Divorcing spouses might not see eye to eye on everything, but one thing parents can concur on is that children don’t come cheap. From diapers to fishy crackers to college, the price tag on kids only gets higher, the older they get—a fact that holds true, even during divorce.
When parents divorce, Texas courts will almost always require the non-custodial parent to pay child support. The exact amount will largely be determined based on annual income, and the number of children who need support.
Child Support: The Basics
To start off, child support is money paid by one parent to another, and is designed to help cover child-related expenses, post divorce. These payments are required in almost all divorces involving minors, and cannot be limited or restricted by a prenuptial agreement.
In Texas—as in most states—the question as to “who pays” and “how much” is heavily influenced by custody.
Relationship Between Custody and Child Support
The longstanding presumption held by Texas courts is that a child’s best interest is served through having a loving, healthy relationship with both parents whenever possible. And to this end, judges try to split a child’s physical time between spouses as evenly as possible.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make an equal split. With outside influences like school, work, and childcare arrangements all vying for a child’s attention, it’s generally more feasible to make one spouse the primary resident parent (or, “custodial parent”) while the other gets ample visitation rights.
This type of custody division leaves custodial parents responsible for the bulk of a child’s everyday needs and expenses. Hence, judges typically require non-custodial parents to make child support payments, in order to offset any financial inequity.
Parents who want more control over how these arrangements are finalized are always free to work out a parenting plan on their own, or through mediation.
Calculating Child Support
To get an idea of how much child support you might need to pay, state guidelines offer this simple formula:
(Gross Yearly Income) ÷ (12 months) – (deductions) x (percentage per child)
= Estimated monthly payment
Here’s a closer look at how all that breaks down.
Gross Yearly Income
This takes into account all forms of a non-custodial parent’s income. Not only does this include regular paychecks, but also unemployment benefits, social security or disability payments, alimony from a previous relationship, business revenue, investment payoff, rental property payments, and even inheritance funds.
For child support purposes, deductions include monthly payments made for:
- Social security taxes;
- Federal and state income taxes;
- Union dues; and,
- Medical and dental insurance.
When deducting federal and state taxes, keep in mind these numbers will be for filing as a single adult—no family write offs.
Medical and dental deductions are excluded from child support because they will be addressed in a different section of your parenting plan. As a matter of law, parents who divorce are required to provide health insurance for their children.
Percentage Per Child
The final element of the child support equation is to divide net resources by a percentage that is determined by the number of children you have.
- 1 Child – 20%
- 2 Children – 25%
- 3 Children – 30%
- 4 Children – 40%
- 5 Children – 40%
- 6 Children – No less than 40%
With these percentages in mind, let’s say that a non-custodial parent has two children, makes $100,000 per year, and can subtract $3,000 in monthly deductibles. If we plug those numbers into our equation, it’d look a little something like this:
($100,000) ÷ (12 months) – ($3,000) x (%25)
As you can see, this parent would end up paying roughly $1,333 in monthly child support payments. We say “roughly” here, because judges are always free to modify the total amount up or down as they see fit.
We should also note that this equation doesn’t apply to the upwardly affluent. Non-custodial parents who make more than $9,200 per month should consult an attorney about child support estimates, since standard guidelines aren’t applicable.
Enforcing Child Support
Courts in the Lone Star State don’t mess around when it comes to enforcing child support. Indeed, for each order of support a judge makes, an order for wage garnishment is automatically paired with it.
Upon divorce, this order will immediately be sent to the non-custodial parent’s employer, requiring them to deduct child support payments directly from regular paychecks, before depositing any money in the parent’s account. This ensures that support payments are made in full and on time every month.
Parents can agree to forego the wage garnishment, however, if they do, the payer will need to distribute funds through the Texas Child Support Disbursement Unit. This organization will then forward money on to custodial parents, as payments cannot be made directly to custodial parents.
If wage garnishment doesn’t work, failure to pay child support can result in some pretty hefty consequences. Some of the tools at a court’s disposal include:
- Suspension of driver’s license;
- Passport denial;
- Liens on property and businesses;
- Reporting to the credit bureau;
- Intercepting tax refunds; and even,
- Withholding support from lottery winnings.
On the off chance that none of these things are strong enough motivators, belligerent parents who refuse to pay support can even find themselves in contempt of court. This charge can often result in steep fines, and anywhere from six months to two years of jail time (in addition to the funds already owed, of course).
Modifying Child Support
All that being said, Texas courts understand that life changes sometimes present challenges to making full or timely payments. If there is a legitimate reason you’re having trouble paying support, it’s possible you may be able to have your order altered.
Where modifications are concerned, though, it’s not enough for parents to reach an agreement between themselves. While parents are free to discuss these alterations, changes to child support are not legally enforceable until a judge puts it into an order.
Duration of Child Support Payments
According to state law, child support must be paid until the child turns eighteen, or they graduate from high school (whichever comes later). The only way for support to end earlier than that, is if the child:
- Gets married; or,
- Is emancipated from biological parents.
We should also note that—because of age—college is not automatically included in child support calculations. However, higher education costs can—and often are—addressed in a separate section, if it’s something that’s important to both parents.
Child Support Attorneys in Texas
Calculating child support payments can be a tiresome and stressful process. Between income sources, deductions, and custodial nuances, even a simple formula can turn complicated, making it difficult to know what to expect, once the dust settles around your finances.
At Neal Ashmore, we understand the stress that comes with this uncertainty, and don’t want you to go it alone. If you have further questions about how custody and income could affect child support in your divorce, we want to hear from you. Call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help you find the best arrangement for your child.