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6 Common Questions About Child Support In Texas

Learn what child support is and what it's not
Photo: Flotsam | Shutterstock

As a 30+ year divorce lawyer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard parents question what their child support is supposed to cover. I’ve heard dads complain that the mother uses the money to pay for her manicures. I’ve heard moms complain that the money is spent on the new girlfriend and not the child. 

What is child support?

From a definitional standpoint, child support is money paid for a child’s basic, minimum needs. It is to cover food, clothing, shelter, public education, and medical and dental care. Provided that the child is not being neglected, the parent who receives child support has the discretion to use the money as they believe is appropriate without input or direction from the parent paying the support. That means that the parent receiving child support can use the money to cover the rent or mortgage or they can put it in the bank account together with their other funds and spend it generally on household expenses.

How much child support will be required?

In Texas, child support is calculated based on a percentage of the paying parent’s net resources (which mostly means income), There is a cap on the amount of income that child support applies to -- $9,200/month net income. For example, if there is one child in the relationship and the parent makes $9,200/month or more, the child support would be $1,840/month. Different percentages apply based on how many children are in the relationship and whether the parents either have children from another relationship. If a parent makes more than that amount per month, the child support does not increase. This amount would be the state-mandated minimum amount. 

How do the expenses get covered that cost more than the child support?

Rarely is the state minimum child support amount enough to cover all of the actual expenses that most children have, especially the older they get. Extracurricular activities, tutoring, AP/SAT/ACT testing fees, braces, sports, phones, computers, cars, college application fees and prom expenses – these are all examples of expenses that might exceed the minimum support amount. Of course, a parent can voluntarily pay more or pay for items that would be extras for the child at his or her discretion. A lawyer will advise a parent not to commit in a court order to paying more than the minimum requirements of the law.

How do we cover medical expenses? 

Medical support is a separate financial category for child support that must be covered above the amount of regular monthly child support. Usually, one parent carries the health insurance on the child and covers the monthly premiums and the other parent chips in to cover premiums and a share of the uninsured expenses. Medical support covers both regular medical care as well as dental care. 

What happens if child support isn’t paid?

If the parent who is court-ordered to pay child support stops paying, the judge can enforce the child support order and hold the person in contempt of court for violating the court’s order. While the most important aspect is to use the court’s leverage to encourage the child support payment, ultimately the punishment for nonpayment of child support is up to 180 days in jail for each payment that is missed plus a $500 fine and attorneys fees. The law also allows the judge to revoke any state-issued licenses for a person who fails to pay child support. This might include a driver’s license, a professional license, or even a hunting license.

I lost my job so how do I change the amount of child support?

Texas law provides that child support may be modified when the circumstances of a parent or the child have materially and substantially changed. If three years pass without material and substantial change, then a party can seek a review of the amount of child support if it would make a difference of 20% or $100/month. It is most important to note that the child support amount can only be changed by a judge in a new court order. This is not the time to use DIY methods or self-help in reducing the amount paid. The child support amount only changes when a judge issues a new court order stating a new amount.