Child Support Calculations and Caps in Texas
Aside from wrapping up technicalities in a divorce, the government is most concerned about how the splitting couple will provide for the children, so an important question to ask is: what are the caps on child support and how is it calculated? High earners who are not aware that a cap exists in Texas could end up paying more than the amount required by law, though that is certainly allowed. The parties may agree to whatever support above the cap they feel comfortable with, but the cap is a helpful reference point for that discussion. It is determined by statute through the Attorney General’s office. Only in rare cases may a Judge set child support above the cap.
Texas Family Code Section 154.125 directs the Attorney General to adjust the net resources on which child support payments are calculated every six years to account for inflation. The Attorney General’s office publishes its guidelines in the form of a table which takes effect on September 1 of each sixth year. The last schedule took effect in 2013, so we are expecting a new table in the fall of 2019. For the purposes of this discussion, however, we are still working from the 2013 guidelines.
If the table increases this September, payments will not also automatically increase. Instead, the parent who receives support must either contact the other parent to arrange for voluntary compliance, hire a lawyer or apply to the Texas Attorney General to enforce cooperation. Parents who make changes to payments must always remember to formally modify the divorce decree or child support order through the courts to ensure that they remain enforceable by the state. This requires an attorney or the attorney general’s office.
Child Support Calculations
Generally, child support payments are calculated through a formula set by the legislature that measures the noncustodial parent’s average net monthly resources against the state’s guidelines to produce a percentage that increases with the number of children. The percentages of net resources per child are currently:
- One child—20%
- Two children—25%
- Three children—30%
- Four children—35%
- Five children—40%
- Six children—not less than 40%
The number may be adjusted further if that parent also holds financial responsibility for additional children apart from those in question.
Net resources are calculated by taking gross income and subtracting:
- Social Security tax;
- Federal income tax (in accordance with the Attorney General’s current tax charts);
- State income tax, if applicable;
- Union dues and
- Health and dental insurance costs for the children or cash medical support.
Once the presumptive amount is decided, a judge may consider other factors in sliding the amount up or down to account for a specific case but this is rare. Judges rarely deviate from the guidelines. Such factors can include:
- The child’s age;
- Any special needs of the child;
- Expenses for education beyond secondary school;
- Extraordinary educational or health costs of the child or a parent;
- Additional sources of income;
- Other children in the picture;
- Access to or possession of the child;
- Expenses for childcare that permit either parent to work;
- Each parent’s ability to contribute to the child’s finances;
- The noncustodial parent’s capacity to earn if he or she is intentionally un- or underemployed;
- Spousal maintenance, whether paid or received;
- Additional benefits or payments from an employer or business;
- Paycheck deductions not already considered;
- Cash flow from property, investments or businesses;
- Either party’s debts;
- The child’s best interest and the parents’ circumstances.
A judge may not consider:
- A pattern or history of payments voluntarily made above the guidelines’ amount;
- The sex of either party or the child or
- Either parent’s marital status.
Texas caps the net resources for calculation at $8,550 per month, and maximum monthly child support payments are:
- One child—$1,710;
- Two children—$2,137.50;
- Three children—$2,565;
- Four children—$2,992.50; and
- Five children—$3,420.
The child support cap may break if the payer earns more than the $8,550 monthly net maximum when the child’s “proven needs” exceed that amount. In that case, the court may order payment of either the guideline maximum or 100% of the proven needs, whichever is greater.
As mentioned above, the noncustodial parent may voluntarily agree to pay any amount above that ordered by the court or the cap. Arrangements of this nature should be memorialized in writing to protect the parties’ interests, or they may be broken at any time without recourse.
Because child support calculations are relatively straightforward in Texas, disagreements occur over the income on which the support is based. A judge may consider earning ability and intentional under-employment. Essentially, child support is based on predicted income using historical income and earning ability as a guide. When disagreements occur, they are about the income, not the calculation. Payer’s often claim their income is about to decrease. The receiving parent sometimes claims the payer is underemployed and should earn more.
The laws and caps on child support can be confusing, which makes a reputable attorney’s help essential. A qualified family law attorney can help ease the pain of what is by nature a traumatic event in one’s life by taking the burden of the details off your shoulders while ensuring that your interests are safeguarded.