In Texas child support is usually a huge issue in a divorce with children or child custody case. The Texas Family Code sets out guidelines for how to calculate child support in these cases. As a result of the wide range of income across the state, family law attorneys also see a wide range of child support orders. The child support guidelines under the Texas Family Code form a basic structure for calculating child support; however, family courts must consider the best interests of the child and may increase or decrease child support from the guidelines.
In considering whether to order child support above the guidelines the family court will consider facts and circumstances of the child, earnings of the parent ordered to pay child support and other relevant facts. Your family law attorney will advocate for your position but ultimately it will be up to the judge to consider the facts and order child support (if the parties cannot agree).
The Basics of Calculating Child Support in Texas
Calculating child support under the Texas Family Code begins with a calculation of the “net resources” of the obligor. (The obligor is the parent who will pay child support. The obligee is the parent who receives child support.) This formula is considered in the best interests of the child. That is not always the case and the best interests of the children involved in the divorce or child custody case may require considering more or less child support. After determining the net resources then the court will apply one of two basic formulas.
Net resources under the Texas Family Code
Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code addresses child support and specifically section 154.062 begins the calculation by describing net resources. Under 154.062 of the Texas Family Code net resources includes:
- all wage, salary and other employment-earned compensation;
- interest, dividends, royalty and other financial investment distributions;
- self-employment income;
- net rental income from real estate (income after operating expenses and mortgage payments);
- generally most other forms of income.
Under this section the court must make reductions for taxes, health insurance, other child support orders and a handful of other deductions.
Child support guidelines under the Texas Family Code
After calculating the net resources the court adopts a percentage owed as child support based upon the number of children and amount of net resources earned. The Texas Family Code as of 2021 sets out two charts for child support obligations based on the number of children and amount earned by the obligor.
If the obligor’s net resources are less than $1000 monthly the obligor will pay a lower amount. The normal threshold for net resources adjusts every six years for inflation. As of 2022 that amount is $7607.71 monthly. If the obligor earns more than $1000 then the child support guidelines apply to net resources up to $7607.71. Even if the obligor earns more monthly in net resources.
If the obligor earns between $1000 and $7607.71 in net resources the Texas child support guidelines sets child support as:
- 1 child 20%
- 2 children 25%
- 3 children 30%
- 4 children 35%
- 5 children 40%
- 6+ children at least 40%
If the obligor earns $1000 or less in net resources the Texas child support guidelines lowers the percentages to:
- 1 child 15%
- 2 children 20%
- 3 children 25%
- 4 children 30%
- 5 children 35%
- 6+ children at least 35%
(There are separate chart when the obligor owes child support to children in multiple households.)
If the obligor earns more than $7607.71 monthly in net resources the family court can order additional child support if it is in the child’s best interests and in consideration of the incomes of the parents.
To consider additional child support the court begins with the presumed amount based on the chart above as the starting point for the obligor’s duty. The court then considers the total needs of the child proven by evidence presented to the court. The judge will reduce the total amount the child needs by the presumed amount in the chart. The court will then allocate the difference between the two parents.
For example, if the obligor earns $10,000 monthly in net resources then the court will presume the obligor must pay the amount calculated under the top chart above. So for two kids the obligor would owe $2500 monthly. If the judge decides the two kids need $3500 monthly the judge could order the obligor to pay the full $3500 or anything between $2500 and $3500 depending upon the obligee’s income and other facts.
For a basic child support calculator, see this calculator from the Texas Attorney General.
Rebutting the presumed child support amount
Texas Family Code section 154.121 clarifies that the percentage-based child support is not an absolute calculation. The guidelines establishes a presumed amount that is in the children’s best interests; however, this is a rebuttable presumption meaning either party can prove why the presumed amount is not in the children’s best interests and a higher or lower amount is best for the children.
Often judges do not reduce child support below the presumed amount under the guidelines without very good reason. Even the most skilled family law attorney is unlikely to find much traction with these arguments. The policy reason for setting a presumed amount is to ensure children receive at least a reasonable amount of support from the obligor that the kids would expect to receive if the parents remained together.
It is more likely that good parents would spend more rather than less on the kids–especially when the kids need it–so judges often assume that is best for the children when the parents split. That said, on occasion judges will order less child support than presumed under the guidelines.
When considering whether to increase or decrease child support from the presumed amount the Texas Family Code provides factors for the court to consider.
Factors the Court Can Consider to Set Child Support Above the Guidelines in Texas
Before a Texas court can order child support above the guidelines the judge must consider evidence supporting that the increase is in the best interests of the children and just under the circumstances. The Texas Family Code fixates on the premise of the “best interests of the child” for all child custody and child support issues; however, support orders should not set up the obligor for failure at an amount that he or she simply cannot pay.
