How is Child Support Calculated in Texas?
Raising children is expensive. From food and clothes to healthcare, the list of reasons to open your wallet for your children is endless. If you are beginning the process of separating from your spouse or have a child with someone you were not married to, then you may be wondering just how the court puts a monetary amount on child support.
Child support orders are some of the most often litigated cases in Texas and throughout the nation. This post will lay out a basic understanding of how the courts in Texas determine how much a parent or parents should pay to the other. This generally begins by looking at the Texas Family Code’s guidelines and deciding how much should be paid based on the number of children. This number is then modified based on the parents’ incomes, the amount of parenting time they share, and other factors. The court then arrives at a final amount after any other necessary adjustments.
For help with your case, contact The Queenan Law Firm’s Arlington, TX child support lawyers to schedule a free legal consultation. Call our law offices today at (817) 476-1797 to set up your free consultation and learn more about your child support case.
Texas Child Support Guidelines for Calculating Child Support Payments
Trying to determine how much child support you should receive or how much you should be paying is never an easy task. In fact, it is very common for there to be extreme disagreements in the amount that one parent should be paying to the other for the care and maintenance of a child. The Texas Legislature is intimately aware of this problem and has tried to resolve this by establishing guidelines for when the court determines the proper amount of child support a parent should pay.
The parents’ marital status has no bearing on the child support amount. This means that as long as the child is biologically your own, it does not matter whether you were married to the other parent, divorced, or never married; you will still have an obligation to make child support payments. Whether you have child custody or not usually does not cancel your obligation to pay child support either, but it may alter the amount you pay; parents who share parenting time often pay less in support than parents who do not.
These guidelines will apply unless you and the other parent agree on some other amount for child support. However, you should be aware that even if you come to an agreement as to the amount of child support, this agreement still needs to be approved by the judge. The judge may determine that the amount that you have agreed on is too low and may modify your agreement.
The judge who signs the child support order decides the final amount of child support a parent should pay. The judge’s decision about how much you should pay is based on what the judge believes is in the best interest of the child. To help make sure that children are treated fairly across the state, Texas’ child support guidelines are assumed to be in the child’s best interest, and it is assumed that courts will generally stick to these guidelines.
How Much Do I Have to Pay for Child Support in Texas?
According to the Texas child support guidelines, most people pay child support based on a percentage of their net income. “Income” for child support calculations includes money from all sources, not just wages from a job. “Net income” is the income left over after basic deductions for taxes.
For a parent who has no other children outside the current court proceedings, the percentage to be applied is as follows, according to § 154.125 of the Texas Family Code:
- 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
But, how much is child support for multiple children in Texas? If you have additional children from another relationship or in another household, the percentage you are assumed to pay will be different. For instance, if you support children in two different households with one child in each household, the court assumes you will pay 17.5% to each parent instead, with further reductions for additional children.
There are other factors that might also alter the percentage you pay or allow the court to deviate from the standard amounts. For instance, many child support cases involve healthcare costs for the children, with the parent who pays child support often paying for the children’s health insurance. Paying health insurance may entitle you to modify the child support amount by excluding the coverage costs from your income.
The court may also deviate from the guidelines according to any of the following factors under § 154.123 of the Family Code:
- The specific needs of the children
- Each parent’s parenting time split
- Child care costs necessary for either parent to keep their job
- Custody of other children
- Alimony actually being paid
- Costs associated with a child’s disability or special needs
- Travel costs to transfer custody between parents
- Other reasons “consistent with the best interest of the child”
What Counts as “Income” for Child Support Calculations?
As mentioned, the guidelines use a fixed percentage of the obligor’s income to calculate a presumptive child support amount. The child support statute refers to “income” as the parent’s “net resources.” “Net resources” include the financial resources and income that is available for child support.
“Income” is a broad term under the law. You may have income from multiple sources, or you may not be sure what exactly counts as income for child support purposes. The child support payor’s financial resources include the following:
- Wages and salary
- Commissions and overtime
- Interest income
- Rental income
- Income from retirement, trusts, annuities, and unemployment benefits
- Any other income
If the payor is married, his or her spouse’s income is not included in the payor’s net resources.
The court can require parties to provide information about their income and resources. Parties should be prepared to provide the court the past two years’ income tax returns, a financial statement, and current pay stubs.
What Can Be Deducted from My Income when Calculating Child Support?
Since courts deal with “net” resources, they typically only look at your income after taxes. Using your take-home pay, not your gross pay, courts determining how much income you have.
After the court has gone through all the records and your financial data to determine exactly what your income or net resources are, the court is then obligated to make deductions for certain resources. The court will typically subtract out the value of the following expenses before calculating your final income:
- FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare taxes)
- Union dues
- Health insurance payments for supported children
- Income tax withholding as calculated for a single person with one exemption and the standard deduction.
