I wanted to chat a bit today about child support. How in Texas do we calculate child support for a given case? We’ll talk about a little theory, do some math, and then throw in a whole bunch of weirdness that we have in this area of law.
Why would a Texas court order child support?
First, let’s talk about how we calculate child support, what the theory is.
When the Texas Legislature created the child support guidelines, they imagined a scenario in which everyone used to live together in one household, with mom and dad working together to build the community and take care of the kids.
But then in their imagination things got complicated. One household becomes two households, with the kids going back and forth between them. The question for the legislature was how do you divide the money tree – how do the two households split the responsibility to provide for those kids?
Well, at the time that these guidelines were created, the standard possession schedule guidelines had the children with the one parent for a vast majority of the time. The paying parent sent money to the other parent because that person provided most of the care. It made a lot of sense.
Now this theory is a little bit different. The standard possession schedule now has much more even time between the two households.
Theoretically, though, we should come to the same kind of obligation. Because, as we explain in the custody video, when the court chooses that “weekday parent,” they choose the parent who has been doing things like buying school supplies and dealing with activities. So, theoretically, that parent still bears a larger chunk of the bills.
Whether that logic applies in your case or not, those are the assumptions. So, let’s talk about how courts determine how much that non-primary, or that “weekend parent” should pay in support.
How do you calculate the “net monthly resources” of the parent who is paying child support?
The first step is to calculate the net monthly resources of the paying parent. What a court is trying to get to is what money that paying parent actually has coming in.
The court will consider each of these elements to find the paying parent’s “net monthly resources.”
The court will first add wage and salary information to the pile. Now, that number could be averaged out over uneven years. Like, if you have somebody who has a sales job and year-by-year that income changes, the court will take the tax returns and average it out.
They may even base that number on the earning potential, rather than the actual income of the paying parent. That’s a scenario that will talk about in just a little bit.
To the wage and salary, the court will add self-employment income, if there is any. So, if the paying parent owns a business, the actual income from that business gets put in the pile.
Now, remember, a business can lose money as well as it can make money. So if the tax return at the end of the year shows a loss for that business, this self-employment number may actually be a negative number.
And finally, the court will add in financial gains that the paying parent actually receives. This can be things like severance pay, retirement, social security income, unemployment benefits, disability, income from rental properties, investment income, and so on.
This is the catch all. It has to be money actually received, but the court wants to know everything that was actually received by the paying parent and put it in the pile.
So, once the pile is made up, what the court will do is take out standard things like taxes and insurance for the benefit of the children. And we will get to the net monthly resources.
Once we have the net monthly resources, how do we calculate the Texas child support?
Once you have that number, what do you do with it? You multiply it by a percentage based on the number of kids in the case: 20% for one child, 25% for two children, 30% for three, 35% for four, and so on.
That number, that percentage number, ends up being capped by the actual needs of the number of children in the case. But, if you have fewer than six kids, you should probably expect to pay the standard percentage.
That’s a lot of theory and good math, but what if you don’t have a traditional household that you would send that money over to? What if things are a little more complicated?
Maybe dad had a previous wife and a child from that marriage. Maybe dad has remarried and has new kids with that wife. If things get complicated, how do you figure out the percentage to multiply the paying parent’s (or in this graphic, dad’s) – how do you figure out the number to multiply against his net monthly resources?
Well, you go to the table. This is some more math. This comes from some lawyer math that you don’t need to get into. The table is designed to help you figure out what percentage would apply in your particular case. Word of advice: don’t memorize. Just follow the table.
So, for example, if I have four kids involved in this case in front of the court, then I would normally have to pay 35% of my net monthly resources to support those four kids. Well, it’s complicated. Because maybe I have another child in another household that I pay for. All I have to do is look across the table and find that, rather than paying the 35%, I would be paying 32.2% of my net monthly resources to the kids involved in this case.
This table will tell you what percentage to multiply net monthly resources against.
Again, do not memorize this table. Come to it. We have got it on our website, you can find it on the Attorney General’s website, and it is in the Family Code. Find out on that table what applies in your particular case.
Are there any exceptions to these child support guidelines?
The big question, now that we know the general math, is whether these things even apply to you. Is there something special in your case that makes you an exception to the rules?
I will say that there are several exceptions, but we will talk about the three most common and how a court uses that weirdness to come up with a custom number.
So, common exception number one: is there a high income in the case?
Particularly, since Texas only cares about the income of the paying parent, is there a high income that that parent enjoys? If so, the family court right now will put a soft cap of $8,550 on the net monthly resources, and base the child support number on that.
Courts will usually cap net monthly resources at $8,550 when calculating Texas child support.
I say that $8,550 is a soft cap because it is possible to show the court that your children actually need more than that $8,550 in resources would provide. And we will talk about that in just a second.
But, theoretically, if you’ve got a high income, the court will base the number on a maximum of $8,550 in net monthly resources. And, again, multiply the percentage as applies in the case.
How about another common exception: what if the paying parent has a purposely low income? What if they are taking that net monthly resources and making decisions that would make it smaller?
Are they doing things like quitting good jobs, or avoiding raises, in a way that keeps the child support number artificially low? If you can show that the paying parent could get a higher income by making different choices, and that that money difference is significant in terms of support, the court will base the child support on earning potential rather than actual net monthly resources.
If the paying parent is keeping income artificially low, child support may be based on earning potential.
I should say, not every decision to make less money leads to this result. Courts have let the paying parent do things like go back to school, or start a business, or go into the public sector, without dinging them for having a lower income than their earning potential.
What the system is trying to get at is people who are trying to rig the system, not people who are making their own life choices that could result in a lower income.
The final common exception to the rules is special needs: is there something going on with the kids that would require more money than the guideline support would provide?
If you can show the children have special needs, the court will base child support on meeting those needs AND the ability to pay of BOTH parents.
If you can prove that special need – which could be health-related, or it might even be things like horse lessons or private schools if you can show that it is in the child’s best interest – then the amount of child support will be based on the need needs of the children…
…AND, as a sidenote, the ability of each parent to pay.
I want to get your ears perked up here because this is the one time in Texas child support math that we consider the income of both households. If the kids have special needs, that whole burden won’t be put on the “weekend parent’s” shoulders.
The court will actually look at both parents’ resources and figure out how much each parent will provide. So the court will say the kids need “X,” each parent has “Y” amount of income to provide, so let’s put that in toward the needs of those children with special needs.
Where can I go to learn more about Texas child support?
You may hear this story and imagine 100 other ways that these theories don’t apply to you. That is common, and it is fine. But whether that impacts a judge’s math or not depends on a whole lot of factors.