Answers to questions about Child Support in Texas
Authored By: Partnership for Legal Access
What is Child Support?
If you have children and you are divorcing, your case will probably include child support. If your case is a request for visitation or child custody, your case will probably include child support. If you ask the court to establish paternity or legally name a child's father, your case will probably include child support.
Child Support is the legislature's attempt to provide financial balance for children who grow up living with only one parent. All parents have a legal duty to support their children. In Texas, parent is a legal term. A parent is the child's mother, a man presumed to be the child's father (married to the child's mother when the child is born), a man legally determined to be the child's biological father, a man who signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or an adoptive mother or father. Texas Family Code, Section 101.024.
A Texas court may order a parent to support his or her child until the child turns 18 years-old, or graduates from high school (whichever occurs later), or until the child marries or dies, or is emancipated (declared an adult) by court order. If the child is disabled, the court may order a parent to financially support the child indefinitely.
Usually, the parent who does not have primary custody of the child is expected to pay child support. The parent who is ordered to pay child support is called the Obligor. The person receiving child support is called the Obligee.
How much Child Support?
The judge who signs the child support order has broad discretion to determine the amount of child support a parent should pay. The amount of child support ordered should be in the child's best interest. The legislature has established guidelines to help a judge determine child support. The guidelines are presumed to be in a child's best interest. The guidelines give the court a percentage to apply to a parent's net resources. For a parent who has no other children outside the current court proceedings, the percentage to be applied is as follows:
- 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.
In cases where the Obligor, or parent who is obligated to pay child support, has other children to support, the percentages are slightly lower:
Number of Children before the Court
|Number of other children Obligor has a duty to support|
Texas Family Code, Section 154.129.
Factors to Consider
A court may consider other factors to determine if applying the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. Those factors include:
- the child's age and needs;
- the parent's ability to contribute to the child's support;
- any financial resources available for the child support;
- the Obligee's (person receiving child support) net resources and earning potential;
- child care expenses;
- whether either party has actual physical custody of another child;
- the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance;
- the child's educational expenses;
- employee benefits such as housing or a company car;
- health insurance and uninsured medical expenses for the child;
- extraordinary educational, healthcare or other expenses of the child;
- travel expenses incurred to exercise visitation;
- positive or negative cash flow from real or personal property, and assets like businesses or investments;
- any other reason consistent with the best interest of the child,
- taking into consideration the circumstances of the parents.
Texas Family Code, Section 154.123.
If a court order for child support is not based on the statutory guidelines, it must include special findings that help explain the reason why it varies from the guidelines.
Calculating Guideline Child Support
Guideline child support is based on all of the Obligor's financial resources: wages and salary, commissions and overtime, interest income, rental income, income from retirement, trusts, annuities, unemployment benefits, and any other income received by the Obligor. If the Obligor is married, his or her spouse's income is not included in the Obligor's resources.
To calculate guideline child support, find the average monthly gross income by dividing Obligor's gross annual income and resources by twelve. The court can require parties to provide information about their income and resources. Parties should be prepared to provide the court the past two year's income tax returns, a financial statement, and current pay stubs.
After the average monthly gross income is determined, certain deductions are taken. Deductions include:
- social security taxes,
- federal income taxes (based on a single person, claiming one exemption),
- state income taxes (if they apply, Texas has no state income taxes),
- union dues, and
- expenses for the child's health insurance coverage.
The needs of an Obligor's spouse or stepchildren are not deductible.
Apply the percentage guidelines to the Obligor's average monthly net income. If the Obligor's average monthly net income is more than $7,500, then the guidelines only apply to the first $7,500. The court may order additional child support, as needed, depending on the child's needs.
Unemployed or Underemployed
In a case where the court cannot determine an Obligor's income because he or she is not working, a court can presume that the Obligor is earning federal minimum wage for a 40 hour work week. Texas Family Code, Section 154.068. In cases where the evidence shows that the Obligor is intentionally unemployed or underemployed (not working to his or her full earning potential), the court may base the child support on the Obligor's earning potential. Texas Family Code, Section 154.066.
Child Support Agreements
Parties are allowed to make written agreements for child support. Agreements may vary from the child support guidelines. If the court finds the agreement is in the child's best interest, the court will sign an order based on the parties' agreement. If the court finds the agreement is not in the child's best interest, the court may ask the parties to submit a revised agreement or the court may render its own child support order. Texas Family Code, Section 154.124.
