How Is Child Support Calculated in Texas?
Let’s first begin with who needs to pay child support in Texas. The parent who does not have primary custody pays the parent who is the primary custodian. Even if a parent has no access to child visitation, that parent is still responsible for paying child support. If parents share 50/50 joint custody, that doesn’t always mean that a child support burden no longer exists. The Texas Family Code has no guidelines at all for child support when a couple shares joint custody. Joint custody situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and are discussed in more detail below.
The first step in determining child support in Texas is parental income. The only forms of income Texas courts aren’t going to look at are foster care payments, federal assistance pay-outs, accounts receivable for a business, and the financial resources of a parent’s new spouse. Judges are also very savvy in looking at how businesses are structured to ensure child support obligations are not trying to be dodged (i.e., hiding or reducing income). The courts will consider all of the following forms of income in determining child support:
- Wages/pay stubs
- Earnings from a business/self-employment/gig work
- Rents received
- Social Security pay-outs
- Structured settlements
- Dividends/annuities/capital gains
- Workers comp or unemployment pay-outs
- Disability pay-outs
- Pension/retirement pay-outs
- Trust pay-outs
- Any sort of prize or gift pay-out
- Spousal support
- Child support received from any and all children
Net income refers to “take home” pay. This means, for the purposes of child support, the court allows for the following deductions:
- Certain retirement contributions
- Insurance that covers the children
- Union dues
- Child support payments made to other children (including past due and/or retroactive child support payments)
How Many Children?
The next step in figuring out how much child support is to be paid is looking at how many children are involved. Child support in Texas is based on parental net income and the total number of children being supported:
- One child – 20% of the paying parent’s net income
- Two children – 25% of the paying parent’s net income
- Three children – 30% of the paying parent’s net income
- Four children – 35% of the paying parent’s net income
- Five or more children – 40% of the paying parent’s net income
These figures are based on a paying parent’s income being less than $9,200/month. This threshold amount changes twice a year based on inflation, so be sure to double-check. Additionally, this is a general guideline and, based on §154.001 in the Texas Family Code, the court does have discretion to deviate from this rubric if it feels doing so is in the child’s best interest. Individual circumstances are considered.
If the paying parent earns over the $9,200/month threshold, then support may be based on the following maximum amounts:
- One child – $1,840/month
- Two children – $2,300/month
- Three children – $2,760/month
- Four children – $3,220/month
- Five or more children – $3,680/month
If a paying parent earning over $9,200/month has a child with special needs, the parent may be required to pay the full amount to completely cover the child’s actual needs, even if it exceeds these maximum figures above.
Making Child Support Payments
For the paying parent who is an employee receiving a paycheck, child support is essentially garnished from that parent’s earnings. This means that it is the employer’s responsibility to take out the child support amount from the parent’s paycheck before it is issued. In this case, the receiving parent ultimately gets paid via the state, where the paying parent’s employer sends the funds. If the paying parent is an independent contractor or self-employed, his or her wages are not “garnished.” In that case, it is the parent’s responsibility to make direct payments.
When Parents Share 50/50 Joint Custody
As mentioned above, when parents have joint custody, there aren’t any fixed guidelines from the state as to whether or how custody should be ordered. Some common scenarios we do see in joint custody situations include:
- It is possible the higher-earning parent could still have to pay the lower-earning parent some support so that the children have equitable experiences when with both parents. The greater the disparity in the parents’ incomes, the more likely this would be. This can also be known as “offset child support.” Offset child support in joint custody situations is generally determined by calculating what each parent would have to pay the other and then subtracting the lower figure from the higher figure. For instance, there is one child, the dad’s monthly net income is $7000, the mom’s monthly net income is $ 5,000, and they share joint custody. In this case, the dad’s child support obligation, without joint custody, would be $1400 (i.e., 20% of $7000), and the mom’s would be $1000 (i.e. 20% of $5000). The offset amount is determined in this case by subtracting her obligation from his ($1400 – $1000 = $400).
- Some Texas courts, in a joint custody situation, would actually have both parents pay child support. So, in the scenario above, dad would pay mom $1400 monthly, and mom would pay dad $1000 monthly. It’s another way of accomplishing the same offset.
- Even when joint custody parents earn equitable amounts, the court could still order one parent to pay the other. Why? Perhaps one parent works a swing shift and therefore incurs childcare expenses that the other parent does not. Perhaps one parent doesn’t have a driver’s license and incurs substantial transportation fees to get the kids back and forth to basketball practice.
When Does Child Support End?
Payments stop when the child graduates from high school or reaches the age of 18, whichever happens last. If there are multiple children, the support amount gets reduced as each child finishes high school or turns 18.
What If the Receiving Parent Moves to Another State?
Because different states have different rules, when a receiving parent moves to a new jurisdiction, this may cause payments to stop, especially if the payments are being garnished. If you are a receiving parent planning to leave Texas, make sure to communicate with all involved parties and plan ahead before leaving.
What About Disabled Children?
If a child is unable to care for him or herself upon reaching the age of 18 due to a disability, it is possible that support payments may be ordered to continue. In some cases, payments may be ongoing and indefinite.
What If I’m Unemployed?
A short period of unemployment is understandable; however, if the court feels the paying parent is intentionally unemployed or even simply underemployed, a judge can assign a child support amount based on the paying parent’s earning potential rather than his or her real earnings. Courts will also consider payments received from unemployment, the Veterans Administration, disability, workers comp, severance packages, and personal injury awards when determining child support.
What If the Paying Parent Is Incarcerated?
Child support orders are not automatically modified if the paying parent goes to jail. You will need to petition the court and get the order modified.
Can the Receiving Parent Petition the Court for Extra Support?
Yes, if a child has unique needs, the receiving parent may ask the court to order a higher-than-normal amount. Unique needs do not simply refer to having a disability. In this conversation, unique needs could refer to a child who was accepted to the finest boarding school and faces substantial tuition payments or is a world-class athlete with expensive coaching and travel needs. Unique needs could refer to a child living in a drug treatment center or a psychiatric facility—a child doesn’t necessarily need to be disabled to have special medical requirements.
Can Dads Get Child Support?
If mom suspects that dad is seeking full custody just to avoid paying child support, there are a few points to consider:
- The court is going to do what it feels is in the best interest of the child—that means if dad is a good parent or a bad parent, the court will take this into consideration.
- There isn’t any one custody arrangement that automatically “protects” a parent from having to pay child support.
- If the custody arrangement originally set out by the court isn’t working or was based on some false pretense that only comes to light later on, the custody agreement can always be modified. If, for example, the dad is having his girlfriend do much of the child-rearing activities (cooking, homework help, school transportation, etc), the mother could ask for a modification.
It’s important to note, though, that 2.5 million dads have full custody today in the United States. If a mother is expecting that she will “automatically” get custody and child support, she could be in for a rude awakening. If a father is hesitant to seek the custody he feels he deserves because he has a full-time job, he should know most custodial dads today are employed at full-time jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2/3 of homes with children are two-income homes. In the event of separation or divorce, it is no longer uncommon for the custodial parent to have a full-time job, mom or dad.
We Are Southlake Child Custody Attorneys—Call Now!
Mims Ballew Hollingsworth can help you with any family law matter in the Southlake and Ft. Worth areas: separation, divorce, support, custody, and more. Our dedicated, experienced team of Texas family law attorneys is standing by to guide you expertly through this transition. Set up a no-cost consultation today by calling 817-623-4260 or reach out via our web contact form.