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Texas Child Support Laws: What Does the Law Say?

Sophia Merton
July 23, 2022

If you're getting divorced with children, there's a good chance you're trying to figure out how child support is going to factor into your life. If you live in the Lone Star State, the place to begin is by learning more about Texas child support laws.

So, what does the law say?

The laws surrounding child support can be found in Texas Family Code Chapter 154. In this document, the ability of the court to order either or both parents to support a parent is outlined, as well as when child support ends in different circumstances, and more.

Looking at this type of information can make it seem more complicated than it is, though. The guidelines outlining how much money a parent needs to pay for child support are actually fairly straightforward in Texas. Let's dive in and take a look at everything you need to know.

What Are the Texas Child Support Laws?

There are child support guidelines in Texas, just like there are in all U.S. states. These guidelines intend to determine how much child support should be paid by an unmarried or divorced parent.

girl with camera outside receiving child support in texas
How much money a parent pays in child support is related to their net income and how many children their payments intend to help support.

The guidelines laid out by Texas law are pretty simple. The amount of money that is owed by the parent that is going to pay support is based on their net income. However, it can get a bit more complicated when you have to figure out what is included in net income for the calculation, and when departing from the guideline might be appropriate.

The reason for having these child support guidelines is so that both parents are held accountable for supporting their children and that the basic needs of children in Texas are met. However, in some instances, parents can agree that there isn’t a need for child support.

If parents choose to argue that child support doesn’t need to be paid one way or the other, a judge will consider a number of different factors. They will compare the incomes of each parent and look to see if they have similar resources annually. If this is the case, and parents can equally afford to pay for the expenses of the child and agree to split them, child support may not be ordered by the judge.

A judge might consider not ordering support if both parents have complete faith that the other parent will pull their way in supporting the child.

There are certain issues that can arise from this type of arrangement, however.

What Are the Texas Child Support Guidelines

You can find the guidelines for child support in Texas Family Code Section 154.001.

The standard guidelines are based on a percentage of the monthly net resources of the person paying child support in addition to the number of children they are providing support for.

group of kids in texas family receiving child support
The child support guidelines in Texas outline the percentage of a parent's net monthly income that should be paid to the custodial parent based on how many children are being supported.

Here is the breakdown of what percentage of a parent’s net income will be paid toward child support depending on the number of children:

  • 1 Child: 20%
  • 2 Children: 25%
  • 3 Children: 30%
  • 4 Children: 35%
  • 5 Children: 40%
  • 6 or More Children: Not less than 40%

It’s worth noting, though, that these guidelines only apply in situations where the person paying child support has $7,500 or less in monthly net resources. This limit is revisited and readjusted every six years.

How much money a parent has to pay toward child support can be decreased if they already have children that they have to pay child support for.

If you're getting divorced and money is tight, you might not just be stressing about child support but also about the total cost of divorce. You can learn more about the cheapest options for divorce in Texas here.

How Are the Child Support Guidelines Applied in Texas?

The Texas child support guidelines are applied based on the paying parent's net monthly income. There are two standards that the court will apply after net monthly income has been determined.

little girl and baby lying on bed receiving child support in texas
There are two different standards that can be applied, depending on whether the paying parent has more or less than $7,500 in monthly resources.

The first standard applies if the net monthly income of the paying parent (or obligor) is less than $7,500. The second standard applies if their net monthly income is more than $7,500.

In cases where the parent paying child support makes less than $7,500 a month, the court will simply look at how many children need support and follow the guidelines listed above.

If the obligor makes more than $7,500 a month, the court will use the same calculations but only for the first $7,500 of the parent’s income.

However, if the parent receiving child support (the obligee) argues that the child needs more money per month to meet their monthly need, they will need to prove it to the court. If the court finds this compelling, they will order that more child support is paid by the obligor.

Some needs that might qualify in this regard include:

  • Additional medical costs
  • Tuition
  • Extracurricular activities

Because Texas law doesn’t specify how child support is used, however, an obligee could argue for necessary expenses beyond these examples.

