Like all states, Texas has child support guidelines for figuring the amount of support that a divorced or unmarried parent should pay for a child or children. The guideline itself is fairly straightforward—it's based on the net income of the parent who will pay support. But the rules can get complicated when it comes to figuring out what goes into net income and when it's appropriate to depart from the guideline.
In Texas, physical custody—the amount of time a parent spends with a child—determines who will make child support payments. Although a judge may order either or both parents to support a child, in most cases the "noncustodial parent" (the parent with the least amount of time with the child or children) pays child support. (This parent is also called the "obligor" in Texas child support laws.)
Just because the noncustodial usually pay child support, that doesn't mean the other parent is off the hook for the costs of raising a child. Instead, the law assumes that the custodial parent support the child by spending money directly on the daily cost of raising the child.
Under the "income percentage" method used in the Texas child support guidelines, the amount of child support is generally based on a percentage of the noncustodial parent's net monthly income.
For a simple estimate of child support in your case, you may use the online Monthly Child Support Calculator provided by the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG). But the calculator is designed only for situations when the custodial parent has a single source of income. For all other situations, you'll need to determine net monthly income and the guideline amount of support by following the steps explained below.
For child support purposes, income includes:
Even unemployed parents probably still have some income from sources such as:
(Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062 (2022).)
If it's appropriate, a judge may also assign an income value to a parent's assets that don't currently produce income (like a second house). For example, if an unemployed parent inherits property that could be sold, the judge might consider the property's market value as part of the parent's income.
To figure the parent's net resources for paying child support, subtract the following costs from the total gross income:
Parents who already pay child support for another child or children (from a different relationship) may take a credit for those payments. (Tex. Fam. Code §§ 154.062, 154.128, 154.129 (2022).)
Once you've established the noncustodial parent's net monthly income (1/12 of the annual net income), multiply that number by a percentage based on how many children will be included in the child support. When net income isn't above or below a certain threshold, the percentages are as follows:
If the noncustodial parent's net monthly resources are less than $1,000, each of the percentages shown above are reduced five percentage points (so they range from 15% to 35%).
When the noncustodial parent has net monthly resources above a certain level ($9,200 a month, under the adjustment made in 2019), the judge may increase the amount of support, depending on both parents' incomes and the child's needs.The threshold changes every six years to account for inflation.
In addition to the support amount calculated under the guidelines, the parents will also have to cover the child's health and dental insurance. While there is a presumption that the noncustodial parent will provide coverage, that responsibility can easily shift to the other parent if it makes more sense—for instance, if the custodial parent's employer provides health insurance for dependents but the noncustodial parent doesn't have coverage. (Tex. Fam Code §§ 154.008, 154.181, 154.1815 (2022).)
The judge will start out by assuming that the amount of child support under the guideline will be in the child's best interests. But the judge may order a different amount of support if applying the guideline would be "unjust or inappropriate" in the specific case. When making that decision, the judge will consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:
In any order for child support that varies from the guideline, the judge must spell out the reasons why the guideline amount would be unfair or inappropriate.
You and your spouse may always agree to an amount of child support that's higher than the guideline amount. But if your agreement provides for an amount that's below the guideline level, you'll need to explain why applying the guideline would be inappropriate. The judge won't approve your agreement unless it's in the child's best interests. (Tex. Fam. Code §§ 154.122, 154.123, 154.124, 154.130 (2022).)
Establishing child support is only half the battle. You'll also need to collect support. A noncustodial parent must pay the full amount of support each month as ordered. If your order doesn't specify otherwise, a parent may pay child support in the form of cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, Zelle, or Venmo.
If you need or want help collecting child support, you may apply for assistance online from the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General's Office (OAG), or call the toll-free number (800) 252-8014. Parents may pay support through the OAG by different methods, including online and through a wage withholding.
Once a child support order is in place, you may request a change (or modification). However, you'll need to show that there's been a substantial change of circumstances that affect the ability to pay support or the need for it. A judge will make a decision about your modification request based on the same legal requirements for an original child support order.
You could work out an agreement with the child's other parent on a modification. But you'll still need to have a court hearing so that a judge may review your agreement and decide whether it's in the child's best interests.
You may also request a modification without a court hearing through the OAG, in what's known as the Child Support Review Process.