Common Family Law Misconceptions: Child Support

By Jaime Culotta and Larry Chamberlin


The purpose of this article is to address common misconceptions regarding child support, including what it is used for, how it is calculated, when it is terminated and other factors which affect the parties. This article does not address the issues relating to health insurance or payment of medical support.


What is child support and what is it used for?


Child support is money paid from one parent to the other party for the support of the children. In the state of Texas, the Obligor (the payor) does not have a right to determine how or when this money is spent by the Obligee (payee). I often hear the phrase “my child support doesn’t even go to my kids, my children’s mother/father spends it on herself/himself.” The reality is, while you may see your child’s other parent spending money on things for themselves, they are still having to pay for food, clothing, and shelter for the child. In the eyes of the Court, that parent is still using that money for the children because it is contributing to the overall household expenses in the home where the children are living. One great way to alienate your judge is to complain about the other parent’s “extravagant” lifestyle.


Generally how is child support calculated

In Texas, child support is usually dependent only on the income of the Obligor. Income is most often determined using the last 2 years of income taxes and the last 2 paystubs of the Obligor. A tax table is then used to determine the obligor’s net monthly income (income after taxes). Finally, child support is calculated as a percentage of the obligor’s net income, which is determined by how many children are before the Court and how many children the Obligor has that are not before the Court. Sample calculations are show below.


EXAMPLE: (1) child before the Court, (0) children not before the Court

Gross income = $39,600.00 per year / 12 Months = $3,300.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,792.01

Child Support = 20% of Net Income = $558.40 per month

EXAMPLE: (1) child before the Court, (1) child not before the Court

Gross income = $39,600.00 per year / 12 Months = $3,300.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,792.01

Child Support = 17.5% of Net Income = $488.60 per month


When do I stop paying child support?

When the parties have one or more children before the Court, child support is modified without further order of the Court each time a child either turns 18 years of age or graduates from high school, whichever is later. That means if your child turns 18 years old in December as a senior in highs school, the child support obligation will not end until the child graduates from high school the following June. There are a few other factors that could end the child support obligation prior to the child turning 18 years old or graduating high school, including the child getting married or enlisting in the military. It is important to note that the marriage or enlistment of a child under the age of 18 most often requires the consent of both parents. Sample calculations are show below.


EXAMPLE: (1) child turning 18 years old in December

Gross income = $39,600.00 per year / 12 Months = $3,300.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,792.01

Child Support = 20% of Net Income = $558.40 per month

Termination of Obligation: Upon the child’s graduation from high school

Further Obligation: None


EXAMPLE: (1) child turning 18 years old in July

Termination of Obligation: Upon the child’s 18th birthday

Further Obligation: None


EXAMPLE: (2) children, (1) turning 18 years old in December

Gross income = $39,600.00 per year / 12 Months = $3,300.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,792.01

Child Support = 25% of Net Income = $698.00 per month

Termination of Obligation: Upon the first child’s graduation from high school

Further Obligation = 20% of Net Income = 558.40 per month for remaining child


EXAMPLE: (2) children, (1) turning 18 years old in July

Termination of Obligation: Upon the first child’s 18th birthday

Further Obligation = 20% of Net Income = 558.40 per month for remaining child


What if we each have a child living with us?


Although this arrangement is rare, sometimes each parent will have children living with them. In this case, each parent will have child support calculated for the number of children not living with them, the difference between the two amounts will be paid by the party who has a higher child support obligation. See sample calculations below.


EXAMPLE: (1) child with Parent A and (1) child with Parent (B)

Gross Income of Parent A: = $39,600.00 per year / 12 Months = $3,300.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,792.01

Child Support = 20% of Net Income = $558.40 per month

Gross Income for Parent B = $33,600.00 per year / 12 months = $2,800.00 per month

Net income (using tax table) = $2,390.26

Child Support = 20% of Net Income = $478.05 per month

Difference in Child Support: $80.35 to be paid by Parent A


Can child support be withheld from my check?


Generally child support is ordered by the Court to be withheld from the Obligor’s paycheck in an attempt to ensure that the Obligee receives support for the children in a timely manner. However, if the parties agree in mediation not to withhold child support from the Obligor’s check, then the court cannot override that decision.


Should child support withholding be ordered, notice will be sent to employer of Obligor and that employer will be held responsible for withholding the amount of child support. In the event that the amount of child support to be withheld exceeds 50% of the disposable income of the Obligor, the employer is ordered to withhold a portion of the check proportionate to the child support due.


What if the Obligor is not exercising visitation?


Regardless of whether or not the Obligor is exercising possession of or access to the children, they are still obligated to pay child support. Even if visitation is denied by the other party. Remember, child support is for the support of the children, not a fee paid to have possession of or access to the children.


Can I deny the other parent visitation because they haven’t paid child support?


NO! You may not deny the other parent possession or of access to the children just because they are not paying support. There are enforcement procedures for that situation. In fact, do not deny visitation unless being in their possession would endanger the well being of the children. Failure to pay child support does not meet that threshold. Once again, child support is for the support of the children, not a fee paid to have possession of or access to the children. The Court usually does not consider any factors other than who is entitled to possession of the children when ruling on whether a child has been unduly withheld from the other parent. The Obligee could get in serious trouble with the Court for withholding the children from the Obligor solely because Obligor has not paid child support. If the Obligor is not paying child support, the only acceptable course of action for the Obligee is to file suit against the Obligor for enforcement of the current child custody order.


When can child support be increased / Decreased?


The Obligee or Obligor can file what is called Motion to Modify, asking the Court to modify the current child custody orders (in this case the amount of child support ordered). A Motion to Modify usually won’t be available less than three years after the rendering of the current child custody order unless the filing party is able to prove that there has been substantial change in circumstances. Examples of substantial change in circumstance are listed below. It is important to note that the Court determines whether the threshold of substantial change has been met. However, if it has been longer than three years since the rendering of the current child support order, the requirement to show that there has been a substantial change in circumstance is waived.


Substantial Change in Circumstance (Obligee)

1. Obligator loses job

2. Obligator has a child born after the order

3. Obligator is diagnosed with a disability which makes then unable to work

4. Child has unforeseen financial needs


Additional factors not mentioned here can bear on your own case. For more information regarding child support and other child custody matters, set up a FREE 1-hour consultation with our office using the “contact us” link on our website.


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