How much money the court orders the obligor to pay in addition to what is outlined in the guidelines, will be directly related to the cost of the expense that has been proven to be necessary. For example, if the obligee can only prove that it would cost $250 extra a month to meet the needs of the child, the court will only award $250 more than the guidelines require.

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Can Child Support Be More or Less Than the Guideline Amount?

In a child support case, a judge will start from the presumption that the amount of support dictated by the guideline will the amount that is in the best interest of the child.

little boy with hat and bag receiving child support in texas
The amount of money you pay (or receive) for child support can deviate from the guidelines, but only if the court deems it to be appropriate and fair. Parents can, however, agree to child support payments in an amount that exceeds how much is required by the guidelines.

In some circumstances, though, the judge might order a different amount of support. They will do this if they believe that applying the guidelines as they are written would be inappropriate or unjust.

The judge will consider a long list of factors when making this decision, including:

  • The ability of the parent to support the child
  • The needs and age of the child
  • Whether either parent is paying post-secondary education costs for a different child
  • Whether either parent has custody of another child
  • Expenses associated with childcare
  • The net resources of the custodial parent
  • Travel expenses if the parents live far from one another
  • How much time the child spends with each of their parents
  • Spousal maintenance or support that is being paid or received by a parent
  • Additional extraordinary expenses, such as those for education or health care

If the judge chooses to order a different amount of child support is paid, he or she is required to explain the reason that it would be inappropriate or unfair to follow the amount dictated by the guidelines.

If you and your spouse believe that a higher amount of child support is appropriate, you are always able to agree to such an arrangement. If you want to create an agreement where the amount of support is less than that outlined in the guidelines, however, you’ll need to prove to the court that it would be inappropriate to follow the guidelines.

In child support cases in Texas, the child’s best interest is the most important thing. If the judge doesn’t believe that a lower amount of child support would be in their best interest, they won’t approve your agreement.

If you and your spouse started the divorce process but aren't sure whether you want to try and work things out, you might be wondering if your divorce petition will simply expire. On the other hand, you might be worried that you've waited too long and you have to start the divorce process over again. Check out this article to learn about whether divorce petitions expire in Texas.

Who Pays Child Support in Texas?

In Texas, either parent can pay child support. In most cases, though, the noncustodial parent will pay child support to the custodial parent.

The custodial parent is the person that has primary physical custody of the child or children. The noncustodial parent is the one who spends the least amount of time with the child or children.

The reason for this is that the law assumes that the custodial parent will be paying for the day-to-day expenses of the child while they are in their care. The idea isn’t that the noncustodial parent takes care of all of the child’s expenses, but instead, helps do their part and pays a fair amount.

When Do Child Support Payments End in Texas?

Child support payments typically end when the child turns eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever event happens later. They will also end automatically if a child that had once been considered disabled is no longer considered as such, if the child gets married, or if they pass away.

There are some instances, however, where child support can be ordered indefinitely. The reason for this is if the court deems the child to be either physically or mentally disabled and therefore in need of prolonged care past the age of adulthood.

How Do I Calculate My Monthly Income For Child Support?

The Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) provides a helpful online Monthly Child Support Calculator that can be used to find a simple estimate for child support.

If you have more than one source of income, though, this calculator isn’t particularly useful. That’s because the calculator assumes that your resources are all coming from one place.

If you have more than one source of income, you’ll have to figure out what your net monthly income is and then use the guideline to get a sense of how much child support you will owe or be owed.

Finding Gross Income

The first step is to find your gross income. For the purposes of calculating child support, you will want to add up:

  • Any salary or wages you receive, including tips, commissions, bonuses, overtime, and military pay
  • Any dividends and interest you receive
  • Any self-employment income you receive
  • Any rental income you receive from a property you own

Even if you’re unemployed, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. For the purposes of calculating child support, some benefits, awards, and pay you receive are considered income. These include:

  • Severance pay you are receiving
  • Retirement benefits
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Disability benefits
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Awards for workers’ compensation

A judge can even decide to consider some of your assets to have income value, even if they aren’t active or currently producing income. A good example of this would be a second home. For instance, if the noncustodial parent is unemployed but has property that they could produce income from by renting it out or selling it, the judge might determine the market value of the property as income that the parent could be receiving.

