Common Questions: Child Support in Texas

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Common Questions: Child Support in Texas


What is Child Support?

Child support is money that a parent pays to another person to help support his or her child. All parents have a legal duty to financially support their children. This legal duty exists even if there is no court order for child support.

In Texas, parent is a legal term. A parent is the child's biological mother AND a man who is either:

1. Presumed to be the child's father (married to the child's mother when the child is born), OR

2. Legally determined to be the child's biological father, OR

3. 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, graduates from high school (whichever occurs later), marries, 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.

Who Pays?

Usually, a 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.

Who pays for the child’s health insurance?  

The person who pays child support usually also has a legal duty to provide health insurance or pay cash medical support to the parent who has health insurance. 

· If a parent is insured  through an employer, he/she may be ordered to add their children to that policy. 

· If the child is insured through CHIP or Medicaid, the paying parent must pay the cost of insuring the child.

Who receives child support?

Child support is paid to the person that the children live with more than half of the time. This is usually a parent, but not always. The person receiving child support is called the Obligee.

Common Questions about Calculating Support


How much Child Support?

The judge who signs the child support order decides the amount of child support a parent should pay. The judge's decision about how much should be paid 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 laws provide some guidelines about how much should be paid. These guidelines are assumed to be in a child's best interest.

Because of these guidelines, most people pay child support based on a percentage of their net income. “Income” is money from all sources, not just wages from a job. Net income is income after basic deductions for federal income tax, Medicare and Social Security.

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

Not Before

The Court








































































Texas Family Code, Section 154.129.

In other words, the amount of child support required by the guidelines may change if you support children living in different homes.  Here are some examples:

·  Joe has just one child with his ex, Maria. Joe’s guideline child support is 20% of his net monthly income.

·  Joe has two children. His first child lives with Maria, his ex. His second child lives with Joe and his wife. Joe’s guideline child support to Maria is 17.5% instead of 20% of his net monthly income, because Joe has a duty to support a child in another household (his own).

Are other factors are considered?

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.

What income counts in child support calculations?

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.

What is back child support?

If a parent does not live with a child and does not help to support the child, the parent may be ordered to pay “back” or “retroactive” child support to the person who cared for the child. This is true even if there is not a prior court order. If there is a court order, the person who doesn’t pay child support will be ordered to repay the child support with interest.

What if one parent is 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.

Can we make our own agreement?

Generally, parties are allowed to make written agreements for child support. Agreements may vary from the child support guidelines as long as the parties are not receiving state benefits. 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.

How do I change the amount of child support? 

Child support can be increased or decreased, but only with a new court order.For example, if the parent paying child support loses his job, child support may decrease.  If you need to change the amount of child support, you should file a modification lawsuit right away, even if the AG cannot help. Always let the AG know if you lose your job.

Common Questions about Establishing Child Support

How are child support orders made?

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.

Can I get help from the Attorney General's Office if paternity hasn't been established yet?

Yes. If the child's paternity has not been established, a notice of child support review will be sent to the alleged parent and explain that he 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. Keep in mind that 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.

What if child support has never been paid?

The court may order a parent to pay child support for time before child support is formally ordered. This is called retroactive child support. This may happen when parents separate 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 paying parent during the 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 payor or the payor's family, as well as the payor's previous financial support or food, clothing, or shelter before the child support action is filed.

How long does child support last? 

Child support usually lasts until the child turns 18 and is no longer in high school. If the child is disabled, child support can continue even after the child turns 18.  Payments to reduce “back” child support will continue until the debt is paid in full.

Common Questions about Paying Child Support

How are payments made?

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.

What is a withholding order?

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.Click here to read more about Income Withholding Orders.

What happens if child support is not paid?

If a parent does not pay their court ordered child support, he or she could have their property taken away, lose their drivers license, or even go to jail.

Last Review and Update: Jun 10, 2015