Children don’t come cheap. From diapers to baby food, training wheels to school supplies, the expenses are endless and don’t just disappear, once you get divorced. Which is why Texas courts often make child support a standard part of any custody order.
Unfortunately, knowing exactly what these payments are designed to cover—and what they aren’t—can often be controversial, confusing, and frustrating for both parents.
To help alleviate some of these child support blues, this article will discuss what child support actually covers, what it doesn’t, and what the North Texas Family Lawyers team can do to help modify your payments if something has gone amiss.
What is Child Support?
To begin, child support refers to the regular payments made by one parent to the other, to help offset the astronomical costs of raising a child, and ensure that both parents are held equally responsible for meeting their child’s fiscal needs.
Most of the time, child support is ordered as the result of a child custody dispute. This often occurs when parents get a divorce; however, it can also be relevant to unmarried parents, who want a parenting plan to better organize their respective parental responsibilities.
When ordered, child support is non-negotiable and completely enforceable. Failure to make full and timely payments can result in serious financial and legal consequences, so it’s not something you want to mess around with.
In Texas, child support is almost always paid by the non-custodial parent (or, rather, the visitation parent). The exact amount is determined by analyzing a number of different individualized factors in your case.
How Much is Child Support?
Until a judge hands down your final order, it’s impossible to know exactly how much child support you’ll owe. The best we can do is guess, using a formula that we’ve drawn up based on the guidelines set down in the Texas Family Code:
Payer’s Annual Income (÷) 12 months (-) deductions (x) the applicable percentage:
- 1 child (20%)
- 2 children (25%)
- 3 children (30%)
- 4 children (35%)
- 5 children (40%)
= Your Rough Monthly Estimate
The resulting figure represents what is needed to cover a child’s basic needs and to ensure their standard of living doesn’t suffer because of divorce. Furthermore, by calculating child support this way, the court ensures that the final amount is one that you (as parents) can realistically afford to pay.
What Does Child Support Actually Cover?
Okay, so now that we have a better understanding of what child support is, who pays, and how it’s calculated, let’s move on to what it’s designed to cover.
According to Texas family law, child support is meant to help cover the essentials in a child’s life—but this includes more than just the basic necessities needed to sustain a pulse.
Indeed, a custodial parent is essentially free to use child support payments however they like, so long as it ties back to the benefit of their child. This includes covering the cost of their child’s:
- Food and housing;
- Clothing, hygiene products, and other personal items;
- Medical and dental expenses that aren’t covered by insurance (more on that in a second…);
- Education costs, including school supplies, books, and fees; as well as,
- Travel, media, and other forms of entertainment.
That’s correct, you read that right. In addition to basic necessities, child support payments can—and, indeed, are even meant to cover—entertainment costs.
But That’s Ridiculous! Why Should I Have to Pay for Entertainment?
Sorry to bust your bubble, but according to the Texas Family Code, it isn’t ridiculous.
In Texas (as is the case with most jurisdictions) children are entitled to the same lifestyle as their parents—including all of the benefits that your discretionary income can afford.
This, of course, means kooshey perks like movies, entertainment, and family trips. It includes ice cream dates and afternoon outings and the occasional knickknack—essentially, anything that they would still be enjoying, if they were living under your same roof.
Hence, while your payments might seem absurd, keep in mind that these calculations were made according to your own standard of living. And you aren’t allowed to deprive your child of those benefits, just because you got divorced.
(What’s ridiculous is assuming it should be any other way…)
What Does Child Support Not Cover?
The most notable thing that basic Texas child support payments don’t cover is medical and dental insurance. Instead, these costs are covered separately by what’s called “medical child support.”
Medical child support is intended to cover the cost of a child’s medical needs, which can be paid in the form of either an insurance premium or cash support (depending on your arrangement). This support is required in addition to normal child support payments and is typically paid by whichever parent makes the regular support payments.
If out-of-pocket medical expenses do occur (outside insurance premiums), then a custodial parent can get reimbursed for these costs—they do not come out of regular child support.
Other than that caveat, there are no official restrictions on how child support should be spent.
“But How Do I Know My Ex Is Using Child Support Correctly?”
Unfortunately, most of the time you’ll just have to take their word for it.
Generally speaking, child support is intended to cover a child’s basic necessities first, with things like entertainment, extracurricular activities, and vacation coming from whatever is leftover. However, there are no official rules in Texas that require a custodial parent to do it that way.
This actually makes sense, when you think about how many little things crop up during an average weekday that requires spending money on your child. (It’s a lot.) And, in short, the court does not have time to micromanage all of a parent’s day-to-day spending.
Hence, short of neglect or obvious misappropriation, the court will not require a custodial parent to make an accounting of how they spend child support funds.
Child Support Modifications
Child support amounts aren’t assigned at random. They’re carefully calculated based on need and your overall ability to make these payments. So while they should be perfectly doable, the court understands that life is unpredictable and that situations do arise that might keep you from making full and timely payments.
Because they’re human too, Texas legislatures have provided a way to modify child support. For this to happen, however, you must be able to show that there’s been a legitimate change in circumstances.
Some of these legitimate changes might involve:
- A job loss;
- Death or serious illness;
- An international relocation;
- Military deployment; or,
- The child becomes legally emancipated.
Unless one of those situations sound familiar, however, it’s probably better to simply leave things how they are.
Do You Need Help with Child Support in Texas?
Disputes over child support are among the most common reasons couples end up back in our offices for post-divorce services. On the bright side, these disputes can often be solved through mediation—though, it always helps to have an experienced family law attorney fighting at your side.
If you have more questions about what child support actually covers in Texas—and whether or not these expenses are being handled correctly in your situation—we want to hear from you. Call the North Texas Family Lawyers team today at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online, and together, we can ensure that your child’s best interests are being met.