Parents have a responsibility to support their children financially. When parents split up, one of the ways a parent can fulfill his or her financial responsibility for the children is through child support payments. The child support system can seem confusing to many Texas parents, leaving them with questions about how much support the court will order and how the court determines the amount of child support payments.
When Will the Court Order Child Support?
The court issues child support orders in a number of cases. When parents divorce, the court often orders the non-custodial parent to pay child support. In cases where the parents never married and a parent is trying to establish paternity or legally name a child’s father, the court will usually include a child support order. Similarly, if a parent is requesting custody or visitation, the court may include child support orders.
The court may order either parent to pay child support, although it is usually the non-custodial parent paying. Under Texas law, a child’s parent is a biological mother, an adoptive mother, a man presumed to be the father because he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth, the man determined to be a child’s biological father, a man signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity or an adoptive father.
How Much Child Support Does a Parent Pay?
The Texas legislature has established guidelines for how much child support a parent should pay. If a parent has no children other than the ones involved in the proceeding before the court, the guidelines suggest the parent pay the following percentages of his or her net resources in support payments:
- 20 percent for one child
- 25 percent for two children
- 30 percent for three children
- 35 percent for four children
- 40 percent for five children
- At least 40 percent for six or more children
If a parent has other children to support, the percentage of a parent’s net resources that he or she will need to pay in child support decreases.
How Does the Court Calculate Child Support?
The court looks at all forms of income a parent earns such as wages, overtime pay, commissions, rental income, unemployment or disability benefits, retirement savings, trusts and annuities to determine the parent’s gross monthly income. The court does not include a parent’s spouse’s income in the calculation.
The court then deducts Social Security taxes, federal income taxes, state income taxes if they apply, health insurance premiums for the child and union dues to calculate a parent’s net income, then applies the appropriate percentage from the guidelines to the net income amount.
What Other Factors Does the Court Consider?
Judges have broad discretion in setting child support payment amounts. The statutory guidelines are not binding, and judges may consider the unique circumstances of each parent when determining a child support order the serves the child’s best interests. Some of the factors a judge may consider include:
- Alimony or spousal support payments
- Educational needs of the child
- A parent’s earning potential if unemployed or underemployed
- Employee benefits a parent may have, such as housing or a car
- Medical expenses incurred by the child
- Child care expenses
- Travel expenses a parent accrues exercising visitation rights
- Any other factor the court feels impacts the child’s best interests
How Long Does a Parent Pay Support?
The court may require a parent to pay child support until either a child turns 18 years old or graduates high school, whichever is later. If a child has special needs the court may order support indefinitely. If a child is emancipated, married or dies before turning 18 years old, the obligation for child support ends.
Parents with further questions about child support should contact an attorney with broad experience in child support matters.