, our team of family law lawyers can help guide you through the divorce process and assist with planning a child support agreement that best benefits everyone involved. Give our office a call at 877-508-4265 to learn more about how we can best serve you and offer legal advice and support during a difficult time.

The information and material in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for legal advice.

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