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How Does Child Support Work In Texas?

Parents arguing with child covering ears

Texas child support not always easy to navigate

Our take on child support in Texas basics, challenges and shortcomings

Many divorced parents who pay or receive child support in Texas think it is relatively straightforward. Parents figure out how much child support needs to be paid or received based on the Texas child support laws.

Court orders confirm the amount and method of payment. If parents disagree, there might be a court hearing or required mediation to arrive at the right amount, but eventually, a court-ordered child support payment is made. And that’s that, right?

While child support may be straightforward in some cases, parents often disagree. In addition, how Texas calculates child support is different than other states. We might even argue that the child support formula Texas uses doesn’t make logical sense, with the amount allowed inadequate or unfair to some parents.

It’s also worth noting that child support is “big business” in Texas, In fact, Texas child support is akin to a nearly $4.4 billion business, the amount collected in 2018—higher than any other state in the nation. Because the system is so large, it can be slow to change and remain stuck with old technology and procedures far longer than anyone would like.

How does child support work in Texas?

HOW THE PROCESS WORKS: Many people are unaware that parents can apply to open child support cases by requesting application forms and applying online or in person. Afterward, the child support office will schedule a negotiation conference with the other parent. If the parents are unable to agree on visitation or child support issues, the case will be transferred to the government courts. If you have questions about the process, it’s typically best to contact the child support offices Texas makes available to you in the county where you reside

If neither parent petitions for child support, the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) can still open a legal case once a custodial parent applies for public benefits, such as Medicaid. However, it is worth noting that the OAG has no authority over enforcing visitation rights.

HOW THE AMOUNT OF CHILD SUPPORT IN TEXAS IS DETERMINED: In general, child support guidelines in Texas include:

  • Noncustodial parents are required to contribute 20 percent of net income for one child and an additional five percent for each subsequent child.
  • Noncustodial parents with five or more children on child support are required to contribute at least 40 percent of net income.
  • Parents who are unemployed are still required to pay child support.
  • Noncustodial parents who have children in multiple households may have their child support order altered accordingly.

In addition, Texas Family Code Chapter 154 does include certain allowances for children with disabilities, special needs and mental health issues, as well as medical coverage. If your child requires special medical care or support, your attorney can help you work out a settlement that addresses those needs.

HOW CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS ARE HANDLED IN TEXAS:

  • PAYCHECK DEDUCTION: Noncustodial parents who are employed might have the child support payments directly deducted from their paycheck.
  • CHECK OR MONEY ORDER: Child support payments can be submitted by check or money order to the State Disbursement Unit.
  • ONLINE: Parents can also make the support payments online. The OAG tracks the account records and allows parents to access their payment history through the state’s child support website.

Four reasons Texas child support payments get complicated

  1. Systemic problems affect child support payments.
    For example, outdated information and other problems in the state’s computer program or system can result in incorrect information. The antiquated system is decades old and updating information is very cumbersome. Inaccurate or delayed information can mean that a parent may be wrongly penalized or a child may lose support.

    A project to upgrade the child support technology in Texas is over budget and behind schedule, making it hard to predict when the system will become more effective for parents and state employees. More than $300 million has been spent to upgrade the system but the state’s IT contractor continues running behind and legislators are hesitant to fork over more money.

  2. Child support payments can be stolen by employers.
    Parents who have child support payments withheld from their paychecks are vulnerable to fraud and theft. A father in East Texas thought he was making his child support payments every month through payroll deductions, but found out his employer had pocketed the money intended for his six children. The father calculated that over seven years, $32,000 had been withheld from his paycheck that never reached his children. The employer, who runs a small auto repair business, finally admitted that she had taken the money because “things were tight.”

    Scenarios like this one are not unique. More than 70 percent of child support payments are either withheld from paychecks or garnished. According to an attorney quoted by a Tyler, Texas, TV station, there are a growing number of cases involving small-business employers withholding payments but not sending them to the attorney general’s office.
  3. Interstate child support orders complicate matters.
    When a parent receiving child support no longer lives in the state where the order was issued, things can get complicated. For example, a Texas mother who received child support as a result of a court order in Washington stopped receiving child support when her daughter turned 18.

    The state of Washington said that child support ends at 18 unless a child is in school. The child was being home-schooled under Texas law after her 18th birthday. The mother was told that she had to comply with Washington’s home school law since the support order was issued in Washington.
  4. Parents use the independent contractor scheme to avoid paying child support.

    The most common problem related to collecting child support is that the paying parent disappears, stops working or, in the case of some Texas parents, becomes an independent contractor. When workers become independent contractors, they no longer receive wages—they are no longer employees.

    Collecting child support from an independent contractor is not easy.This arrangement is used by employers that wish to avoid payroll taxes and by parents who wish to stop paying child support. Child support payments cannot be withheld because there are no withholdings for independent contractors.

    A variation on this theme is the workers who are paid in cash or under the table, making it very difficult to find them. Parents who are supposed to be receiving child support may not have much recourse in situations like these because the system is cumbersome and varies depending on where the parent lives.

    Seeking help from a Texas divorce and family law attorney may be the best way to resolve problems with child custody and child support payments. Attorneys can file suit against nonpaying parents and employers that steal withheld support payments. They can also hire investigators to track down missing parents if needed.