Method of Payment
The court may require the child support be paid by periodic payments (weekly, biweekly, or monthly), in a lump sum, by purchasing an annuity, or by setting aside property to be used for supporting the children.
If payments are required, the court will order the payments to be made through the Child Support State Disbursement Unit. The Child Support State Disbursement Unit is a registry that records all payments made by an Obligor, and forwards the payments to the custodial parent. The record helps the Court determine exactly how much child support an Obligor has paid, in case there is a disagreement in the future. If your child support order requires your payments be sent to the Child Support State Disbursement Unit, you may not be credited for any direct payments you make to the child's other parent or primary caretaker. Making payments through the Child Support Registry protects you by providing the court with an impartial record of payments you have made. Any payments you make that do not go through the registry can be considered gifts, and may not be applied to your child support obligations.
The easiest way to make sure your child support payments are made as required by your court order, is to have the payment withheld from your paycheck through a Withholding Order. A withholding order actually orders your employer to withhold part of your paycheck from you, and forward it to the Child Support registry, to be credited toward your child support obligation. A court is required to sign a withholding order in every case where child support is ordered. However, in some cases, the parties can agree not to have the withholding order served on the employer. If the withholding order is not served on the employer, then the child support will not be withheld from the Obligor's paycheck, and the Obligor will have to make the payment each time the payment is due. The signed Employer's Order to Withhold will remain in the court file, and will be available if either party prefers to have the child support withheld in the future. Texas Family Code, Section 154.007.
The court may order a parent to pay child support for past time periods before the child support is entered. This is called retroactive child support. This can happen in cases where parents were separated for some time before a child support order is entered. Texas Family Code, Section 154.009.
In determining retroactive child support, the court will consider the net resources available to the Obligor during the past time period before child support was ordered. The court should also consider whether or not the biological father knew about the child, and if the mother made any attempts to notify the father of his probable paternity. The court should also consider if a retroactive child support order would impose an undue financial hardship on the Obligor or the Obligor's family, and if the Obligor has provided financial support or food, clothing, or shelter before the child support action is filed.
Establishing a Child Support Order
Child Support orders can be established as part of a divorce or paternity action or in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR). In all of these kinds of cases, a petition is filed, and child support is requested in the petition, along with all of the other relief the Petitioner is seeking. Child Support orders can also be established through an administrative process called the Child Support Review Process. Texas Family Code, Chapter 233. If the Attorney General's Office is helping you to establish your child support order, you will go through the Child Support Review Process.
Child Support Review Process and Paternity
The process begins when a notice of child support review is issued. The parties will be notified by either personal service or first class mail. If you receive a notice of child support review, you may employ an attorney to represent you. You also have the right to represent yourself or to refuse to participate in the child support review process. But even if you do not participate, you may be ordered to provide child support. If the agency sends you an affidavit of financial resources, you must complete it, and return it within 15 days. Texas Family Code, Section 233.006.
If the child's paternity has not been established, the notice of child support review will explain that the alleged parent has 15 days to either sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity or deny parentage in writing. Either party may request genetic testing. Testing will be ordered if the alleged parent denies paternity. If the parties agree about the child's parentage, then the agency may conduct a negotiation conference, and an agreed child support review order may be filed.
If an alleged parent denies parentage and refuses to participate in parentage testing, the Attorney General's Office may file a child support review order and determine that the alleged parent is a parent by default, and file a child support review order.
If genetic testing identifies the alleged parent, the agency may conduct a negotiation conference to determine child support, and file a child support review order with the court.
If genetic testing shows that the alleged parent is not the biological parent of the child, then the Attorney General's Office will provide each party with a child support review order that declares the alleged parent is not a parent of the child.
If you have been invited to participate in the child support review process, it is very important that you actively participate. Legal actions can be taken against you that will have far reaching consequences, should you choose not to participate. If you have questions about your legal rights in the child support review process, you should seek the assistance of an attorney who can advise and represent you. The Attorney General's Office does not represent either parent, and can not advise you about how you should proceed to protect your legal interests.
Estimate your child support payments in Texas using this fillable Adobe form. This is an estimate; courts consider other factors in determining the amount due. The Adobe form only works with Adobe reader.