Texas Family Code section 154.123 outlines the factors a judge must consider before ordering child support above the guidelines. In addition to the basic premise of the best interests of the child the court must also consider:
(1) the age and needs of the child;
(2) the ability of the parents to contribute to the support of the child;
(3) any financial resources available for the support of the child;
(4) the amount of time of possession of and access to a child;
(5) the amount of the obligee’s net resources, including the earning potential of the obligee if the actual income of the obligee is significantly less than what the obligee could earn because the obligee is intentionally unemployed or underemployed and including an increase or decrease in the income of the obligee or income that may be attributed to the property and assets of the obligee;
(6) child care expenses incurred by either party in order to maintain gainful employment;
(7) whether either party has the managing conservatorship or actual physical custody of another child;
(8) the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance actually and currently being paid or received by a party;
(9) the expenses for a son or daughter for education beyond secondary school;
(10) whether the obligor or obligee has an automobile, housing, or other benefits furnished by his or her employer, another person, or a business entity;
(11) the amount of other deductions from the wage or salary income and from other compensation for personal services of the parties;
(12) provision for health care insurance and payment of uninsured medical expenses;
(13) special or extraordinary educational, health care, or other expenses of the parties or of the child;
(14) the cost of travel in order to exercise possession of and access to a child;
(15) positive or negative cash flow from any real and personal property and assets, including a business and investments;
(16) debts or debt service assumed by either party; and
(17) any other reason consistent with the best interest of the child, taking into consideration the circumstances of the parents.
The judge must consider evidence presented by both parents and their attorneys (along with any government agency involved) and weigh the evidence under each of these factors. The court cannot pick some and ignore others but judges make human decisions and some factors may weigh more favorably with some judges more than others. Your family law attorney should be familiar with the family court judges in your area and understand what evidence and factors will be most persuasive in your case.
Considering Facts that May Justify Deviating from Child Support Guidelines in Texas
Judges must consider these factors with the evidence presented so what evidence and how much all parties involved in a child support hearing present will guide the judge’s decision. An obligee’s case for ordering child support above the guidelines in Texas likely fails if the obligee only presents general arguments and his or her own testimony. Judges need to see evidence and while testimony by the parties is some evidence it does little to help the judge understand the financial needs of the children or the financial situation of the parents.
Documents are usually better evidence, especially for medical bills, education expenses and other definite financial needs. Bank account statements, retirement plan statements and other records of financial assets also present a better evidence that testifying that the obligor has or lacks financial resources.
Often parents who do not hire attorneys come to court with very little evidence and walk away disappointed with the results. They often believe the judge did not believe them. The reality is usually that the judge simply was not presented sufficient evidence to support the parent’s requests. The best thing any parent can do in a divorce or child custody case is to hire an experienced attorney.
How judges in Texas handle child support orders
Family court judges do not take increasing child support beyond the guidelines lightly. The Texas Family Code requires them to consider evidence which means the parties have to present enough evidence to rebut the presumption that the guidelines are in the best interests of the child. Judges understand as well that casually increasing child support will make it harder on the obligor to pay the ordered amount and support him or herself. If the evidence supports increasing child support above the guidelines they often will.
It is important to consider the judge involved and how that judge makes decisions. Judges are human and come to court with their own views about their work. The Texas Family Code empowers judges to consider evidence and rule within their own judgment (especially when the best interests of the child is the guiding principle). Your attorney must consider the law, facts, parties and the judge when deciding how to present your case in a child support hearing and how to advise you.
Some judges hold high standards for increasing child support above the guidelines and the obligee’s attorney has a lot of work to do. Some judges consider specific issues more important than others. Other judges will work hard to balance every factor and consider every fact. Most child support hearings are brief so knowing what evidence will persuade the judge most is extremely important to presenting the most persuasive case.
Hiring a child support attorney in Texas
If you expect to pay child support in a divorce with children or child custody case you absolutely should hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you and advocate for a fair child support order. An experienced family law attorney in your area will have not only legal expertise but also practical expertise of how judges rule in those courts. Your attorney will help investigate the claims on both sides and advise you on likely results under the facts in front of your judge.
Although child support calculations may seem straightforward in this brief discussion the calculation can be extremely complex. Arguments over net resources quickly become complicated and may require presenting significant financial records and experts on the nature of those assets. That is especially true in high net worth divorces.
Children with special needs often become complicated disputes in child support calculations. Child support calculations can also involve considerations of custody rights and possession orders, medical support orders, alimony and other issues involved in a divorce or custody case. Family law attorneys who deal with these issues daily are best equipped to advocate for you and help you navigate these complicated issues.