What is the purpose of child support? Its Purpose & Legal Definition

What is the purpose of child support

Why does child support exist? In the state of Texas, and most states in general, both parents have a legal obligation and duty to financially support their children when those children are in their care. Questions of child support and who pays child support arise when parents get divorced or an unmarried couple breaks up after having a child together.

From a legal perspective, the purpose of child support is to ensure children are properly cared for when parents are not married or in a committed relationship. Each state has established its own laws regarding child support. In the state of Texas child support is statutory, which means that Texas child support laws (see Texas Family Code Chapter 154) dictate who pays child support (one parent or both), how much they will be required to pay and what penalties they will face if they do not pay.

In addition, another reason states have laws regarding child support is to establish what is called “contemptible enforcement,” meaning if a party doesn’t pay child support as ordered, they can be subject to being held in contempt of court. They can be placed in jail, their licenses may be suspended (driver’s licenses, professional licenses, etc.), and their non-payment of child support will be reported to the credit bureaus. Consequently, there is a higher degree of teeth to the remedy in the event somebody does not pay child support.

Now, some parents don’t understand what is the purpose of child support in certain situations where parents share custody. They wonder why does a mother or why does a father have to pay child support when they share custody almost equally? I’ll weigh in on that momentarily but first let’s consider …

What is the legal definition of child support?

In general, child support is designed to provide for the reasonable care and support of a child while not in the care of the party who is paying child support. In states like Texas, parents may also be ordered to pay a certain amount for medical and dental support, including health insurance, in addition to child support.

If you’re looking for an actual “legal definition of child support,” the 2nd Edition of Black’s Law Dictionary defines child support as follows:

A method of compensating a parent needing monies for raising and sheltering a child by another who has the means to manage the expenses associated with child support. A court of law usually determines the payments, based on the income level of the other parent. Stiff fines and even jail time can be imposed for a parent failing to keep up payment. The courts take a dim view for scofflaws (violating laws).”

In reality, the definition of child support (and amount parents have to pay) may be different for individual families based on their unique situation and the state where they live. For example, the state of Texas allows the court to take into consideration certain factors when establishing child support outside of the standard child support guidelines dictated by the Texas Family Code.

According to Texas Family Code Section 154.123, “The court may order periodic child support payments in an amount other than that established by the guidelines if the evidence rebuts the presumption that application of the guidelines is in the best interest of the child and justifies a variance from the guidelines.”

Along with special considerations made for child support of a disabled child, the court may also consider factors like both parents’ ability to support the child, child care expenses, financial resources available to support the child, the child’s educational needs and more. Your child custody lawyer can explain what factors may apply to your situation based on the laws where you live. 

Keep in mind, it’s generally an uphill battle to overcome the presumption of best interest when it comes to Texas child support guidelines. The burden of proof will be on the parent trying to overcome the presumption, and their evidence needs to be strong. 

What is the purpose of child support when parents share custody?

As I stated in my previous blog, How Much Is Child Support in Texas, I think some Texas laws on child support don’t make a lot of sense, and for a variety of reasons. But the Texas child support statute is the law, and parents have to abide by it unless the two parents can agree to an alternative child support plan and the court also agrees to it.

In Texas, the parent who pays child support is usually the non-custodial parent (also known as the “obligor”). The parent who receives child support is referred to as the custodial parent or primary conservator (also known as the “obligee”). Since 2021, most parents with custody orders in Texas follow an expanded standard parenting plan.

The expanded standard parenting plan (the current standard in Texas) is pretty close to a 50/50 custody arrangement but not quite. This leaves many non-custodial parents wondering why do you have to pay child support when you have custody of your children almost 50 percent of the time, especially if the two parents earn comparable incomes? (It’s also why so many parents fight so hard to get 50/50 custody agreements.)

In these cases, the parent’s perception is that if they’ve got possession of their child 46% of the time and both parents make the same amount of income, why don’t they just pay for that other 4% of time versus the full boat child support required in Texas? I must say, I agree. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but again, it’s the law. Unless you can convince the other parent (and the court) to agree to an alternative child support arrangement, you’ll have to pay what the statute requires.

What is the purpose of child support and how is it handled when parents are wealthy?

One of the arguments often overlooked in family law is that child support is designed for the care and support of a child, BUT attorneys and their clients are also required to show that the child support ordered is in the best interest of a child.

It isn’t unusual for attorneys to agree to child support in a case where both parties make a substantial living. The attorney for the non-custodial parent will often just agree to give the custodial parent the maximum amount of child support because their client is not the primary parent. On the other hand, there are avenues parents can take to try to stop that and pursue agreements outside of child support.

Generally, the best way to do that is by figuring out what arrangement would most benefit the child. For example, if you have a child in private school and two parties who both have substantial resources, a good attorney will likely say, “The courts aren’t inclined to want to give you the payment for the private school, which runs around $2,000 or so month, so we need to look at different options.”

The idea here is that the custodial parent would get $1,840.00 per month (current maximum amount dictated by Texas Child Support Guidelines) but they would end up being responsible for paying for the private school, the nanny and a host of other expenses that never get factored in because they are not statutory. That’s another layer of the onion that really requires analysis to figure out what the true benefits are for the child and the family.

I frequently have clients who opt for different arrangements and share expenses for their children.  Along with sharing tuition costs, some even share nannies or share that expense specifically when a child’s in childcare, even if one party uses the nanny more than the other, since you can’t fractionally pay for that.

The point is that parents in these situations do have options as long as they are willing to work together to find a resolution. It simply involves looking at the various aspects of the situation and expenses involved, then figuring out whether or not the term “child support” needs to be in the mix.

Agreements made outside of child support should be put in writing

Parents who do want to work out an alternative agreement to child support really need to make sure such an agreement is enforceable and in writing. That way if one party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, such as paying their half of the child’s school tuition, there are remedies available for the other parent to collect those funds.

I can’t stress enough here that it’s really important to retain an experienced child custody lawyer to draft your formal agreement to ensure it will be enforceable in a court of law. The agreement should also include what remedies would be available should a party not meet the obligations agreed to in the agreement. For example, if a party fails to pay the agreed to tuition, a remedy could be included in the agreement that would allow a court to order that their wages be garnished due to non-payment.

On a final note, some parents will agree to do an offset of child support based on equal time and other reasons. In those situations, it’s generally a good idea to state the income of both parents in the order and make each party obligated to pay the offset under different scenarios. That way it will be less likely they will have to go back to court to sort those details out later. This is especially helpful if one parent’s income or work schedule changes drastically at some point, prompting the need to file for a modification of custody, visitation and/or child support.

We can answer your questions about the purpose of child support in Texas

If you share custody of a child and have questions about child support, such as who would pay child support in a situation like yours, how much child support is the non-custodial parent expected to pay, when do divorce partners pay for child support equally, and so on, contact us. We serve clients in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and are here to help!

To schedule a confidential case review with a family law attorney at the Sisemore Law Firm, please call our office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.

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