Understanding Texas Child Support Guidelines - A Comprehensive Guide

Friday, June 23, 2023


If you are involved in a child custody dispute, you should know Texas' statutory guidelines for child support. These guidelines are calculated using a parent's monthly net income.

Sometimes child support demands seem unreasonable or unfair. Nevertheless, a judge takes child support obligations very seriously. They can deviate from the guidelines if there is evidence that it would be in the children's best interests.

What is a child support order?

Many people in Texas who pay or receive child support may think the process is relatively straightforward. They figure out how much they need to pay or will get based on the law, and then a court agrees with their calculation, confirms it in order, and the payment is made.

In principle, calculating child support is relatively simple but can be difficult. To achieve the most significant outcome for you and your kid, it is best to speak with a family law expert regarding the Texas child support guidelines.

The first step in calculating child support is determining the noncustodial parent's gross annual income or resources. Then, the court divides that number by 12 to develop the monthly net resources. Finally, the court calculates the amount of child support by multiplying that number by the percentage established by Texas statute.

One of the most important factors is the age and needs of the children involved. If a judge feels that the proven needs of the children warrant more than what is reflected in the guidelines, they may deviate from those guidelines.

Another factor that can be a big deal is the ability of the payer to provide affordable health (and sometimes dental) insurance for the children. Additionally, there may be debts assumed by either party, which can affect the amount of child support.

How is child support calculated?

Generally speaking, child support payments are determined by the state's guidelines. The formula takes a parent's gross income, subtracts certain costs, determines a net monthly income, and then divides that number by the number of children to arrive at a basic support amount.

Parents may be able to agree to pay more than what the Texas guidelines suggest, but they cannot agree to pay less if judges believe that the facts of the case warrant departing from the rules. They may do so.

For example, if a parent has a unique job situation that requires them to work unusual hours and makes it difficult to plan for the future, they may be able to argue for above-guideline support. Other reasons a judge would consider awarding more than the guidelines suggest include the cost of extracurricular activities, extraordinary medical expenses, childcare, and the custody arrangement (including the number of overnights each parent has).

The state's guideline amounts are only meant to be a discussion starting point. Child support is a matter for the court, and you must have an experienced attorney working on your behalf. 

What are the guidelines?

State law sets the guidelines for calculating child support. Judges follow the guidelines but can adjust up or down from the amount set by the guidelines. They must have a reason to deviate from the guidelines. The most common reason for a deviation is that the children's needs warrant more than the guideline amount.

In addition, Texas law compels payers to provide health (and dental) insurance for their children if they can afford it. It can sometimes be a significant cost, and a judge may allow a deviation from the guidelines to cover the cost of such coverage.

The state guidelines are based on the percentage of a payor's monthly net resources and the number of children needing support. For example, for one child, the amount is calculated at 20% of net resources; for two children, 25%; for three is 30%. However, the state has a cap on net resources that is adjusted every six years, and the cap was recently raised to $9,200 per month in September 2019.

It is vital for parents who are paying or receiving child support to know that the guidelines are not necessarily the final word on their payments. For example, if a parent's income changes substantially, they may request a modification to their child support agreement with the help of an attorney.

What if the guidelines are not fair?

Under Texas law, a court may deviate from guidelines when determining that such an action is in the child's best interests. The courts can consider a broad range of relevant factors to determine.

Generally, the amount of child support a noncustodial parent pays is based on a percentage of their monthly net resources. The percentage is determined by the number of children needing support and other statutory factors. For example, a single child support obligation is calculated at 20% of the paying parent's net resources; two children equals 25%, three children equals 30%, and six or more equals 40%.

Parents are legally required to pay child support unless the court orders. Parents sometimes stop paying or paying less than what the court ordered. Often, a parent stops paying for a better custody or divorce agreement.

A qualified family attorney can help parents understand the complex laws of child support. Using plain-language charts, an attorney can explain how Texas child support is determined and the consequences of failing to pay.

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