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What is Included in Child Support in Texas?

Sophia Merton
July 21, 2022

If you're getting divorced in Texas and you're starting to research child support, you might find yourself stumped. What is included in child support in Texas, anyways?

Navigating the divorce process is difficult enough when you don't have children, but it can reach an entirely new level when there are kids involved. During this time, you're likely working out a custody agreement or parenting plan, figuring out where everyone will live, and trying to determine how to reduce the negative impact divorce has on your kids. When you add in the complexity of what child support can and can't be used for, it can all feel like a bit much.

In Texas, child support is intended to be used to help cover the cost of a child's basic needs. Beyond that, though, they don't particularly specify what is and isn't considered an acceptable expense. That being said, a person who is using child support to pay for things that don't benefit the child could be considered to be misusing the funds.

Let's take a look at what you need to know about what is and isn't included in child support payments in Texas.

What Is Child Support in Texas?

Child support is money that one parent pays to another in order to help supplement the expenses associated with a child’s care and household expenses. In Texas, these payments are typically made by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. The idea is that the custodial parent already contributes to the costs of raising the child from his or her own income, so the noncustodial parent chips in to help take on some of the responsibility for expenses related to having a child.

Texan child running in orchard receiving child support
In Texas child support cases, the parent that spends the least amount of time with the child usually pays child support to the custodial parent.

Texas has child support guidelines, like all states, to help figure out how much money an unmarried or divorced parent should contribute for their child or children.

The guidelines are based on the net income of the individual that will be paying child support. Figuring out exactly what should be factored into your net income, though, is a little less straightforward.

Texas law does not clearly define what child support is intended to cover. In general, though, these funds are meant to help cover the cost of a child’s basic needs. These include:

  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Medical
  • Education (public)
  • Dental care

The parent receiving child support, however, ultimately has the discretion to use the money in a way that they feel is appropriate. For example, it is admissible for a parent to use the money to help pay their mortgage or rent if the child is living with them.

The standard set by Texas law comes in the form of a minimum rather than a maximum standard of support. When considering child support cases, the state “presumes” that these guidelines are in the best interest of the child.

Parents are free to agree (either voluntarily or through a decree) to a different amount of child support so long as it is more than the minimum outlined in the state guidelines. It isn’t uncommon for parents to feel that this minimum standard amount is not sufficient for fairly handling the expenses related to raising a child.

Most people pay child support in installments that are taken directly out of their paychecks by their employer and submitted to the state to be distributed to the other parent. However, depending on the agreement reached between the two parents, child support can also be paid in the form of:

  • A lump sum
  • An annuity
  • A property settlement
  • A combination of the above

What Is Temporary Child Support?

During the period of time when a divorce is pending, a temporary child support order may be in place. This is a child support arrangement that will only last for a specific period of time before the divorce has been finalized and the more permanent child support orders are made.

Are you wondering whether you can save money during your divorce by representing yourself? Is it a good idea to get a DIY divorce? Check out this article to learn what you need to know about getting divorced in Texas without a lawyer.

What Is Retroactive Child Support?

Retroactive child support is child support that might be legally due by one parent even though they were never ordered to pay in the past. It’s important to note that there are limits on how long you can claim that you should receive retroactive child support and also limits on how far back in time you can go.

child supported by stool texas divorce
In some cases, you might be able to recover child support that should have been ordered in the past but wasn't for one reason or another.

In some cases, retroactive child support decisions will involve the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

What Is Medical Support in Texas?

Medical support must be provided to children by Texas parents. For custody cases and divorce cases beginning September 1, 2018, or later, parents are also required to provide dental support.

girl at doctor medical child support texas
The parent paying child support is usually responsible for providing health and dental insurance for the child.

Here are some important points about the laws regarding medical and dental support in Texas:

  • If it is available at a reasonable cost, the parent paying child support has to provide both dental and medical coverage. The cost of health insurance is considered “reasonable” if the total cost of health insurance for all children that payments are being made for is not more than 9% of the annual resources of the payer. Dental insurance is considered to be “reasonable” in cost if the total cost of this insurance for all children the parent is paying support for isn’t more than 1.5% of their annual resources.
  • If it isn’t possible to get medical and/or dental insurance at a reasonable cost for the children, the responsibility for providing these types of insurance will fall on the parent receiving child support, so long as it is available to them at a reasonable cost. However, medical and dental insurance premiums will still be the responsibility of the parent paying child support. The parent that is paying child support to the other will be ordered to pay “cash medical support” in an amount not more than 9% of their gross resources for medical and 1.5% for dental.
  • A judge will order the parent that is receiving child support to apply for health insurance through a government program if neither parent can access private health and dental coverage at a reasonable cost. As outlined in the above point, the parent that is paying child support will pay cash medical support not exceeding 9% of gross resources for dental and 1.5% of gross resources for dental.
  • How uninsured and uncovered medical and dental expenses (such as deductibles and copays) are paid for is up to the parents. Texas courts aren’t required to order the parents to split these costs evenly.

