Child support can be one of the most contentious issues between divorced or unmarried parents. Parents may disagree about who should pay child support and what amount needs to be paid. Parents may also be unsure where to turn if they need to obtain or modify a court order for child support.
Which Parent Pays?
Both parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. Although it is often clear who a child’s parents are, sometimes it is less obvious particularly with regard to a child’s father. In Texas, there are several ways a father can be established. These are:
- A man is presumed to be a child’s father if he is married to the child’s mother at the time of birth.
- A man is recognized as a child’s father if he signs an Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP).
- A man can also be established as a child’s legal father through court proceedings.
Paternity must be established before a court will require that a father pay child support. It is important to note that if a child’s parents are unmarried at the time of birth, a child has no legal father unless an AOP is signed or paternity is otherwise established.
The father, however, is not always the parent who pays child support. Generally, the parent who does not have primary custody of the child or children is the parent who makes child support payments to the parent with primary custody.
The legislature has guidelines for the amount of child support a parent should be required to pay, but judges may also use their discretion. The guidelines mainly consider the non-custodial parent’s net income and the number of children the parent is supporting.
When determining the amount of child support that should be paid, courts look for what is in the child’s best interest. Examples of factors a court may consider include: a child’s needs, each parent’s financial resources, daycare expenses, educational expenses and medical expenses. Parents may also agree to vary from the child support guidelines, and a judge will approve such variations if they are found to be in a child’s best interest.
Child support generally continues until one of the following:
- A child graduates from high school or reaches the age of 18 (whichever is later)
- A child marries
- A child is legally declared an adult (emancipated)
If a child is disabled, however, a court may order that financial support continue indefinitely.
How Can an Attorney Help?
Experienced family law attorneys can provide advice about establishing paternity, and guidance about whether a court will find a child support agreement in a child’s best interest. An attorney can also assist parents in modifying child support orders and enforcing current child support obligations.