FAMILY ISSUES | Child Support

When a child is born, the parents automatically have the obligation to support the child and that obligation continues at least until the child reaches the age of majority. In a divorce, once the parties agree or the court decides who will have "custody" the next issue will be how much child support, if any, the "noncustodial" parent will have to pay. This can also occur if someone other than one of the parents is named managing conservator of the child. In that case, either or both of the parents can be ordered to pay support.

The person who is ordered to pay support is called the "obligor" and the amount of support is based in part on the obligor's "net resources," which are the obligor's "resources" less taxes and other excluded items.

The obligor's resources will include:

  1. wage and salary income and other compensation for personal services (including commissions, overtime pay, tips, and bonuses);
  2. interest, dividends, and royalty income;
  3. self-employment income;
  4. net rental income; and
  5. all other income actually being received, including severance pay, retirement benefits, pensions, trust income, annuities, capital gains, Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, disability and workers' compensation benefits, interest income from notes regardless of the source, gifts and prizes, spousal maintenance, and alimony.

To determine the obligor's "net resources" the court will deduct the following from the resources:

  1. Social Security taxes,
  2. federal income tax based on the tax rate for a single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction,
  3. state income tax,
  4. union dues, and
  5. expenses for the cost of health insurance or cash medical support for the obligor's child ordered by the court

Starting with the obligor's net resources, the court will apply the statutory guidelines before issuing a child support order. The guidelines specify the percent of the obligor's monthly net resources that will be paid. The percentage starts at 20% and increases as the number of children increases. Click here to see the guidelines.

Is the court required to apply the guidelines, no matter what?

No. If the circumstances justify it, the court can determine whether it would be unjust or inappropriate to apply these guidelines. In doing this, the court may consider all relevant factors, such as the ages and needs of the children and the parents' ability to support the children. Click here for a list the things that a court can consider.

If you are or may become a party to a divorce and may have to pay support, you should gather all of your information and documents about these items before you consult with a lawyer.

Modifying a child support order

If circumstances change, either party may ask the court to modify the support order. For example, if monthly income changes or the number of children to be covered by the support order changes, then the person affected can ask for a modification.

Enforcing a child support order

Every child support order must contain a provision or an order that requires the obligor's employer to withhold income from the obligor's disposable earnings if the obligor stops paying. The withholding order does not have to be sent to the employer if the obligor can convince the court that a good reason exists for not sending the order. If a withholding order is sent to the employer, the maximum than can be withheld for arrearages is 50% of the obligor's disposable earnings.

The Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General's office offers services to parents who want to obtain or provide support for their children. Here's the link to its website: