Texas Divorce Laws

How is Child Support Calculated in Texas?

By:
Sophia Merton
Updated
August 4, 2022

Parents have a duty to financially support their children under Texas law. In some cases, a court might order a parent to pay child support. How is child support calculated in Texas, and how does the process work?

When determining child support cases, Texas courts use the Texas child support guidelines to calculate the percentage of net monthly resources a parent should pay based on the number of children that require support.

However, the way that Texas calculates net monthly resources for the purposes of child support is a bit different than how you would normally determine your take-home pay.

Let's take a look at what you need to know about how child support is calculated in Texas and what the process entails.

Table of Contents

What Is Child Support in Texas?

Child support is the funds that a parent pays in order to help with the expense of raising a child, such as the cost of housing, food, clothing, daycare, activities, and school supplies.

how is child support calculated in Texas?

Parents are required to support their children under Texas law, and court-ordered child support can be ordered to ensure that both parents are helping out financially.

Both parents are expected to support their children financially, even if there isn’t a court order in place. A judge can also order a parent to pay child support. Additionally, divorcing couples can come up with a child support agreement as a part of their divorce settlement, so long as it is more than what is required under the Texas child support guidelines.

If a parent doesn’t help to support their child or doesn’t live with their child, the court might order “retroactive” child support to be paid to the custodial parent.

How Is Child Support Calculated in Texas?

There are general guidelines set by Texas law for calculating child support. These guidelines outline the percentage of the noncustodial parent’s average monthly net resources that should be paid to the custodial parent based on how many children require support.

calculator for calculating texas child support

The Texas child support guidelines outline the minimum amount of child support that is expected to support the basic needs of children, based on the net monthly resources of the obligor and the number of children requiring support.

The guidelines are as follows:

  • One child: 20%
  • Two children: 25%
  • Three children: 30%
  • Four children: 35%
  • Five children: 40%
  • Six or more children: 40% or more

For instance, let’s say that the noncustodial parent has average monthly net resources amounting to $5,000 and they have three children to support.

This would mean that the guideline child support would be $1500 per month ($5,000 x 30% = $1500).

It’s worth noting that the noncustodial parent gets credit for how much they are paying towards medical and dental insurance or cash support for medical and dental needs.

If there is more than one child receiving support, how much support is paid by the noncustodial parent will “step down” as the period of child support ends for each child.

In the example above, the noncustodial parent makes $5,000 and supports three children. This means that they pay 30% of their monthly net resources towards child support.

When the oldest child graduates from high school and turns eighteen, the support they pay will step down to 25% of their monthly net resources. This means that they would be paying $1250 each month as opposed to $1500.

Who Pays Child Support in Texas?

In Texas, the parent that is expected to pay child support is usually the individual that doesn’t have primary custody of the child, who is referred to as the “noncustodial parent.” Texas law refers to the parent that is ordered to pay child support as the “obligor.”

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Who Receives Child Support in Texas?

The individual with whom the child lives most of the time receives child support. In most circumstances, this is a parent, but it isn’t in every case. A parent that has primary custody of a child is known as the “custodial parent.”

custodial mother with kid receiving child support

In most child support cases, the custodial parent will receive child support from the noncustodial parent to ensure that both parents are supporting the financial needs of the child.

Texas law refers to the individual receiving child support as the “obligee.”

Medical and Dental Child Support in Texas

Medical and dental support are additional types of child support that a parent is ordered to pay.

What Is Medical Support?

Medical support is a form of support that a parent is ordered to pay on top of regular child support. The purpose of this support is to cover a child’s cost of health insurance and any uninsured health expenses.

kid at doctors office with health insurance through child support

Medical support and dental support are required to be paid by the obligor in addition to regular child support.

There are a number of ways that a parent can be ordered to pay medical support, which are:

  • Providing the child with health insurance coverage
  • Paying medical support in cash if the child receives Medicaid
  • Paying “cash medical support” to the other parent for the cost of health insurance coverage

The parent that is expected to pay cash medical support or provide health insurance for the child is usually the same parent that is ordered to pay child support.

However, they are only required to pay the “reasonable cost” of the child’s health insurance coverage. This means that the cost of providing health insurance isn’t more than 9% of their yearly resources.

For the out-of-pocket (or uninsured) medical expenses of a child, each parent is typically ordered to pay half.

What Is Dental Support?

