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Understanding Child Support in Texas
The Texas State Legislature has established guidelines for child support. Those guidelines are found in chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code. The guidelines are presumed to be "reasonable." and an order of support conforming to those guidelines is presumed to be "in the best interest of the child."
Statutory guidelines for child support apply unless parties agree to a different amount. These guidelines apply regardless of a lawful marriage: thus children born out of wedlock are protected. The courts will use the statutory guidelines as a starting point. Other considerations in determining child support include (1) the age and needs of the child; (2) the ability of the parents to contribute to the support of the child; ... (See § 154.123 of the Texas Family Code for the entire list of factors).
The parties may, however, enter into a written agreement containing provisions for support and modifications of the agreements that are variations from the child support guidelines. The court then must have a finding that the agreement is in the best interest of the child and render an order in accordance with that agreement.
The guidelines for support are designed to apply when the obligor's (the party ordered to pay child support) monthly net resources are $6,000.00 or less (see §154.125 of the Texas Family Code). Child support is based on net resources and is far more reaching than just "take home pay;" all sources of income/cash flow are included, such as, salary, tips and commissions.
The party ordered by the court to pay child support has a duty to pay support until (1) the child reaches the age of 18 unless the child is enrolled in an accredited school, working towards a high school diploma; (2) the child marries; (3) the child dies; (4) the child's disabilities are removed for general purposes; (5) an order of the court is issued modifying the child support. Prior to 1985 a parent's duty to support terminated when the child attained the age of 18: under Texas Education Code, a student must graduate from high school before the age of 21. However, if a child becomes disabled before the age of 18, the child support continues into adulthood.
A well written decree/order will, in the case with more than one child, specifically state the amount of child support required when one of the above occurs. For example, if the decree orders child support of $800.00 per month for two children, when the oldest child reaches the age of 18 years, the child support is not reduced to $400.00: child support becomes 20% of the obligor's net resources. Sometimes, decrees do not add this additional language and can cause the custodial parent to file a motion with the court to increase child support, thus incurring additional attorney's fees.
When a motion to increase child support is filed, discovery can begin. This process allows any passive income to be identified. Passive income includes any dividends, interest, royalty income and net rental income. Other income that may be identified could include pensions, worker's compensation benefits, annuities, trust income and capital gains. Remember, calculated child support consists of net resources, which is cash flow from all sources minus deductions. Deductions are FICA (social security taxes) union dues, expenses of health insurance for the obligor's children not the obligor, and income tax withholding.
Both parents have a duty to support their children, however, if the obligor fails to support his/her child, not only is this in violation of the court's order, but will be punishable by contempt of court, confinement in jail, a fine of $500.00 or both.
In order to assure that your rights are protected and that your children get what they are entitled, seek legal advice. These issues can be complicated and you shouldn't pursue it without first consulting with an attorney experienced in this area of the law. Protect your rights and the rights of your children!
Texas requires that divorcing spouses try mediation before going to trial. Spouses can request a jury trial, but generally a judge decides the trial rather than a jury. Mediation is an ideal way to prevent the element of surprise that comes with taking a divorce case to trial. Many judges will tell you that a divorce trial has no winners, because the outcome is rarely in favor of just one party.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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