Some parents try to avoid making money in order to avoid making support payments. This is known as being voluntarily underemployed or voluntarily unemployed. If this occurs, judges might determine how much child support is owed by how much money the parent could be earning, not by how much money they actually are earning.

Finding Net Income

Now that you’ve determined your gross income, it’s time to find your net income. Certain types of costs can be subtracted from your gross income, which are:

  • Union dues
  • Social security taxes or any mandatory retirement plan contributions if you don’t pay social security taxes
  • Health and dental insurance premiums as well as additional medical expenses for the child or children that you’ve been ordered to pay by the judge
  • State and federal income taxes (based on the tax rate that applies to a single person claiming one exemption)

If you are already making child support payments for another child or children from a separate relationship, you can also subtract the monthly payments you make from your gross income.

Health Insurance

It’s important to understand that the obligor will also have to cover the health and dental insurance for the child or children in addition to the support amount calculated under the guidelines. The law presumes that coverage will be provided by the noncustodial parent.

If it makes sense for the other parent to provide health insurance, however, this responsibility can shift. An example of this would be if the noncustodial parent’s employer doesn’t provide health insurance for dependents while the custodial parent’s employer does.

How Is Child Support Collected in Texas?

You might think that the hard work is over once child support has been established, but the next step is actually collecting (or paying) support. Parents are able to pay child support in several different forms unless it is otherwise specified by the order.

The forms of payment that are accepted include:

  • Check
  • Cash
  • Direct deposit
  • Bank transfer
  • Venmo
  • Zelle

The reality is, though, that most Texas divorce decrees and custody orders contain language that specifically prohibits a parent from making direct child support payments to the other parent.

The reason for this is that direct child support payments are considered informal payments of child support. Most orders for child support in Texas will state specifically that informal payments are considered additional payments, not payments in lieu of child support.

What this means is that any money that one parent pays directly to the other parent is usually considered a gift.

You will want to stop immediately if you’ve been making direct payments to the other parent. In these instances, start making payments through the proper venue. You can go to the Texas Attorney General’s website to get a copy of an Affidavit of Informal Payment or you can work with a family law lawyer to help you get the forms you need.

The goal here is to get the other parent to execute an affidavit confirming that the child support payments were received.

  • Parents are able to pay support through the Texas Attorney General’s Office (OAG) through their Child Support Division. There are different payment methods that can be used here, including wage withholding and online payment.

If you are struggling to collect child support from the other parent of your children, you can apply for assistance at the Child Support Division website of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Are You Getting Divorced With Children in Texas?

Getting divorced is likely one of the most stressful and difficult things you'll ever do. When there are kids involved, it can make the whole process more complex, overwhelming, and heartbreaking.

That being said, you've likely already spent countless hours thinking about how your divorce will impact your kids. You probably went back and forth trying to decide whether you want to try and "make it work for the kids" or if your children would be better off post-divorce.

When it comes to figuring out what the arrangement will be for child support, the ideal situation is for you and your spouse to come to an agreement that benefits the child and fulfills the Texas guidelines. Many people feel that the amounts outlined in the Texas guidelines are hardly ever sufficient in relation to how much it costs to raise a child, and two spouses in an amicable divorce might choose an arrangement where a larger amount is paid each month.

Regardless of how much you decide (or are ordered) to pay or receive, understanding the laws in Texas is essential if you're going through a divorce with kids. It isn't always a great time learning about the ins and outs of the legal system, but you'll find that your stress is inversely related to how much you know about Texas family law in the ways it pertains to you.

Are you looking for more resources to help you learn what you need to know during your divorce? Be sure to check out our library of family law articles at TexasDivorceLaws.org.

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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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