Dental support must also be ordered by a court in addition to medical support. It is very similar to medical support, as it is additional child support that must be paid by a parent in order to cover the reasonable cost of uninsured dental expenses or dental insurance.

The methods through which a parent can be ordered to pay dental support are:

  • Providing the child with dental insurance coverage
  • Paying dental support in cash if the child receives Medicaid
  • Paying “cash medical support” to the other parent for the cost of dental insurance coverage

Again, the paying parent is only required to cover the “reasonable cost” or dental insurance coverage. Under Texas law, this means that the cost of insurance isn’t more than 1.5% of the yearly resources of the obligor.

Is Medical and Dental Support Included in Regular Child Support Payments?

No. Both medical and dental support are payments in addition to regular child support.

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What Do I Do If My Child Doesn’t Have Health Insurance?

If your child doesn’t have health insurance, they might qualify for coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid.

When Does a Judge Order Child Support?

A judge can order medical support, dental support, and child support in several different types of court cases. These are:

  • A divorce case
  • A paternity case
  • A Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship
  • A modification case
  • A family violence protective order case

How Is the Amount of Texas Child Support Determined?

Parents are always free to agree to pay more child support than required by the Texas guidelines. However, they cannot agree to pay less than the amount outlined by the guidelines. The minimum amount of child support owed by the obligor to the obligee is determined based on a percentage of the obligor’s net monthly resources.

To determine the baseline amount of child suppor that is required, the obligor’s gross income is calculated, certain costs are deducted to find the net income, and then a percentage of that amount is owed depending on the number of children requiring support.

How to Calculate Income For Child Support Payments

Whether you are expecting to pay or receive child support, you likely want to know how much the monthly child support payments will be. A parent’s net resources are used to calculate guideline child support, which isn’t the same thing as take-home pay.

For the purposes of child support, net resources are considered to be all of the money that is received by the noncustodial parent minus specific costs. We will outline these costs in the section titled “Determining Net Income.”

For people that have a single source of income, the easiest way to estimate your child support payments is by using the Monthly Child Support Calculator offered by the Office of the Attorney General.

It’s worth noting, though, that the actual amount that is approved or set by the court might be different than the amount determined by this calculator. It should be understood as an estimate, not a number that is set in stone.

For people with more than one source of income, estimating child support gets a little more complicated. Let’s look at how to determine gross and net income to get a sense of what you should expect when it comes to child support payments.

Determining Gross Income

For the purposes of calculating child support, “resources” refers to money from a variety of sources. The first step to estimating your child support payments is adding up the resources you receive, which include:

  • Wages and salary
  • Bonuses
  • Tips
  • Overtime
  • Self-employment income (including “gig economy” work starting 9/1/2021)
  • Dividend income
  • Retirement benefits
  • Severance pay
  • Annuities
  • Trust income
  • Pensions
  • Capital Gains
  • Interest income
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Veterans disability benefits (except for non-service connected disability pension benefits)
  • Social security benefits (except for SSI)
  • Gifts and prizes
  • Disability and worker’s compensation benefits
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Alimony and spousal maintenance

The following are not considered resources for the purposes of calculating income for child support:

  • Return on capital or principal
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Accounts receivable
  • Payments received for foster care of a child

If the noncustodial parent is remarried, a judge can’t incorporate the income of their spouse when determining the amount of child support owed.

Determining Net Income

Once you’ve added up all of the income sources to find the gross monthly income of the obligor, it’s time to subtract specific expenses to find the net income for child support purposes.

Subtract the following from the gross monthly income to determine the net monthly resources of the noncustodial parent:

  • Income taxes for a single person
  • Social security taxes
  • Union dues
  • The cost of health and dental insurance for the child if it is paid by the obligor, or the cost of cash medical support for the child if it is paid by the obligor
  • If the parent doesn’t pay social security taxes, they can subtract non-discretionary retirement contributions

Using the Texas Child Support Guidelines

Now that you have found the net monthly resources for the purposes of child support, you can use the Texas guidelines to determine what percentage of these monthly resources the obligor will likely be required to pay.

Once again, these guidelines are:

  • One child: 20%
  • Two children: 25%
  • Three children: 30%
  • Four children: 35%
  • Five children: 40%
  • Six or more children: 40% or more

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Are the Texas Child Support Guidelines Flexible?

The initial presumption when it comes to child support in Texas is that the guidelines are appropriate. If a parent believes that the amount of child support ordered should be more or less than the guideline amount, they will have to prove that the amount ordered doesn’t serve the best interests of the child.