In most cases when the court is determining what should be deducted from income, the amount of deductions will be considerably less than the actual withholding from the paying parent’s paycheck. Additionally, you should not have to include any of the following in your net resources:
- Returned principal or capital
- Accounts receivable
- Need-based assistance payments
- Foster care payments
Can Child Support Orders Be Recalculated or Terminated After the Court Order in Texas?
Once the court puts a child support order in place, it remains in effect until the order is terminated. This order can typically be changed or recalculated, but there has to be a good reason to do so. Changes to the court order must also be approved by a judge before they take effect. Courts can also terminate child support orders when the time is right.
Grounds for Recalculating Child Support
Child support orders are based on a series of factors discussed above, including how much money the parents make, how much parenting time they have, and how many children they are paying to support. If, at any point, the factors that go into that calculation change, there could be grounds to change the child support order as well.
For one of the parties to file for modification to a child support order, the underlying factors must “have materially and substantially changed,” according to Family Code § 156.401. This means that the changes must affect the child support calculation – so something like the financial burden of adopting a pet isn’t a necessary expense that would be included in a child support calculation and probably wouldn’t be considered “material.” It also means that the changes must have been more than slight – so something like a $20/month raise probably isn’t going to have enough of an effect to make it “substantial.”
Under § 156.401(2), you can definitely get a child support order modified if it is older than 3 years old and re-doing the calculation today would change the order by at least 20% or by at least $100. Parties can also agree to change the order, and judges are usually respectful of that decision, but the law still requires material and substantial changes first.
Your Dallas child support attorney can re-do the calculation in your case and help you determine whether the changes you experienced are substantial and material enough to potentially get the payments to you increased or get your payments decreased.
Terminating Child Support
Children do not remain children forever, so there is no expectation that the child support order will be absolutely permanent. While child support orders remain in effect until terminated by the court, courts allow parties to file to have their child support orders terminated when the time comes.
Child support orders are designed to last until the child turns 18 and graduates from high school. That means that if your child turns 18 before the end of their senior year, you could still be on the hook for child support until May or June arrives. Similarly, if they graduate from high school but do not turn 18 until later in the year, your support obligation will last until they turn 18.
Children can also stop being your financial responsibility for other reasons. If your child is adopted by another parent – e.g., by a stepparent – this often allows you to file for termination as well. Similarly, a child who becomes legally emancipated is no longer the parent’s financial responsibility, nor is a child who joins the military.
To get a child support order to stop, you need to file for termination. Until the court approves your termination request, the order is still in effect and needs to be followed – so you may need to keep paying while you talk to a lawyer for help.
If your child is disabled and that disability makes it difficult for them to care for themselves or understand the financial obligations of adulthood, the child support order could continue into their adult life. In that case, termination might not be permitted at all or might require additional help from a child support lawyer. However, the order can be recalculated as necessary under the rules listed above.
Do Other Contributions Count as “Child Support”?
Parents support their children in many ways. Some of these are financial, and some are not. Courts have wide latitude to consider a lot of factors when calculating child support. The law automatically includes considerations like health insurance or dental coverage for children as part of the calculation when determining child support amounts, but courts can potentially look at other benefits and plans as well.
Because the guidelines have a catch-all entry that allows the court to look at other factors not explicitly listed in the code, it is possible that the courts could look at these kinds of additional contributions. Some courts may consider these things part of parenting, and thus they would seek to have support orders reflect these contributions. Other courts might see this as something already included in another factor or something simply outside the calculation and would not allow these contributions to factor into the calculation as an independent factor.
Do Contributions from Stepparents Count in Child Support Calculations?
If a parent with custody remarries and their new spouse – the child’s stepparent – helps them take care of the kids, should that affect the child support order? Alternatively, what if you are paying child support and get remarried to someone with more income than you. If their income covers your daily expenses and bills, your income is essentially all “disposable,” should you have to pay more child support?
Generally speaking, courts in Texas dodge these issues by only looking at both individual parents’ income levels when calculating child support. The Texas Family Code explicitly excludes a spouse’s resources from consideration under § 154.069. However, parties can agree to different amounts, separate from the guidelines. Talk to a lawyer about potentially including these kinds of payments in a negotiated support agreement.
Call Our Arlington, TX Family Law Attorneys for a Free Consultation on Your Child Support Case
If you have a child support question, call The Queenan Law Firm and tell us about your situation. With more than 20 years of legal experience among our Arlington, TX family law attorneys, we are eager to put our knowledge to work for you. Our attorneys can help you petition the court to lower your child support payments or get increased payments for your children. Call our law offices at (817) 476-1797 today to schedule your free legal consultation.