Topic: Family Law
The Texas Family Code has many guidelines that a court must follow in a child support case. In most cases, the court will order the non-custodial parent to pay child support in order to help the custodial parent in meeting the child’s needs. This support continues until that child reaches the legal age of 18. Specifically,
- The court ordered child support is mandated until the child is at least 18 years of age or until the child graduates from high school, whichever one is later.
- The obligor has the duty to pay the court-ordered sum of money to the custodial parent until the child has been emancipated through marriage or through another operation of law.
- Court-ordered support will still be extended to the child if the child is disabled (for an indefinite time), but will cease in the case of death.
The court may order the child support to be paid by periodic payments, a lump-sum payment, an annuity purchase, the setting aside of property to be put towards the support of the child, or any combination of these payments as agreed to by the court and the parties involved. Texas child support guidelines are designed to specifically tailor to each individual case in which the obligor’s monthly net resources are $7,500.00 or less. In such cases, the court will calculate child support based on the obligor’s net resources. If support is being ordered for one child, the guidelines call for support of 20% of the obligor’s monthly net resources, and the percentage will increase according to the number of children involved. Under these guidelines, the court will cap the net resources at $7,500.00 per month, even if the obligor’s monthly income exceeds that of $7,500.00, under certain circumstances, the court may order the obligor to pay additional child support to the custodial parent but will limit the payments to the presumptive amount (the percentage paid every month multiplied by $7,500.00). In addition to the monthly child support, the court can also order the obligor to pay up to 100% of the child’s needs on a monthly basis when the needs are proven to the court.
In addition to the child support obligation, the non-custodial parent is also required to provide and maintain the child’s/children’s health insurance coverage. In the event that the obligor does not have access to health insurance at a reasonable cost and it is available to the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent would be ordered to reimburse the cost of the premium to the party carrying the health insurance. The obligor will receive a deduction in his/her net resources for either of these options. If health insurance is not available to either parent at a reasonable cost, the custodial parent can apply for coverage through a government program and the obligor would be responsible for the cost of the program.
In order to ensure that the child support obligation is being abided to as ordered, the courts require an Order to Withhold from Earnings for Child Support for all cases involving child support. A Withholding Order ensures that the monthly child support payments are made by requiring the obligor’s employer to automatically deduct the monthly child support amount from the obligor’s disposable monthly earnings. The payments will be deducted according to the employer’s pay schedule. Under extenuating circumstances, the court can order the obligor to obtain life insurance to secure the child support that will be due up until the child support obligation would terminate, which can extend up to 18+ years. Any other agreements made through the order or other forms of custody (that could give cause to release the child(ren)), still mandates that the child support must be paid in full by the obligor up until the age of 18. In the event that the child is still in high school at the age of 18, the support will continue to be paid until the child graduates from high school. Also, there are different rules and regulations concerning children who are disabled, thereby allowing the continuation of support for an indefinite period through the child’s disability. The court alone decides the indefinite period for support. Under Texas Law, child support does not continue through college. However, the parties can agree to extend child support beyond high school.
It is important to note that all Texas custody and support orders can be modified while the children are under the age of 18 or still in high school, whichever occurs last. If a change in circumstance occurs, either parent can petition the court to modify the provisions of support, custody, periods of possession and access or any other provision in the order. With regard to child support, you should never enter into an agreement that you assume will change in detail later. This raises issues as to whether an order will be changed at all and this is completely determined by the court. It is also never wise to enter into an agreement paying no or minimal child support payments and assume that your custodial parent will not request the remaining support to be paid later.
Informal agreements not made through a court order are not binding and will not be honored by the court. It is not wise to make such agreements outside the court order, as it could lead to you being held in contempt of court if you do not adhere to what is specified in the court order. It is best to always make your agreements (regarding child support) while in court to ensure that you are not in contempt. For example, the custodial parent could allow you to have primary possession of the child(ren), although the court order states otherwise and the order is not modified to state such modification, the custodial parent can turn around and demand their rights of the child(ren) leaving you with no leverage to retain possession of the child(ren). If an agreement is reached outside of court, it is best to do so with a child support attorney present, so that the modifications are clear and understood by both parties, are in writing, and filed with the court.
Orders that are made through the court are only enforceable by the court. In the event that the obligor fails to produce the monthly child support payments, they are then subjecting themselves to contempt, which could lead to incarceration. If the custodial parent does not allow visitation with the child(ren) on the given dates as specified in the order, this does not release the obligor from paying child support. The obligor cannot, under any circumstance, refuse to pay the child support as ordered. Should the obligor fail to pay the child support, the custodial parent cannot refuse visitation with the child(dren). Rather, the parent can seek the court’s help in enforcing the child support order. The court order should not be violated by any party. However, should a violation occur, an enforcement action can be filed against the violator in order to prevent continued and future violations. It is recommended that you carefully review and are clear with any court order before signing to minimize any future mistakes. It is ideal to hire an experienced family attorney who can ensure that the child support process fits your needs.
Amber Shemesh, an experienced Dallas child support attorney discusses different
aspects of Texas child support laws in this article. Attorney Shemesh
represents clients across Dallas, Collin, Tarrant, and Denton counties of Texas
for their child support cases.