We have what is called guideline child support in Texas. The guideline, which sometimes people refer to as the cap, is really not a cap. It’s actually a statutory minimum amount of support. That amount right now is based on the first $8,550 per month of income that the obligor brings in.
There are percentages based on the number of children of the marriage or relationship in question, and there are slight discounts given if there are children from other marriages or other relationships that the obligor is also responsible for supporting.
- If you have just one child of a marriage or a relationship, it's 20% of net income
- If there are two children, it’s 25%
- If there are 3 children, it's 30%
- If there are 4 children, it's 35%
- If there are 5 or more children, it's 40% of net income
There are discounts given if there are children from other relationships, and again this is only a guideline. This is a statutory minimum amount of support. There are many cases where the judges vary from the guidelines depending on the circumstances of the particular child, whether or not there’s a historical reason to base increased support on, such as daycare or health issues.
Judges also look at the resources of both of the parents in terms of allocating child support. When we refer to net resources, net means net of federal income taxes and any state income tax if a party has to pay that.
So, if you have an obligor that lives in a state where there is a state income tax, then we would net that out before applying the guideline child support percentage. Otherwise, if it’s a Texas resident, the only thing we’re going to take out is federal income tax, the amount that the obligor pays for the child’s health insurance premium, and any union dues. Things like contribution to your retirement plan, and other deductions that may be voluntary, like cafeteria plans that you pay are not considered when we calculate child support.
A lot of times courts vary from the guideline child support and often couples come to agreements that vary from what guideline would be. Guideline is really just the starting point.
If, for instance, you’re paying for private school and you still have the resources to continue paying for that private school, then most likely the private school tuition, uniforms, those types of non-discretionary items that you have historically paid for are going to be includable as child support. Same thing if you have a child who is, who plays a team sport, and they’ve paid that team sport, let’s say it’s team volleyball and you pay $4,000 a year for team volleyball for a number of years. If you have the resources to continue paying for that sport, then that will probably be includable as part of the child support. Again it just comes down to, what are the historical needs of the child or of the children and what are the resources available to both parents, and how are we going to cover the needs of that child for the foreseeable future.
Another thing to keep in mind is that child support is always a moving target. So if, for instance, an obligor’s income changes, such that it would vary the child’s support by more than 20% per year or $100 per month, then that is considered a material change for the purposes of modifying that order. Without a material and substantial change, child support is modifiable every three years or it’s able to be reviewed every three years but situations such as remarriage of a party, loss of a job, a raise, those types of things can rise to the level of constituting a material and substantial change that would also give rise to a change in the amount of child support paid.
When a child ages out or becomes 18 or graduates from high school, usually whichever is later, the child support amount is going to drop typically by 5% per child. In general, as a child ages out, as they emancipate, they join the armed forces, they marry, or they die then that percentage point changes.