Amongst the war of differing parenting styles, the one thing we’re confident all parents can agree on is: children don’t come cheap.
Indeed, a 2018 study showed that the average cost to raise a single child in the U.S. rounded out to a cool, $200,000, (which ended up looking more like $300,000, once you factored in inflation)—and these amounts don’t change, just because you get divorced. In fact, Texas child support guidelines are specifically designed to ensure a child’s standard of living stays the same, post-divorce.
So, just how does Texas calculate child support? And who’s responsible?
To answer these burning questions, we offer an overview about how these payments are determined.
Child Support: Who Pays, and Why?
These days, parents and children are both busier than ever. Between the demands of extra curricular activities, school schedules, work schedules, and childcare arrangements, it’s nearly impossible to divide a child’s face time equally between spouses after divorce—even if you are both excellent parents. As a result, your parenting plan will probably appoint one parent to be the child’s permanent residence, while the other gets visitation.
Naturally, if this arrangement went left unchecked, it would result in some pretty hefty financial disparity, leaving custodial parents scrambling to cover the cost all of their child’s day-to-day expenses, singlehandedly. Hence, judges will almost always require non-custodial parents to pay child support, in order to help offset this financial imbalance. So, in short:
- Who pays? The non-custodial parent (or rather, the visitation parent).
- Why? To ensure parents have an equal share of financial accountability.
How Does Texas Calculate Child Support?
Now that you know why payments are required, and who generally shoulders them, we’ll get into how much you can expect to pay.
Unfortunately, trying to determine the exact amount (down to dollars and cents) is about as easy as trying to pin down the End of Days by staring into a crystal ball. However, like a clever clairvoyant, it is possible to narrow your child support payments down to a fairly close generality. To do so, we look at the Texas Family Code, whose guidelines can be roughly translated into this basic equation:
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 Monthly Estimate
Here’s a more detailed look at how some of these elements shake up.
When calculating amounts, all sources of the payer’s income are considered. This, obviously means regular paychecks, but also includes unemployment benefits, Social Security, retirement or disability payments, investments, business payouts, alimony from previous marriages, revenue from rental properties, inheritances, and pretty much anything else that contributes to an increase of income.
If arguments over this amount arise, your judge will look at the earner’s work history, including how long they’ve been employed, the regularity of bonuses, and how stable things have been over the years, in order to project the likelihood of future income.
After calculating and dividing your total annual income, you are allowed to deduct the following from your monthly payments:
- Social security taxes;
- Federal and state income taxes (as a single person, not a joint household);
- Any union dues; as well as,
- Health insurance costs.
In Texas, divorced parents are required to provide medical and dental insurance for their children. Hence, these costs can be deducted from a payer’s monthly income only because insurance is addressed as a separate expense, outside of child support.
If—after these deductions—your final monthly income is more than $9,200, then congratulations, you’ve done well in life! However, this also means that the standard equation for determining child support amounts will not apply to you. For a more accurate estimate, you should discuss the details of your finances with your attorney.
Number of Children
For purposes of this equation, the number of children you have refers only to offspring you share with you spouse, who are also minors.
In Texas, children qualify for support until they are eighteen (or until they graduate from high school, whichever is later). As a result, adult children can be left out of those percentage totals (though, disabled children may qualify for longer.)
Your Judge Has the Final Say
Finally—as if this equation wasn’t convoluted enough—judges can use their discretion to adjust your final amount however they deem appropriate. Some of the factors that might influence their opinions could be:
- The age and needs of the children (including the special needs of disabled children);
- The parents’ ability to support;
- Financial resources and debts of both parties;
- Any childcare costs;
- Wage deductions;
- Travel cost and time between homes; as well as,
- Other expenses not listed under the typical deductions.
One thing that cannot shift amounts, though, is a prenuptial agreement. In fact, no contract—whether pre or post marriage—has the power to change a parent’s child support obligations. If your prenuptial agreement addresses child support, it’s possible that some (if not all) of the agreement is void.
Parents are always allowed to draft their own parenting plans during divorce, though, so long as it meets the basic standards required by law.
How Long Do Child Support Payments Last?
In Texas, children qualify for child support until they are eighteen, or graduate high school (whichever comes later). A child will also become ineligible for support, if they:
- Get married;
- Join the military; or,
- Are emancipated before they turn eighteen.
Once a child reaches eighteen (or, flies the nest in one of the other three ways), payments will be adjusted to reflect the current number of children who are still at home.
Payments Aren’t Optional
The state of Texas doesn’t mess around with children, and Lone Star courts take the fulfillment of these parental responsibilities quite seriously. Individuals who fail to make full and timely child support payments are in danger of being in contempt of court, which is a criminal offense. Penalties for non-payment can include anything from garnished wages, to property liens, a suspension of driver’s license, all the way up to jail time.
If a legitimate life change has resulted in your inability to pay support, contact your family law attorney immediately, to see if your agreement can be revised.
Child Support Attorneys in Texas
Determining who pays child support (and how much) is one of the more daunting aspects of divorce. No one likes the prospect of having to make payments to their ex spouse, and yet, at the same time, most good parents want noting but the best for their child. Ensuring the needs of both parents and child are being met is a complicated and delicate balance to strike, which is why it’s so important to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side.
If you have more questions about how Texas calculates child support, and what to expect from your divorce, we hope to hear from you. Call us at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and together we can ensure that both you and your child are taken care of, as you being the next chapter of your family’s new normal.