The court will incorporate all relevant factors when determining whether the amount of child support ordered should deviate from the guidelines. Some of these factors include:

  • The age and needs of the child
  • How much time the child spends with each parent
  • Whether the custodial parent is able to support the child
  • The net resources of the custodial parent
  • Income, assets, debts, and financial resources of both parents
  • Legal custody or the managing conservatorship
  • The cost of childcare
  • Alimony payments made by the obligor
  • The cost of health and dental insurance for the child and which parent is paying for it
  • The cost of the child’s post secondary education
  • Whether there are unusual employment benefits offered to a parent
  • The cost of travel between parental homes for the child
  • Income from assets such as property
  • Extraordinary costs of raising a child

Can You Change the Amount of Child Support Paid in Texas?

When there is already a child support order in place, parents are able to ask for an order to be modified in there has been a substantial and material change to circumstances. This can include a change in:

  • The living arrangement for the child
  • The cost of health insurance and the medical needs of the child
  • The income of the obligor

Two parents cannot agree to a change in the amount of child support on their own, however. They must go through the court to modify a child support order.

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When Does Child Support End in Texas?

Child support most commonly ends when a child graduates from high school or turns eighteen, whichever is later. For children with a disability, however, child support might last longer, depending on what the court orders. The Texas Family Code outlines all of the guidelines surrounding the termination of child support.

For individuals that owe back child support, child support payments will continue until the debt has been paid in full, plus interest. This means that payments might be required after the child turns 18.

How Are Child Support Guidelines Applied in Texas?

The paying parent’s net monthly income (as calculated for the purposes of child support) is used to apply the Texas child support guidelines.

There are two standards that the court can apply at this point.

The first standard applies if the paying parent’s net monthly resources are less than $8,500. In this case, the court will look at the number of children that require support and apply the guidelines.

The second standard applies if the paying parent’s net monthly resources are more than $8,500. In these cases, the guidelines will only be applied to the first $8,500 of income.

If the obligor has children in separate households that they are responsible for paying child support for, the courts will incorporate this information and adjust the amount of money ordered for child support accordingly.

Can Child Support Amounts Deviate From the Guidelines?

Depending on the circumstances, courts may decide that following the guidelines would be inappropriate or unfair. In these cases, they may deviate from the guidelines.

Evidence has to be provided in order to prove that it would be in the best interest of the child for the amount of child support to deviate from these guidelines.

Disabled Adult Child Support

Under Texas law, child support can be ordered for an indefinite period if a child requires ““substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability and will not be capable of self-support” and the disability was known to exist or existed before the eighteenth birthday of the child.

Parents can sue for indefinite support of a disabled child or adult if they have physical custody or guardianship under a court order.

Child Support For Low Income Parents

Begining on September 1, 2021, there are a different set of guidelines for child support in Texas for individuals that have monthly net resources of less than $1,000.

What Are the Texas Child Support Guidelines For Low Income Parents?

Child support isn't calculated as a percentage of income under Texas law. Instead, it's calcuated as a percentage of monthly net resources.

For child support suits that were filed on or after September 1, 2021, noncustodial parents that have $1,000 or less in monthly net resources will have a lower percentage of child support ordered.

The following are the guidelines for noncustodial parents that qualify as low-income for the purposes of child support:

  • 1 child: 15% of the average monthly net resources
  • 2 children: 20% of the average monthly net resources
  • 3 children: 25% of the average monthly net resources
  • 4 children: 30% of the average monthly net resources
  • 5 children: 35% of the average monthly net resources
  • 6 or more children: at least 35% of the average monthly net resources

Under Texas law, the amount of child support that is ordered is required to be in the best interest of the child or children.

What Happens If There Is No Evidence About the Noncustodial Parent’s Income?

Court's can consider other relevant background information if there isn't any evidence regarding an individual's resources. Some of the information they might consider includes their:

  • Residence
  • Assets
  • Earnings history
  • Age
  • Job skills
  • Employment
  • Health
  • Barriers to employment
  • Record of seeking work
  • Criminal history
  • Educational attainment
  • Literacy

Courts will also look at factors including:

  • The prevailing wage in the obligor's community
  • Job opportunities in their community
  • Whether there are employers that are willing to hire the obligor

What Is the Child Support Process Like in Texas?

The process of putting a child support order in place will differ depending on your circumstances. If you're getting divorced with children, child support will likely be involved in that process. Child support cases can also occur in the case of unmarried parents.

Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity is the process of establishing legal fatherhood. This might not be necessary in all cases. However, biological fathers don't have legal rights to their children if they are unmarried until paternity has been established.

Establishing a Court Order

A child support order outlines how much child support, medical support, and dental support will be paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent every month.

In the state of Texas, these orders also address possession and access time (visitation) as well as conservatorship (custody.)

Collecting Child Support

The agency responsible for collecting and paying out child support payments is the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General. Parents can pay child support in a number of different ways. These include:

  • Paying by mail
  • Electronic payments
  • Cash or money order
  • Paying at kiosk locations
  • Wage withholding
  • Bank autodraft

Parents that are ordered to receive child support can have their payments sent by direct deposit or through a Texas Payment Card.

Enforcing Child Support

In the best case scenario, enforcing child support payments won't be necessary. If a parent doesn't fulfill their obligation, however, there are a number of tools that the state  can use to enforce the order.

Here are some of the ways that the Office of the Attorney General can enforce child support orders:

  • License suspension: The OAG can request that the agencies they work with (more than 60 of them) suspend driver's, professional, fishing, and hunting licenses if a person doesn't pay child support
  • Liens: The OAG can file liens on properties, retirement plans, bank accounts, personal injury claims, life insurance policies, and other assets if the parent fails to pay court-ordered child support
  • Passport denial: A parent that doesn't pay child support can be denied a new passport or a renewed passport

Child Support and Divorce

If you are getting divorced with children that are under eighteen, you'll have to consider how child support will factor in to the final agreement.

What If We Don’t Agree on Child Support?

If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on child support, it means that your divorce case is contested. It is generally advised to work with a lawyer if your case is contested.

Depending on your situation, you also might be able to get help from the Office of the Attorney General. While they aren't able to represent parents in a divorce case that involves child support, they are able to ask a judge to create orders for medical support , child support, possession, and custody.

Can We Make Our Own Child Support Agreement?

If a judge decides that an agreement that you and your spouse have reached regarding child support is in the best interest of the child, then they will sign an order that is based on the agreement you made. The agreement that you have come to needs to be in writing and must be included as a part of the order.

It's worth noting, however, that it can be more difficult to modify child support down the road if you and the other parent reached your own agreement that was different from the guidelines.

If We Are Sharing Time With the Children Equally, Will the Judge Order Child Support?

There might not be any need for child support if you and the other parent have relatively equivalent incomes. A judge will decide whether or not child support is required. If one parent earns quite a bit more than the other, a judge might calculate how much child support would be paid based on both parents' resources and then order the higher earning individual to pay the difference to the lower earning individual.

FAQ About Child Support in Texas

Let's look at some commonly asked questions about Texas child support.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay Child Support?

There are a number of repercussions you can face if you don't pay court-ordered child support. These include:

  • Being ordered to pay the child support you owe plus interest
  • Being sentenced to jail
  • Having your driver's license suspended
  • Having your fishing and hunting licenses suspended
  • Having your federal income tax refund taken from you
  • Having a lien filed against your property
  • Having your professional licenses suspended
  • Having your lottery winnings taken from you

Where Do I Send Child Support Payments?

There are a number of payment methods that you can use to pay your child support payments, including paying online or by phone, by mail, by bank draft, or by MoneyGram or Fidelity XPressPay.

It's important to note that you should not make child support payments to the other parent directly.

Instead, you will want to send all child support payments to the Texas Child Support STate Disbursement Unit (SDU). By paying this way, the court has a payment record that is impartial. When you make child support payments directly to the other payment, they don't count as child support and are instead considered gifts.

What Is “Back” Child Support?

If a parent doesn't help to support a child they don't live with, it's possible that a court will require them to pay "retroactive" or "back" child support.

This can occur even if there was never a court order in place. If a person doesn't pay child support when there was an order in place, they will be ordered to pay back child support with interest.

Can We Decide to Change Child Support Without Going to Court?

You cannot decide to change child support orders without involving the courts. Only the court can modify existing child support orders.

The Importance of Understanding Texas Family Law

Navigating the laws regarding child support can easily become overwhelming. While the Texas guidelines seem fairly straightfoward, there is a lot of other information about the process that is worth knowing. Whether you expect to pay or receive child support, having a sense of how the process works can help you make the best decisions for your children and let you know what to expect along the way.

Are you looking for more information about Texas family law? Be sure to check out our library of resources at TexasDivorceLaws.org.

Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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