Parents have the right to come to an agreement that is different from the specifications of the law regarding medical and dental insurance policies and premiums.

What Is Included in Child Support in Texas?

Texas law does not outline the specifics of what child support payments can and cannot be used for. However, the purpose of child support in the Lone Star State is so that the child’s minimum basic needs are met. Child support is paid until the child graduates from high school and turns eighteen, unless the child becomes emancipated, gets married, or passes away.

two kids standing on bridge child support texas
Texas law doesn't give much guidance on what child support payments should be used for beyond expressing that payments are intended to help ensure that the minimum basic needs of the child are met.

Basic needs include:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothing

Bills including the mortgage or rent and utilities can also be paid for using child support payments. This is because they are necessary expenses in order to provide housing for the child in question.

Child support payments can also be used toward education fees such as buying textbooks, tutors, and school lunches. If your child attends private school, you might want to work out an agreement where tuition and additional costs are factored into the child support agreement. However, if you ask the court to include private school tuition in a child support order, they might not approve it.

Another purpose child support costs can be used for is childcare. Whether this means using a local daycare service or hiring a babysitter occasionally, this is an expense that is understood to benefit the child.

Child support payments can also be used toward travel and entertainment, as well as other items that are deemed reasonable and fair given the specific circumstances.

As mentioned above, Texas requires medical child support. You can find the details of who is expected to cover the cost of health and dental insurance in the previous section.

What Isn’t Included in Child Support in Texas?

There are a number of expenses that are not typically factored into the calculation of child support. These include:

  • College tuition
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Vacations

If there is enough money from child support payments beyond meeting the child’s basic needs, however, the receiving parent can use child support payments towards these costs. It is not a misuse of funds so long as the money is going toward benefitting the child.

Child support will most likely not be approved for activities or expenditures that are considered unnecessary. Your circumstances will dictate what is considered necessary. In general, a court might not approve child support for:

  • Private school tuition
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Luxury items, such as designer clothing or jewelry
  • A car for children old enough to drive
  • Other unnecessary expenses

Parents can choose to ask the court to include arrangements for these additional areas or work out arrangements on their own. Either parent also has the ability to ask the court to change child support payment orders when the circumstance changes.

Some changes in circumstance that might qualify for modifying child support payments include:

  • Decrease or increase in income
  • New living arrangements for the child
  • Incarceration of a parent
  • Remarriage of a parent
  • Changes in health care coverage
  • Military deactivation

If you have reason to believe that the child support payments you are making aren’t going towards the care of your child or children, you will likely want to talk with a family law or divorce lawyer. It’s important to note, though, that family law courts typically consider a wide range of expenses to be acceptable when it comes to using child support so long as it is benefiting the child.

The custodial parent can use the payments for basic needs, and household necessities, save them for emergencies, or save them for the cost of education in the future.

If your ex is spending money on him or herself, however, or is spending the money on things that don’t have to do with the benefit, welfare, and support of the children and the household, you might want to take action.

If you choose to inform the authorities about the misuse of child support payments, it’s worth noting that you will need to prove that the payments are being spent in a way that is harmful to your children or illegal or provide evidence of abuse or neglect.

Do You Have to Pay Extracurricular Expenses in Addition to Child Support?

Judges typically see extracurricular activities as a valuable and healthy part of the social development of a child. For this reason, courts often approve requests for reasonable costs of extracurricular activities.

Some of the activities that child support may be applied to include:

  • Musical instruments and lessons
  • Sports programs
  • Camp
  • Art activities
  • Many other extracurricular activities

If you and your spouse are informally married, you might be wondering what it means for the two of you to get divorced. Because Texas law sees informal marriages as just as valid as formal marriages, the process you will go through will be the same, so long as you can prove that a marriage existed. You can learn more about common law marriage in Texas here.

