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Child Support; Calculations, Modifications, and Eligibility

Child support is a hot topic. Whether you are paying child support, or you are receiving support, you are probably dissatisfied with the amount you are paying or receiving. It’s an equally miserable reality for either side.  

I was once in mediation, and we were arguing over how much child support my client should pay. The mediator said, “you can pay your ex more child support for your children, or you can pay your attorney to fight this battle for you in court.”  My client looked at the mediator, and told him:

That he had seen pictures of my kids and he would rather pay for my children than pay his ex any more money. Needless to say, we didn’t settle that day.

As a family law professional, the one thing I know when it comes to child support is that child support is not a source of client satisfaction.  However, understanding how the system works can better empower parents to prepare for the future.

The purpose of child support laws are to provide financial support to children and ensure their basic needs are met. It is the responsibility of the parents to provide for their children, and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that the parents are meeting their responsibilities.  

In this blog post, we aim to provide clear and concise answers to some of the most frequently asked questions to help you understand this essential aspect of parental responsibilities.

1. What is child support and who is eligible?

Child support is a legal obligation where one parent pays the other parent money. Typically, this obligation is paid in periodic payments that track the monthly income of the parent paying support. So for example, if you are paid bi-weekly, then the amount of support will be calculated on a bi-weekly basis. Any parent is eligible to request child support from the other parent – you do not have to be divorced to request child support. However, child support is most often requested after the parents are no longer living together and sharing expenses.  

2. How is child support calculated in Texas?

Child support calculations in Texas are primarily based on the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children involved (including the children before the court, and children the obligor may have with another parent). The Texas Child Support Guidelines provide a formula for determining the monthly child support obligations, and the courts generally follow these guidelines.  The formula takes into account the income of the parent paying child support and the costs of premiums to insure the child. The state offers an online calculator to estimate the amount of child support payments here.

It is important to know that in Texas, the percentage applies to income earned up to $9,200.00 per month.  This “maximum” threshold changes about every four (4) years by the Texas Legislature. That means if your “net income” is in excess of $9,200.00 per month, you likely will not be paying more than the maximum amount of child support according to the guidelines (which for 1 child is $1,840, 2 children $2300, 3 children $2,760 – assuming you don’t have children from another relationship).  

3. Can Child Support Orders be Modified?

Yes, child support orders can be modified in Texas when there is a material and substantial change in circumstances, such as a change in income, job loss, or a change int eh child’s needs. It is important to note that an agreement between the parties will not be sufficient to modify the amount of child support. Rather, if you and your other parent are in agreement to modify child support, you need to make sure you submit that agreement in the form of a written order that is signed by the judge.

To bring a suit to modify child support, you can contact the Office of the Attorney General to see if you are eligible for a review of the current child support orders. Or, you can hire a private attorney to file a Suit to Modify the Parent Child Relationship requesting a modification of support. However, before initiating a modification action, you are wise to get legal counsel first regarding your eligibility to have the support modified, and possible consequences of the modification.

4. What happens if I don’t pay child support?

Failure to pay child support can have serious consequences in Texas. The State can enforce child support orders through wage garnishment, suspending your driver’s license, and/or holding you in contempt (e.g., jail time) for failing to pay. If you are unable to pay child support due to a job loss, you will want to seek help from the courts to modify your obligation. Avoiding the issue can result in big problems that can be very expensive to unwind.  It’s much more cost effective to be proactive about addressing issues when it comes to child support.

5. Can I receive back child support?

Back child support, also known as retroactive support, may be ordered if there was a delay in establishing child support.  This typically goes back to the date when the custodial parent first requested child support. If you believe you should be receiving child support, don’t put off making your request for support.

6. How long does child support last?

Child support typically lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, chil support may continue beyond these milestones for children with disabilities or special needs.

7. Can child support orders be enforced if the non-custodial parent lives out of state?

Yes, child support orders can be enforced across state lines through the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). UIFSA applies to situations where the obligor lives out-of-state, as well as when you want to enforce an out-of-state order in Texas.  

8. Can I withhold support if the other parent is letting me see my children?

NO!!! Child support and enforcing periods of possession are separate legal matters.  

If you are being denied time with your child, you should seek legal remedies through the family court system – do NOT rely on self-help by withholding child support. Likewise, if the other parent is not paying child support, you cannot withhold your children!!!  Child support payments and visitation rights are not contingent on each other.

9. What can child support payments be used for?

Child support payments can be used for anything, so long as the parent receiving the child support payments is providing a safe home for the children. The courts will not itemize how the child support payments are being utilized. It is presumed that the payments are being used to help cover the child’s basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing and education.

However, if you believe your children are being neglected, and are not receiving adequate food, medical care, education – then that is a different issue. Or, if you believe the parent receiving the child support payments is using the money for illicit activities, such as drugs, then that is a different issue as well.  

Aside from cases of neglect or illegal and illicit activities, the court will generally not concern itself with how the money is being spent.

10. Is it possible to get more child support than under the Texas Child Support Guidelines?

The law does allow for child support above the maximum guidelines, when you can prove that your child’s expenses exceed the guideline amount. However, we don’t see this very often. Unlike in other states, Texas child support laws do not take into consideration “lifestyle expenses.” So support expenses such as private school and college, summer camps, select sports, nannies, will not necessarily be taken into consideration by a court when it comes to calculating the child’s expenses. However, it parents often agree that they do not want their children to pay the price when it comes to a divorce, and so often they will reach agreements that allow for the child’s lifestyle to continue when possible.

No one likes child support. If you are receiving child support, and trying to figure out how to provide for your children on a single income, the support you are receiving is likely not enough. If you are paying support, in addition to providing for your children when they are with you, it is likely that the amount of child support you are being asked to pay seems grossly unfair and will make it difficult to make ends meet.  The reality is that dividing household expenses from one house to two households leaves both sides feeling that there is not enough. However, when you are able to focus on the life you want your children to experience, you increase the odds that you will be able to reach an agreement regarding support and not have to pay lawyers to fight it out in court. Ultimately, the focus should always be on the best interests of your children, both financially and emotionally.