For Texas parents going through a divorce or child custody case, most assume that gaining joint custody or a “50/50” arrangement means they will not need to pay child support to the other parent. It comes as a shock, then, when they find themselves owing child support to the other parent even though custody is split equally.
How can this be? The answer, in Texas, involves the incomes of both parents and the amount of time they spend with the child – even in a split custody arrangement. The Aberdeen Law Firm in Dallas has experience in Texas family law and is here to help parents understand their child support rights and responsibilities.
To get a clear picture of how child support is determined, it helps to know more about how custody is determined to begin with. What most people know as “custody” is known as “conservatorship” in Texas. Conservatorship under Texas law refers to the rights, duties, and roles that parents play in their children’s upbringings.
Within a joint conservatorship, one parent might have exclusive decision-making over the child’s residence. The child might also spend more of their time – or overnights – with that parent, with the other parent being the “non-custodial” parent. Either parent under a joint managing conservatorship has the authority to be notified as an emergency contact, provide consent for medical procedures, attend school activities and pick up the child from school, and manage a child’s estate if needed.
While Texas courts prefer to appoint parents as joint managing conservators, sole conservatorships are chosen when the other parent has a history of family violence, child abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, or abandonment of the child and other parent.
Under any of these arrangements – even a Joint Conservatorship – child support may be ordered regardless of the amount of time a child spends with each parent. Texas law requires each parent to support a child financially unless special circumstances exist. Even the parent receiving child support from the other parent is presumed to be supporting the child themselves as well through day-to-day costs and expenses. A child support order helps to make sure the noncustodial parent contributes fairly, even in a shared conservatorship.
Texas child support guidelines use a formula requiring the noncustodial parent to pay a percentage of their net monthly income. The parent ordered to pay support is known as the “obligor” and has a legal obligation to pay the amount set by the court. Judges don’t have much flexibility to change the support amount once it is calculated under statutory guidelines unless certain special factors can be shown.
Even where the parents share a custodial schedule that is basically 50/50, and each pay their own expenses for food, clothing, and other necessities, one parent could be ordered to pay support to the other.
Determining an obligor’s net monthly income starts by evaluating their gross monthly income. Gross monthly income includes all wages, salary, tips, bonuses, overtime, and commissions.
Net income factors in deductions for Social Security taxes, Federal income tax, union dues, health insurance premiums, and medical costs for children when an obligor is required by the court to pay medical costs.
Under the Texas child support formula, net monthly income is then multiplied by any of the following percentages that apply:
If a parent’s net monthly income exceeds $7,500, these percentages can be increased if a judge finds it necessary. For example, if the noncustodial parent is a high earner while the custodial parent earns very little, the court might order a deviation upwards from the standard percentage.
When parents share custody, courts can calculate support for both parents and order the parent earning more to pay the difference between estimated support for each parent. The goal here is to make sure the child or children enjoy the same quality of life and standard of care with either parent at all times.
One common model for child support calculation in shared custody cases is the “income shared model”. In this scenario, child support is calculated by combining the incomes of both parents, then evaluating the percentage of income each parent earns. In this situation, if the mother earns $25,000 annually and the father earns $75,000 annually, the mother would pay 25% of expenses for the children and the father would pay 75% of the expenses. This could be true even if both mother and father “share” custody equally.
A common complaint among child support obligors is that their child support is going to fund the other parent’s lifestyle or expensive tastes. This is even more common when the parents share a joint conservatorship over the child. Indeed, it can be difficult to understand why – when they are paying for food, clothes, shoes, sports equipment, and other items – they must then pay the other parent for some of these same expenses at the other house.
This aspect of the child support process can be frustrating to some but courts do not evaluate how child support is spent on a dollar-by-dollar basis. Once support is ordered and paid, it is presumed to be in the best interests of the children and that the funds go directly toward their care and well-being. For struggling parents that have custody of the children more frequently than the other parent, every dollar counts.
Courts start out with a presumption that the child support guideline is appropriate and suits the children’s best interests. To ask a court to raise or lower the amount calculated under the guideline requires a showing that the children’s best interests would not be served by the support set through the formula.
Someone requesting a deviation in support could point to, for example:
Whether you are in the midst of a divorce or child custody battle or early in the process, it helps to understand your legal rights and options regarding child support. An experienced Dallas, Texas family law attorney can help you better understand and help your position during the child support calculation process. Part of this process is clearly presenting all available information on your side.
It can be an unwelcome surprise to learn that, even in a shared custody scenario, you might be required to pay child support to the other parent. A proven child support attorney can help make sure the calculation is fair and crucial information is not being missed by the court system.
Our legal team at Aberdeen Law Firm has the experience and compassion to guide parents through the child custody and child support process as smoothly as possible. Financial issues can be stressful enough on their own, and when they are connected to a child custody matter they can seem overwhelming. Our attorneys and staff are here to help you explore and understand all available options in your case. Our goal at all times is to help you move forward with your case and help you do what is best for your family and children.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your options. We can schedule a consultation online, or you can call our Dallas, Texas office today at (469) 224-1845.
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