Child support is court-ordered payments which are made by one parent to another parent for the benefit of the child or children. Child support laws in every state outline the amount of child support based upon custody or the amount of time the child lives with each parent in addition to their income and finances.

The parent that is not awarded primary physical custody of the child or who lives with the child less than half of the time is typically the parent who is ordered to make child support payments.

Why is Child Support Necessary?

The purpose of child support is to provide for the child or children even in situations where the child does not reside with both parents. Raising children is expensive and both of the parents are responsible for supporting their children financially.

Child support payments are intended to provide for the expenses that are involved in raising a child, including:

  • Food, shelter, and clothing;
  • Medical care and health related expenses; and
  • Educational expenses.

Mandatory child support is a means by which a court can ensure that the non-custodial parent is contributing to the needs of their children. Mandatory means that the child support is required by law.

A parent who is required to pay child support cannot escape their obligation. In addition, the parent who has physical custody of a child or children cannot refuse to accept the child support payments which the court has ordered for the children.

Who is Required to Pay Child Support?

In a situation where the parents do not share physical custody equally or where a child resides with one parent more than half of the time, the parent with whom the child spends less time will be required to pay child support. A mother or a father may be ordered to pay child support.

It is not necessary that the parents of the child were ever married for one of the parents to be ordered to pay child support. In cases where there is a dispute regarding the identity of the biological father of the child, the court will typically order a paternity test prior to calculating and ordering child support.

An adoptive parent will also be subject to child support laws. Absent an adoption, however, step-parents will not be obligated to pay child support for their step-children.

How is the Amount of Child Support Determined?

Every state has guidelines which are used to calculate the specific amount of child support payments in each situation. The court will determine how much the support payments will be based upon the specific circumstances of the parents who will be paying the support.

Child support guidelines will typically provide the court with a range of payment amounts and then the court can order an amount within that range. Certain states give courts a lot of discretion when determining the final amount of child support, while other states may require the court to follow very strict guidelines.

In every case, there are certain factors which must be considered when determining the amount of the child support obligation, which typically include:

  • The specific needs of the child, including:
    • healthcare needs;
    • medical expenses;
    • education;
    • childcare; and
    • other special needs;
  • How many children the parent is responsible for supporting;
  • The custodial parent’s income compared to the income of the other parent;
  • The ability of the non-custodial parent to pay; and
  • In the case of divorce, the court might consider the child’s standard of living before the divorce or separation.

The court will use several pieces of information to determine the amount of child support which will be owed each month, including:

  • The financial information of each parent;
  • The amount of time each parent spends with the child pursuant to any custody arrangement and visitation schedule; and
  • A child support calculator.

How Are Child Support Awards Enforced?

Child support orders are the first step in ensuring that parents are meeting their child support obligations. If, however, a parent is not making their requirements payments, a court may be required to take additional steps to enforce the child support order.

There are several ways for a court to compel a parent to contribute the required amount, including:

  • Wage garnishment, where an employer is required to withhold a certain amount from the parent’s paycheck and forward the money to the parent who is supposed to receive the support;
  • Garnishing the delinquent parent’s tax refund;
  • Placing a lien on their property;
  • Revoking their driver’s or professional license;
  • Denying or revoking the issuance of a United States Passport if the parent owes more than $2,500; and
  • In rare cases, a parent who is delinquent in child support payments can be held in contempt of court for failing to follow the court order and be required to serve time in jail.

A parent who needs assistance with enforcing a child support order may contact their local child support enforcement agency.

What Are Child Support Payment Modifications?

In certain situations, a parent may be able to make a request to the court to modify a child support order. Typically, this requires a parent to show that they have experienced a change in their circumstances.

A change in circumstances is required to be such that the parent’s ability to pay or the needs of the child have been affected. For example, an applicable change in circumstances may include:

  • A job change for either of the parents which causes an increase or decrease in their income;
  • Changes to the custody arrangement or visitation schedule;
  • Temporary economic hardship;
  • A child with a medical emergency; and
  • A significant change in the other needs of the child, such as an increase in educational expenses.

Although a court will consider a change in circumstances and how it will affect a child support order, a custodial parent cannot make a unilateral decision to incur a large expense for the child and then force the other parent to assist in paying for it. This includes decisions such as sending the child to private school.

A court will examine each situation on a case-by-case basis to determine what share, if any, of a new expense each parent will be responsible for paying.

How is Child Support Calculated in Texas?

Child support is calculated in Texas by looking at the total monthly resources of the parent who is paying support. When the monthly resources of the parent who is obligated to pay are $7,500 or less, a Texas court will apply the following scheme:

  • 1 child: 20% of net resources;
  • 2 children: 25%;
  • 3 children: 30%;
  • 4 children: 35%;
  • 5 children: 40%; and
  • 6 or more children: 40% or more.

For example, if the parties have two children, then the parent who is obligated to pay support will be required to pay 25% of their net resources. Therefore, if the parent makes $4,000 per month, they will owe $1,000 in child support.

What Does Net Resources Mean?

The term net resources is broadly defined. It refers to the reported income on an individual’s tax return.

It may also, however, refer to non-reported income that should have been reported.

Is There a Duty to Provide Health Insurance?

The parent who is paying child support is required to include their child or children on their employee health insurance policy. If this insurance is not available to the parent who is paying support, but is available to the non-paying parent, the supporting parent will be required to pay the premiums.

If health insurance is not available to either party, the supporting parent will be required to provide health insurance to the greatest extent that is affordable.

How Long Does Child Support Last?

In Texas, the paying parent’s duty to pay child support continues until the child or children turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later. This duty may also terminate if the child marries or becomes emancipated.

If the child becomes permanently disabled, the duty to pay child support in Texas may continue indefinitely.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to child support in Texas, it may be helpful to consult with a Texas child support lawyer. Your lawyer can provide you with more detailed information regarding your child support obligations or what child support you should receive.