Three reasons Texas child support guidelines don’t make sense for Texas families

Many parents who speak with our Fort Worth family lawyers say child support guidelines in Texas don’t adequately address their children’s needs. Conversely, other parents tell us their paychecks aren’t big enough to cover child support and the rest of their bills.

Do Texas child support guidelines miss the mark? As detailed above, chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code is pretty clear on how much child support the state allows. Unfortunately, those guidelines don’t always serve the best interest of every child—or their parents.

While some parents do have unrealistic expectations about child support, our state’s guidelines don’t make sense for a lot of Texas families either. Here are three reasons we should all take a closer look at child support in Texas.

  1. The way Texas calculates child support is different than other states (and less logical). Other states calculate child support based on the amount of time the parent has possession of the child, who is paying for what expenses, and who has access to what resources (financial and otherwise). That brings in a litigation component regarding the child support amount itself, which is great, because that’s what should happen realistically.

    That’s not how it works in Texas. In fact, we’d even go as far to say that the way other states determine child support is often fairer to parents (and children) than the way it is calculated in Texas.

    Based on the overriding principle of standard visitation, the state of Texas uses a formula for statutory child support that is based on the number of children a couple has together AND the monthly net resources of the payor. Texas also places a cap on net resources, which is adjusted every six years based on inflation. Effective Sept. 1, 2019, Texas raised the child support cap from $8,550 to $9,200.

    Unfortunately, for people who make under that $9,200 per month threshold of support, especially the ones who make right up to it, it’s typically not a fair process. It’s also not fair when an affluent breadwinner makes well over the threshold amount and gets capped at $9,200.

    For example, say you have a husband with a medical surgeon’s income of $1.8 million a year and a spouse who has been a stay-at-home mom during their 15 years of marriage. Based on Texas child support guidelines, she ends up with a little over $1,800 a month for a teenager in private school who participates in all sorts of activities that she’s become accustomed to. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    That’s not to say that a wealthy breadwinner won’t provide more money to pay child support because he or she wants what’s best for his or her child. It simply means that the state won’t require the parent to pay more, unless the child has special needs.

  2. The average cost to raise a child in Texas is probably higher than the state estimates.
    Texas also bases its threshold level for child support on the USDA annual estimate of families’ expenditures (the most recent estimates are based on 2015 calculations). However, in a 2016 report, the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP), operating under the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, asserts that the state’s estimate is flawed.

    The CFRP bases that claim on two key facts: The USDA calculations are insufficient for a state “as large and diverse as Texas,” and they don’t account for the additional costs that come into play when you raise a child across two households.

    To come up with a better estimate, the CFRP developed the Texas Cost of Raising a Child (CORC) model. According to the CFRP, “The Texas CORC model estimates costs for single-parent and married-parent households, and importantly, across two households and finds that the average annual cost of raising a child across two households ($13,465) is higher than that for both single-parent ($10,616) and married-parent families ($11,004).”

  3. Parents who think they pay too much child support, often underestimate child-rearing costs, too.

    Let’s get real. It costs a lot to raise a child. In fact, it usually costs a lot more than most parents realize because they overlook or underestimate expenses, like what it costs for the child to participate in sports, ballet lessons or other extracurricular activities.

    They also forget about “peer pressure costs”—those extra expenses parents pay for the Air Jordans or designer clothes their kid has to have because all of the other kids do. Something extra always comes up.

    And if we’re really getting real here … A lot of parents—men AND women—simply can’t stand the fact that they’re paying money to their ex. Not that they want to begrudge their child food, clothing and a roof overhead. It just stings when they see their ex spend money on themselves (for a vacation, getting nails done, happy hours with the guys, etc.) because they somehow think their child support money is paying for that.

    If you feel that way about your ex, it’s time for a reality check. Most parents share the child-rearing expenses, which means they both contribute to the child support coffer in some way. Just because your child support payment went into your ex’s account yesterday, and your ex’s paycheck is going in next week, that doesn’t mean he or she is spending your money on himself or herself today.

Is your ex late paying child support? Learn more about your options here.

Get clear on details and think long-term when negotiating child support in Texas

One of the biggest causes of division when negotiating a divorce with child support is not taking time to hammer out what the child support will actually cover. One parent may assume it covers extracurricular activities, while the other may not. If you want to avoid conflict down the road, it’s important to classify—in writing—what expenses will be covered by child support and who will be paying for what.

Other parents run into problems when they agree to split heftier expenses like private school tuition. Those expenses can vary greatly depending on which private school a child attends, so it’s important to spell out specifically how much you are willing to pay. School, extracurriculars and other expenses also get more costly as kids get older, so you’ll want to keep that in mind as well.

Hire an experienced divorce attorney to help you negotiate a fair child support agreement in Texas

While our personal goal at the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth is always to negotiate a child support agreement that best meets our client’s goals, we also believe it’s important to try to reach an agreement that is fair to both sides. People who start getting greedy and ask for too much usually find out that approach backfires. Extending the olive branch can go a long way.

If you live in Tarrant County and have more questions about child support options, contact us. Our founder Fort Worth divorce lawyer Justin Sisemore would be happy to meet with you one-on-one to review your case. To schedule a consultation with Justin, call the firm at (817) 336-4444 or visit our contact page to schedule online.

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