Texas Child Support Laws to Know when Divorcing

A parent and a child together hold a heart with an EKG heart rhythm symbol drawn on beside the words "Texas Child Support Laws"

Child support is often one of the most contentious issues involved in a Texas divorce case. Even couples that inherently agree on custody and visitation may disagree on such issues as child support arrangements. The state of Texas has strict guidelines for resolving these issues. These can be helpful, but also confusing. Keep the following child support regulations in mind as you proceed with your divorce:

Who Pays Child Support in Texas?

In Texas, the custodial parent is officially referred to as the conservator. While your parenting plan may call for both parties to spend considerable time with your shared children, one person typically takes over a greater share of childcare duties. In such situations, the other parent is responsible for paying child support.

As the Texas Attorney General points out, child support is not determined by the parent’s gender. In Texas, ten percent of non-custodial parents are mothers.

Determining the Amount of Child Support Paid

Child support payment levels are typically based on two factors: the number of children and the non-custodial parent’s income after taxes. The state outlines these basic child support guidelines:

  • One child: 20 percent of the non-custodial parent’s net income
  • Two children: 25 percent
  • Three children: 30 percent
  • Four children: 35 percent
  • Five or more children: 40 percent

The Texas Family Code mandates that all income be counted when determining child support payments. This includes not only regular paychecks, but also overtime, bonuses, commissions, and income from freelancing or running side businesses.

Children from other relationships may factor into the amount the non-custodial parent is required to pay. Courts handle these considerations on a case-by-case basis.

In many cases, the non-custodial parent is not employed. Lack of employment does not remove the obligation for paying child support; rather, courts may assign payments by calculating what somebody working a forty-hour week at a minimum wage job might earn. Even parents who are full-time students or under the age of 18 are responsible for paying support.

How Are Child Support Payments Made?

Once specific payment amounts have been determined, the non-custodial parent can arrange for necessary funds to be taken out of each paycheck. This is typically the easiest approach to paying child support. However, non-custodial parents are also permitted to send child support payments directly to the State Disbursement Unit. Additionally, online systems exist for fulfilling child support obligations. Approved options include e-childsPay and ExpertPay.

What Happens if the Non-Custodial Parent Fails to Make Payments on Time?

Custodial parents sometimes threaten to cut off the non-custodial parent’s visitation access in response to child support non-payment. This is not a valid proposition, as visitation and support are entirely separate matters. Both parents must fulfill their obligations, regardless of the other party’s behavior.

Under Texas’ contempt of court rules, non-custodial parents can be sent to jail for failing to abide by court orders — this includes failure to pay mandated child support. Each violation could result in fines of up to $500 and up to six months behind bars.

Can Child Support Arrangements Be Modified?

In select cases, it may be possible to modify child support arrangements. Modifications are typically due to recent joblessness, medical issues, or other matters that make it difficult to abide by child support obligations. Modification is not possible unless the original child support order was created (or last modified) at least three years ago or there is is a substantial change in circumstances. Additionally, the original payment amount must differ from the proposed payment amount by at least $100 or 20 percent.

Can Child Support Be Paid As a Lump Sum?

While most non-custodial parents in Texas disburse child support through regular paychecks, other options are available. Sometimes, parents will agree to handle child support through a lump sum. However, lump-sum payments do not remove the potential for future modification; if the court determines that the payor’s situation has “materially and substantially” changed, monthly support beyond the original lump sum may be ordered.

When Does Child Support End?

In Texas, non-custodial parents are required to continue paying child support until each child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. Local courts determine support based on whichever milestone occurs later. Child support may also end if the child in question becomes emancipated through marriage or other means.

The more you understand local child support laws and how they apply to your case, the better. When in doubt, consult Attorney Alison Grant. She and her team will assist you with everything from child support calculations to payment enforcement and modification.