Understanding Child Support in Texas

Find out how to calculate child support in Texas and how you may get the amount of support changed.

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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.

Who Pays Child Support in Texas?

In Texas, the parents' custody arrangements—specifically, the amount of time each parent spends with a child—typically determine 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 one with the least amount of time with the child or children) pays child support. But that doesn't mean the other parent is off the hook for the costs of raising a child. Instead, the law assumes that custodial parents support their children by spending money directly on their needs.

How to Use the Texas Child Support Guidelines

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.

Gross Income Included in Calculating Child Support

For child support purposes, income includes:

  • all wages and salary, including commissions, military pay, tips, overtime, and bonuses
  • self-employment income
  • interest and dividends
  • net rental income from property the parent owns

Even unemployed parents probably still have some income from sources such as:

  • severance pay
  • unemployment benefits
  • retirement benefits
  • veterans' benefits
  • disability benefits, or
  • workers' compensation awards.

(Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062 (2023).)

When it's appropriate, a judge may assign a reasonable amount of income for a parent's assets that don't currently produce any income. For example, if a parent owns a second home, the judge might consider the property's rental value as part of income. The judge might also consider whether the property could be liquidated without an unreasonable financial sacrifice. (Tex. Fam. Code § 154.067 (2023).)

When parents are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed to avoid making support payments, judges may impute (attribute) income based on what those parents could be earning. (Tex. Fam. Code § 154.066 (2023).)

Net Income for the Texas Child Support Guidelines

To figure the parent's net resources for paying child support, subtract the following costs from the total gross income:

  • Social Security taxes or, if the parent doesn't pay those taxes, any mandatory retirement plan contributions
  • federal and state income taxes (based on the tax rate for a single person claiming one exemption)
  • union dues
  • health and dental insurance premiums and other medical expenses for the child(ren) that the judge has ordered the parent to pay.

Parents who already pay child support for kids from a different relationship may take a credit for those payments. (Tex. Fam. Code §§ 154.062, 154.128, 154.129 (2023).)

Number of Children Requiring Support

Once you've established the noncustodial parent's net monthly 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:

  • 1 child = 20%
  • 2 children = 25%
  • 3 children = 30%
  • 4 children = 35%
  • 5 children = 40%
  • For 6 or more children, the amount must be at least the same as for five children

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. (Tex. Fam. Code § 154.125 (2023).)

Health Insurance as Part of Child Support

In addition to the support amount calculated under the guidelines, the parents will also have to cover the child's health and dental insurance. The guidelines assume that the noncustodial parent will provide coverage, but that responsibility may 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 (2023).)

When Child Support May Be Higher or Lower Than the Guideline Amount

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:

  • the age and needs of the child
  • the parents' ability to support the child
  • the time the child spends with each parent
  • whether either parent has custody of another child or is paying post-secondary educational expenses for a child
  • the custodial parent's net resources
  • child care expenses
  • alimony (spousal maintenance) that a parent is paying or receiving
  • the cost of the child's travel between the parents if they live far apart, and
  • extraordinary expenses, such as for health care or education.

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 (2023).)

Paying and Collecting Child Support in Texas

Usually, child support is paid monthly or bi-weekly. However, Texas judges may order any combination of payment methods, including lump-sum payments, or paying with an annuity, retirement benefits, or setting aside property. (Tex. Fam. Code § 154.003 (2023).)

If the order doesn't specify otherwise, parents may pay child support in the form of cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, Zelle, or Venmo.

If you need 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 by having the payments withheld from their paychecks.

Getting a Change in the Amount of Child Support in Texas

Once a child support order is in place, you may request a change. A judge will make a decision about your modification request based on the same legal requirements for an original child support order. However, the judge won't agree to a modification unless:

  • you can prove that there's been a substantial change of circumstances that affects the ability to pay support or the need for it, or
  • it's been at least three years since the existing child support order was issued or last modified, and the current guideline amount would call for a difference of at least 20% or $100.

For instance, you might be able to seek an increase in the child support payments you've been receiving if your ex starts earning considerably more money. And if you're paying child support, you might be able to get the payments lowered if you've lost your job, had your hours cut significantly, or have a new baby.

But remarriage, on its own, won't warrant a modification. That's because a new spouse's income or needs won't factor into the calculation of child support in a modification proceeding. Also, a judge won't raise support payments just because the custodial parent has increased needs or a higher standard of living. (Tex. Fam. Code §§ 156.401, 156.402, 156.404, 156.405 (2023).)

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.

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