Texas Child Support Questions

by Bernadette A. Safrath

Child support is the financial assistance paid by one parent to the parent with primary custody of the children after the parents divorce or separate. The Texas Family Code outlines how child support is calculated, when an order can be modified and when the support order terminates. The law also sets forth the procedures for enforcing a support order that goes unpaid.

Support Amounts

Texas courts set the child support amount according to statutory guidelines. To determine the child support obligation, the court calculates the owing parent's resources, which include all wages, tips, commissions and bonuses, retirement or pension benefits, and unemployment, workers compensation or disability benefits. After tax deductions, deducting any union dues and the costs of health insurance for the child, if the owing parent incurs costs for obtaining such coverage, the court will set the support amount by multiplying the parent's total resources by a given percentage, based on the number of children he will support. Those amounts are 20 percent for one child, 25 percent for two children, 30 percent for three children, 35 percent for four children and 40 percent for five or more children. The court may deviate from these percentages based on the extraordinary needs of the child, owing parent's ability to pay additional support and whether the owing parent shares custody with the parent receiving support, likely incurring expenses of his own when the child is in his care.

Enforcement of Obligations

When a parent does not receive support as ordered, she can seek assistance from the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General's Office. The CSD is authorized to use several methods to collect past due support. There is no statute of limitations on enforcing support orders, so the CSD can attempt to collect until the support is paid in full. During that time, interest of 6 percent per year will accumulate on the owed support amount. Enforcement methods include wage withholding, or garnishment, in which support is deducted from the owing parent's paychecks and transferred to the receiving parent; a lawsuit to obtain a judgment for the owed support; filing liens against bank accounts, real estate and other property owned by the owing parent; and suspension of state-issued licenses, including driver's, hunting, fishing and professional. Lastly, the court can sentence the owing parent to time in jail until the past due support is paid.

Modification of Support

Either parent can seek modification of a child support order. A Texas court can modify a support order if a parent has experienced a substantial or material change in circumstances. This commonly means the owing parent has experienced a decrease in income, lost his job or child has additional expenses, increasing the custodial parent's financial need. Child support can be reviewed every three years if incomes change, resulting in an increase or decrease in child support of 20 percent or $100. If either parent gets remarried, the new spouse's income cannot be included in the support calculations to increase the owing parent's support obligation or decrease the receiving parent's financial need.

When Support Terminates

Texas law requires the payment of child support until the child's 18th birthday or high school graduation, whichever is later. However, if a child has not graduated after turning 18, he must comply with enrollment and attendance requirements in order for the custodial parent to still receive support. The child support obligation will also terminate if the child dies, gets married or becomes emancipated. However, if the court determines that a child is disabled, the support obligation can continue indefinitely.