Can I Contest Certain Child Support Expense Payments?

If you want to question the expenditures of child support in Texas, you will want to go through the proper channels. There are serious and severe consequences to violating child support orders. This means that you should file the proper paperwork rather than refusing to pay or otherwise breaking the court order.

Once you file the paperwork, the court will review how child support funds are being used. After looking at all of the relevant factors, a judge will make a decision about whether child support payments are reasonable and in the best interest of the child.

What to Know About Child Support Enforcement

If the parent that is supposed to make child support payments fails to do so, the receiving parent can go to the court to seek enforcement of the order or agreement. There are a number of different methods that are used to enforce child support payments, including:

  • Garnishing wages
  • Seizing tax refunds and lottery winnings
  • Suspending licenses, including drivers, hunting, and business licenses

If the paying parent continues to not make payments, they could be held in contempt of the court. This could result in jail time.

If you're concerned about the ongoing cost of child support, you're also likely thinking about how much the entire divorce process is going to cost. You can read more about what to expect when it comes to the cost of a Texas divorce here.

When Does Child Support End?

Child support commonly ends when the child either graduates from high school or turns 18– whichever occurs later. If a child is disabled, however, the court can order that child support payments continue to be made indefinitely.

If a child gets married, they are automatically ineligible for child support. This is also the case if they pass away or if a court order removes them from disability status.

Another reason that child support can be terminated early is if they become emancipated before they turn eighteen. Emancipation is something that happens if a child enlists in the military, gives birth to a child of her own, or gets married.

What Is the Most Common Child Support Issue For Parents in Texas?

Probably the most common issue that parents face when dealing with child support is not having a clear sense of what the payments are intended to cover. Since the law doesn’t make specific guidelines about what child support precisely covers, it is somewhat common for parents to undergo mediation to help work out the details of their arrangement.

What Happens If a Parent Stops Paying Child Support in Texas?

If the parent that is supposed to pay child support stops paying, a judge can choose to enforce the order in the state of Texas. They can do this by imposing a fine, holding him or her in contempt, and, eventually, ordering jail time.

The state might also choose to withhold income from the paying parent in order to garnish the appropriate amount for child support owed. On top of that, they can suspend various state-issued licenses including driver’s licenses, professional licenses, and hunting licenses.

It doesn’t matter if one parent disapproves of the way that the other is using the money– they are not allowed to simply stop making child support payments. If you want to change the child support order because of a change in circumstances, you will have to go through the courts. The punishments for not paying child support can be quite severe.

Can I Change My Child Support Payments?

A change in the amount of support given can be changed under Texas law for the following reasons:

  • Circumstances have changed materially and substantially
  • Both parents agree to the change
  • When the “three-year” rule applies

If both parents agree to the change being made to the child support order, it is just a matter of filing the proper paperwork (assuming that you are not changing the amount to less than the guideline dictates.) Though this is the simplest way to change child support payments, it’s important to realize that ultimately only the court can modify the child support order.

If the reason for changing the order is because of a substantial and material change in circumstances, the person that is requesting the change will need to prove that this change occurred after the most recent child support order was initiated or the most recent modification. Or, they will have to prove that it was after the date that a collaborative law agreement or mediated agreement about child support was signed by both parents, whichever date is earlier.

The judge will ultimately decide in these cases if the changes in circumstance warrant changing the order.

The three-year rule is outlined by the Texas Attorney General’s Office as follows:

“Grounds for a modification include a material and substantial change in the circumstances of a child or a person affected by the order, or the passage of three years since the last child support order and a difference in monthly payment by either 20 percent or $100 from the child support guidelines. A parent subject to a child support order may request a review of the ordered child support amounts every three years by contacting the Office of the Attorney General.”

Are You Getting Divorced With Kids in Texas?

It can be incredibly frustrating to feel like your co-parent is using child support payments for things you don't feel are appropriate. At the same time, it can be equally aggravating to feel as though your co-parent is hyper-critical of how you are using the money.

It's worth knowing, though, that it's generally difficult to identify misuse of funds because of the broad purpose of the child support laws. Courts typically do not see funds as being misused unless the basic needs of a child are not being met.

Understanding how child support in Texas works can help you come to terms with this new financial arrangement, whether you're the payer or the payee.

Are you getting divorced in Texas? Are you trying to figure out what your post-divorce life is going to look like and what to expect from the divorce process? Be sure to check out the rest of our library of Texas family law articles.

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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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