Child support is more than just an amount of money one parent pays to the other after a divorce. Learn more about how child support works and what the Texas Family Code says about it.
Everyone going through a divorce with children wants to know either how much child support will I pay or how much will I receive. But there’s really more to child support than that, and it’s important to understand what child support is for before you go into a divorce.
Child support is, at its core, designed to help pay for the financial needs of children. Those needs may be needs specifically related to the child such as clothing, school expenses, haircuts, etc., but they also include a child’s need for adequate housing, utilities, transportation, etc. For this reason, the recipient of child support does not have to provide receipts of how the money was spent – it goes into the recipient’s general fund.
In collaborative divorce cases, we focus on the needs of each individual family. The collaborative process focuses on developing what the needs of the children are, and then looks at ways in which those needs can be met by the parents.
There are four main categories of expenses that are typically evaluated: (1) Education; (2) Extracurricular/Camps; (3) Health Care; (4) Personal (clothing, grooming, entertainment, gifts).
Once we develop the needs, we begin exploring how to best pay for them. This can be done in one or more ways: (1) transfer of funds from one parent to the other on a regular basis; (2) allocation between the parents (e.g. each pay 50% of …); (3) payment directly to a vendor, such as a doctor.
Parents should understand how Texas law deals with child support. But parents should also keep in mind that the law serves as a default for the courts when parents cannot make their own agreements in the best interest of their children. Child support laws work for some families, but don’t work well for many others. Additionally, the arbitrariness of the child support laws is evident when one looks at the child support laws across the country. The formula for child support is different in every single state – does it make sense that a child should get more or less simply because of the state in which they reside?
The Texas Family Code contains guidelines for the computation of child support. The guidelines are specifically designed to apply to situations in which the obligor’s monthly net resources are $8,550 or less. In such cases, the court presumptively applies the following schedule:
- 1 child – 20% of Obligor’s Net Resources
- 2 children – 25% of Obligor’s Net Resources
- 3 children – 30% of Obligor’s Net Resources
- 4 children – 35% of Obligor’s Net Resources
- 5 children – 40% of Obligor’s Net Resources
- 6 or more children – Not less than 40%
If the Obligor has children from another relationship(s), the percentages listed above may be reduced. If the obligor’s net resources exceed $8,550 per month, the Court shall presumptively apply the above percentages to the first $8,550 of net resources. Without further reference to the percentage, the court may order additional amounts of child support. The court may not order the obligor to pay more child support than the presumptive amount (as calculated by multiplying the above applicable percentage times $8,550) or an amount equal to 100% of the proven needs of the child, whichever is greater.
Net resources is defined very broadly, and income can also be imputed to a party. For example, a client has the ability to earn a certain amount of money but voluntarily chooses to earn less.
In addition to monthly child support payments, the payor is required to maintain the children on the payor’s employment health insurance policy. If insurance is not available through the payor’s employment, but is available through the payee’s employment, the payor will be ordered to pay the premium costs. If insurance is not available through either parties’ employment, the payor will be ordered to provide insurance coverage to the extent available and affordable. The cost of the medical insurance is a deduction against a payor’s net resources. Additionally, the Court usually makes orders regarding the payment of deductibles and other uninsured expenses.
All Orders dealing with child support must now be accompanied by an Order of Withholding. Medical Support Orders are now commonplace. The Withholding order, after presented to the payor’s employer, has the Court-ordered child support deducted directly from the payor’s paychecks.
The court can also order the parent paying child support to secure life insurance to cover the amount of child support that will become due until the child support obligation would terminate, which can be up to 18+ years.
Assuming that there are no events that would terminate child support before age 18 (e.g. the child marries at age 17), child support orders continue until the child reaches age 18. If the child is in high school at age 18, support continues until high school graduation. If the child is disabled, it may be possible to continue child support for an indefinite period. Texas law makes no provision for support during college, or the payment of college expenses. However, this can be done by a contract between the parties if an agreement can be reached on this issue.
(If you want specific info on modifying or enforcing child support, please read this article.)
About the author: Jody Johnson is a Dallas and Plano-based collaborative family lawyer, serving clients in Collin, Dallas, and Denton Counties.