Child Support Lawyers in Texas
Child support is a major issue in many Texas divorces and child custody cases. Children are expensive to raise and parents do not always agree on financial issues with them. Child support often is an ongoing issue after the initial divorce or custody case. It may result in modifications and enforcement proceedings down the road. The Texas Family Code requires that all parents support their children financially but when the parents do not live together it also requires one parent to pay the other support. If you are involved in a case with kids, then you should work with an experienced child support lawyer to advocate for your interests and your kids’ interests in your case.
Texas Family Code and child support payments
Although child support seems like a simple issue, it is often hotly contested because there are many smaller issues that combine to determine child support payments. The first question to ask is: what is included in my child support obligation in Texas? Under Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code, child support includes:
- Food and basic living necessities
- Educational expenses
- Healthcare–which includes both paying for health insurance and unreimbursed medical expenses
- Extracurricular activities
Child support obligations are not blank checks for the obligor to write but they also are not the absolute minimum for your child to survive. Determining the amounts due depend upon several factors including:
- How much the obligor parent makes
- How many children that parent supports
- What additional needs the child may have above the basic calculation
- How the parents divide custodial time with the child
- Other financial resources available to support the child
- Travel costs to exercise possessory time
- Child care expenses necessary for either parent to remain employed
- The parent’s net resources
- Whether the parent paying child support is underemployed or unemployed
- Whether spousal support is paid by the parents
Although the Texas Family Code provides a guideline calculation for child support payments, facts of your case may justify raising or lowering the amount due. This is why it is important to work with an experienced Texas family law attorney who can evaluate the facts of your case and advocate for you.
How do you pay child support payments in Texas?
Undoubtedly the number one method of a non-custodial parent to pay child support is through an income withholding order (IWO). Under an IWO the non-custodial parent pays child support as a payroll deduction. The withheld income goes to a child support registry that monitors payments and sends payments to the custodial parent. That is not the only way a parent can pay child support in Texas.
A parent can pay child support through other means, including:
- Periodic income withholding from non-wage compensation, such as retirement income or investment income;
- Lump sum payment from existing assets;
- Purchasing an annuity that pays child support payments;
- Assets turned over to a trust which funds child support payments.
The “right” method for child support payments depends upon the financial resources of the non-custodial parent, the needs of the child and the needs of the custodial parent. Your child support lawyer will help you understand your options and advise you on the best method.
Which parent pays child support in Texas?
At the conclusion of a divorce or child custody case, the court will divide possessory time and custodial rights between the parents. Typically one parent has possession of the child for more time than the other parent. Because this parent (referred to as the custodial parent) has to support the child through most of the year, the other parent (referred to as the non-custodial parent) will make child support payments to assist with those expenses.
Increasingly parents agree to more balanced time with the kids. In these situations one parent may have a small amount of additional time with the kids than the other. When this happens the court typically orders the parent with less time to pay child support to the other parent; however, the amount may be less than the guidelines require to account for the balance of time. Some parents opt for a 50/50 arrangement. In these situations the court will often consider a more balanced financial support arrangement as well.
The child support obligation should reflect not just the income and financial resources of the parents but the financial investment each parent makes in the children. Your child support attorney can evaluate the proposed custody agreement to determine a fair child support arrangement.
What counts as income when calculating child support in Texas?
Child support obligations must consider the financial resources and income of the obligor parent. A parent generally cannot be forced to pay support he or she never would have been able to provide if the parents remained together. Parents cannot magically increase their income because it would provide a better life for their children, no matter how much they might desire that.
The general rule is that the non-custodial parent must report their monthly net income from all income sources to calculate child support payments. This includes employment-based income such as wages, overtime, commissions and tips. Certain deductions are permitted from employment-based income. Child support guidelines also consider non-employment income such as SSDI, investment earnings, severance pay, retirement income and business revenue. When a parent is unemployed or underemployed the court generally must consider the income that parent should earn based upon earning potential.
The basic calculation of child support payments in Texas includes:
- 20% of net income for one child;
- 5% extra for each additional child up to four children;
- Five or more children requires paying at least 40% of net income;
- Non-custodial parents with children in multiple households adjusts the balance of payments accordingly.
Determining the appropriate monthly net income of the non-custodial parent is not always a simple task. An incorrect calculation can set child support obligations at too little or too much. That can cause issues for the child as well as the parents. An experienced child support lawyer can help ensure the court considers the appropriate income amount.b
Common problems with Texas child support payments
Correctly calculating payment amounts is not the only challenge with child support in Texas. Many problems can arise just trying to find accurate information on the net income of the non-custodial parent and obtaining a child support order in the first place. Once you have the order you may continue to face challenges. These include:
The non-custodial parent stops working or loses employment
Sometimes parents lose jobs which results in no income for an income withholding order to withhold. Even if the non-custodial parent stops working, the child still has needs and the child support obligation does not stop. You may have to pursue a child support enforcement to collect unpaid child support. Alternatively, the non-custodial parent may not find work at the same income and may ask the court to modify the order to reflect the new, reduced income.
The non-custodial parent’s employer steals child support withholdings
Non-custodial parents try to avoid income withholding by becoming an independent contractor
Terminating parental rights and child support
In Texas parents have a legal duty to financially support their children. That legal duty comes to an end if the parent’s rights are terminated by court order. Family courts generally do not terminate rights unless the parent is a risk to the child’s welfare or the child has been adopted. Parents sometimes incorrectly believe if they seek voluntary termination of their rights they can avoid child support. Courts do not allow parents to discharge their child support obligations so easily. That may not stop a noncustodial parent from pursuing it or threatening to terminate their rights to avoid child support. The custodial parent may also threaten to terminate the non-custodial parent’s rights which would end the child support obligation. There are financial risks to consider with terminating the parent’s rights.
Why you need a child support lawyer on your side
Child support obligations can carry serious consequences for everybody involved. A child support lawyer can advocate for a fair obligation that considers the facts involved and the best interests of your children. When a court orders child support it can create a long term problem if the amount ordered is disconnected from the facts in the case. The parents may fight over modifications and enforcements until the child becomes an adult. Child support enforcements can carry stiff penalties up to jail time. If the child support amount is lower than what the court should have ordered, then that can create financial problems for the child and the custodial parent. Other parties involved in child support cases, like the Attorney General and judges, may be more interested in getting your case off their docket than the right result. Your child support lawyer will fight for what is right.