Texas Child Support
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Texas child support may be obtained as part of a custody and divorce arrangement or as part of a separate legal action for the purposes of determining paternity and ordering support. Those seeking child support in the state of Texas may get help from the Child Support Program administered by the Child Support Division of the Attorney General's office or may consult with an experienced family law attorney.
Obtaining Child Support in Texas
In Texas, the Office of the Attorney General has a Child Support Division that provides assistance to parents or guardians seeking support for minor children. The Child Support Division will determine on a case-by-case basis what types of services and aid are appropriate in a given situation.
These services may include assistance with locating absentee parents; establishing paternity; petitioning the court for a child support order; petitioning the court to obtain a medical support order; enforcing child support and medical support orders; reviewing and adjusting child support payments; and collecting and disbursing such payments. Parents seeking help from the Child Support Program may find their local field office using the list of offices on the website of the attorney general.
While the Child Support Program helps parents by going to court to get an order of child support, the purpose of the program is not to provide parents with legal advice nor is it to act as a legal advocate for a parent. According to the Program's mission statement, they represent the state, not individuals, and their purpose is to support the priorities of children, collections and customer service.
The Child Support Program does not provide assistance with custody or divorce agreements. As such, parents who wish to protect his or her own legal interests or who need assistance filing for or negotiating the terms of a divorce should speak with an experienced Texas family attorney.
How Child Support is Calculated
Texas has established uniform guidelines used to determine child support. Found in the Texas Family Code Title 5 Subchapter C, these guidelines base the amount of support owed on the net monthly income of the parent who is paying. His or her net monthly income is calculated by adding up how much he makes on average each month, and then subtracting money taken out for social security, federal and state taxes, union dues and health care for the child.
Once the parent's net monthly income is calculated, the Guidelines in 154.125 specify what percentage of that net income he must pay. This varies depending upon how many children he has. A parent with one child, for example, would have to pay 20 percent of his or her net resources to the care of the child. With two children, that number jumps to 25 percent. Parents of three, four and five children respectively must pay 30, 35 and 40 percent of their income and finally, parents with six or more children will pay at least 40 percent. These percentages apply in most cases, except where parents are high-income earners or where other special circumstances exist such as a disabled child. When the paying parent has partial custody of the child, the amount of support he or she must pay may be reduced. In addition, medical support for the child's health needs is split among the parents and is separate from the basic child support obligation determined by these percentages.
Section 154.11 explains that these guidelines are "rebuttably presumed in best interest of child". Essentially, this means that these guidelines should determine what child support is unless there is some compelling reason why a different arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
When parents wish to create their own agreement on support outside of court, they should take the guidelines into account and either use them to determine support or have a good reason why they did not. Section 154.124 recognizes that allowing parents to enter into their own written agreement can help to create a more amicable dispute, but if the judge finds that the agreement is not in the child's best interest, they will either be asked to revise it or the judge will simply make his own support determination.
Enforcing Child Support
When a judge issues a child support order as a result of a divorce decree or any other legal proceeding, it is legally binding and the parent who is ordered to pay must do so. Section 154.007 mandates that when periodic child support payments are ordered, the money is to be withheld from the paying parent's paycheck, sometimes called a wage assignment or a wage garnishment. This allows for automatic deductions from the paycheck before it is paid out and helps to ensure that the support is paid.
Parents who need assistance in enforcing a child support order may return to the judge who issued the order and ask that the non-paying parent be placed in contempt for failure to follow the court order. In addition, the Child Support Program offered through the Office of the Attorney General has a number of different techniques used to help ensure support.
As part of their enforcement services, for example, they may suspend the non-paying parent's license. The non-paying parent may also have his tax return seized, be arrested or find him or herself on the published list of Child Support Evaders.
Modification of Support Orders
Child support orders may be reviewed every three years to determine whether modification is appropriate. Support orders may also be reviewed at other times upon the request of other parent. Section 156.401 of the Texas Family Code explains the rules for when modification will be granted. Under this code section, a modification will be granted when it has been at least three years since the support order was last modified and the amount of support the parent is paying differs by either 20 percent or $100 from what he or she would need to pay under current child support guidelines.
A modification will also be granted if there has been a significant change in circumstances for either parent or for the child.
The Child Support Program offered through the attorney general's office will take requests for modification from parents. If they believe modification is appropriate, they will assist parents in obtaining a modification from the court.
Getting Legal Help
Obtaining, enforcing and modifying child support orders can be legally complex. Although the programs offered through the attorney general go a long way towards helping parents and kids in need, it is often advisable for parents to seek competent and knowledgeable legal advice.