Texas law provides a mathematical formula
to calculate the amount a noncustodial parent will owe in child
The noncustodial parent will be obligated
to pay child support until the child is 18 years old or
graduates from high school, whichever is later. If the child
turns 18, the child must continue to be enrolled in school and
comply with minimum attendance requirements imposed by that
school. The child support obligation will also end if the child
is emancipated by marriage or by a court order. The child
support obligation may also continue indefinitely if the child
is disabled. A child is considered disabled for child support
- the child requires substantial care
and supervision because of a mental or physical disability
and is not capable of self-support; and
- the disability exists, or the cause of
the disability is known to exist, on or before the child’s
Child support is a percentage of the net
income of the non-custodial parent’s income. The percentage
varies depending on the number of children for whom the child
support is ordered and the number of other children that parent
is supporting, such as children from a previous marriage.
Net income includes the following:
- 100% of all wage and salary income and
other compensation for personal services (including
commissions, overtime pay, tips, and bonuses);
- interest, dividends, and royalty
- self-employment income;
- net rental income (defined as rent
after deducting operating expenses and mortgage payments,
but NOT including non-cash items such as depreciation); and
- all other income actually being
received, including severance pay, retirement benefits,
pensions, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social
security benefits, unemployment benefits, disability and
workers’ compensation benefits, interest income from notes
regardless of the source, gifts and prizes, spousal
maintenance, and alimony.
Net income does NOT include:
- return of principal or capital;
- accounts receivable;
- benefits paid in accordance with
aid for families with dependent children (welfare
- income from a new spouse
The following items are deducted from your
resources prior to calculating child support:
- social security taxes;
- federal income tax based on the tax
rate for a single person claiming one personal exemption and
the standard deduction;
- state income tax;
- union dues; and
- expenses for health insurance coverage
for the child for whom child support is paid.
What constitutes income and what deductions
are allowed for self-employed persons can get quite complicated.
Consult an attorney to discuss specific circumstances in
calculating child support.
If your income varies over time, the courts may take your
average income over a period such as your average income over
six months to one year.
How does the court decide the child support amount?
Texas has established a formula to
calculate what amount a non-custodial parent should pay for
child support. If a non-custodial parent’s net monthly income is
less than $8550, Texas law has established the following
guidelines for child support payments. The amount withheld is
based on the net income each month.
• 20 % for one child
• 25 % for two children
• 30 % for three children
• 35 % for four children
• 40 % for five children
• Not less than 40 % for six children
Special rules apply in cases of split or
joint placement or multiple children in different households. If
a court believes the NCP is not earning within expectations, the
child support amount may be based on earning potential. This is
the income that you could potentially earn.
In the event there are other children, you
are obligated to support either by other court orders or because
they live in your home, you can receive a small deduction in the
percentages above. For instance, if you support one additional
child under another court order, child support will be 17.5% of
the net resources rather than 20%.
If disabled and receiving social security disability payments,
contact the Social Security Administration regarding any
benefits the child may be entitled to receive as a result of
this disability. When setting or modifying support, the court
will subtract the benefits made to or for the child because of
the disability from the amount ordinarily owed for child
support. There may be no additional child support beyond what
the child receives from Social Security.
What if I lose my job or I am unable to pay child support?
If you lose your job, make less money than
you used to, or become physically disabled and unable to earn an
income, you should notify the court immediately. However, simply
telling the court clerk or the Child Support Division of the
Office of the Attorney General is not enough to reduce the
amount of child support you owe. You must obtain an order from
the judge or child support master. Consider obtaining a lawyer,
if you can afford one, to handle the attempt to change the
amount of child support owed. Many non-custodial parents believe
that if they get behind at a time when they are legitimately
unable to make a child support payment, that the amount owed can
later be reduced or discounted by the court when an explanation
is given. However, if you wait to explain your changed
circumstances, the court will be unable to reduce the back
payments you owe. It is very important that you immediately
notify the court, provide proof of the reduction in income, and
ask that the payments be reduced accordingly. If you do this,
the court may temporarily or permanently reduce the amount of
In order to change your child support,
prove to the court that:
- the circumstances of the child or a
person affected by the order (such as yourself), have
materially and substantially changed since the prior order
was rendered; or
- it has been three years since the
order was rendered or last modified AND the new child
support amount would be at least 20% or $100 per month less
than the old child support amount.
The court may also order you to seek
employment or participate in an employment-training program,
such as those offered by the Texas Workforce Commission.
Suppose extra child support was paid voluntarily but you can no
longer continue to do so. Can that be used to try to force you
to continue to pay the extra child support? The Texas Family
Code states, “a history of support voluntarily provided in
excess of the court order does not constitute cause to increase
the amount of an existing child support order.”
How does remarriage affect child support?
The new spouse’s income cannot be used to
calculate higher child support. Likewise, your new obligations
to the new spouse or step-children cannot be considered to lower
your child support obligation.
What happens if the other parent decides to let the child
live with you?
You are still under a court order to pay
the child support until you have a new court order. Go back to
court and have the orders changed to give you primary
conservatorship of the child and change the child support order
to eliminate your obligation, and perhaps order the other parent
to begin to pay you child support.
What if the non-custodial parent is called to active duty in
the military? This is considered a material and substantial
change in circumstances (as discussed above) IF that active duty
- is for at least 30 consecutive days;
- results in a decrease in your net
resources during the period of service.
Once you return to civilian life, your
child support may be increased back to the amount you were
paying before going on active duty.
What are the steps for getting a judge to change the child
A Petition for Modification must be filed in the same county and
court where the original order, or most recent modification, was
filed. This court is the “court of continuing jurisdiction.” You
must file in this court even if both parents no longer live in
that county. There are ways to have the case transferred to
another county, but that is beyond the topic of this article.
Suffice it to say that you must file in the same court, at least
to start. In the Petition you may request that the court
schedule a hearing to decide whether your child support should
You, or your attorney, must have a copy of the Petition for
Modification served on the other parent, along with notice of
the hearing date set by the court.
Present evidence at the hearing about your new income such as
recent pay stubs or unemployment check stubs, or other
documentation to show that the income has materially and
substantially changed. If you represent yourself, you are
expected to know all the rules of procedure and evidence. The
judge is forbidden from giving you any advice, such as how to
get your pay stubs admitted into evidence.
This article is only intended to provide a basic understanding
of child support and how it can be changed. It is directed more
toward the parent who is paying the child support obligation,
but much of the content applies to either parent.
Due to the complexity of issues involving children, be it child
support, visitation, custody, or otherwise, consider seeking the
assistance of an attorney. It is much less expensive to prevent
a problem than it will be to repair the damage after the problem
arises. Additionally, even if you are able to get the judge to
sign the orders you prepared on your own, it may be
unenforceable if certain language is not included.
Either parent may request a review of the
child support order every three years, or more frequently if
there has been a material and substantial change in
circumstances, by contacting the Child Support Division of the
Office of the Attorney General.