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Texas child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this Texas child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

What does the court consider when determining the amount of child support?

Support amounts are based on income and ability to pay according to state guidelines. Texas considers the financial support of children to be a joint responsibility of both parents. However, in determining the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent, only the non-custodial parent’s income is considered.

Support will be paid as a flat percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income (less allowable deductions) for each child. The courts presume that the custodial parent will spend at least an equal percentage of their income directly for supporting the children.

How do your individual salaries affect support payments?

Even though Texas considers the financial responsibility for raising children to be a shared responsibility, only the non-custodial parent’s income is considered in calculating child support. The income/salary of the custodial parent generally does not come into question unless there is evidence that simply following the guidelines is not in the best interest of the child.

Does it make a difference if your spouse or you have a second family, stepchildren, or other children?

Yes. The court will take into consideration any child support or alimony payments being made by a parent when the amount of support is being calculated for the current divorce. If one parent is making support payments that are not court-ordered, but can prove are being made, that will be considered in the support amount determination.

Texas uses a complex set of guidelines and formulas to determine how support should be paid when a non-custodial parent has children in multiple households. It is based on adding a total support obligation for all children as if they lived in one household.

The procedure then considers the number of children involved in the current proceeding, and applies credits for support to children who are not part of the current proceeding. There is much more involved in this particular aspect of determining support.

Without the aid of counsel or a state caseworker, these amounts are very difficult to calculate. The resources or needs of either parent's new spouse or dependants may not be used to increase or decrease the child support obligation.

The exception to this is award of additional court-ordered support payments. If the non-custodial parent remarries, has a second family, then divorces again, they can seek a modification based on court-ordered support for the second family.

Support payments, alimony or similar obligations in place prior to the second divorce/support proceeding are considered in modifications. The court cannot set a level of support that totals more than 50 to 65 percent of the non-custodial parent’s earnings, when support payments are calculated from all court orders. As a result, a custodial parent (or parents) may only receive a pro-rated share of their support, if the non-custodial parent has multiple support orders.

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, a court can order the obligation to continue for an indefinite period if the child is disabled. 

A child will automatically be ineligible for child support if that child marries, is removed from disability status by a court order, or the child dies.

Texas's custody guidelines:

Actually, parents are encouraged to agree on parenting and custody issues. If there is no agreement between the parents, or their agreement is not found to be in the child's best interest, then the courts will make these decisions.

In Texas, custody is often called managing conservator ship. Joint or sole managing conservatorship may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and in some cases, considering the child’s preference. The sex of the parents is not considered. Other factors the courts consider include:

  • the age, circumstances, needs and best interests of the child
  • the parents’ circumstances
  • any evidence of abuse
  • any other relevant factors

In Texas, the courts now encourage joint legal custody whenever practical, based on their own considerations. The courts will not award joint custody if there is any credible evidence of spousal or child abuse. The courts will award joint custody if the parents have a written parenting agreement that:

  • designates which parent has the exclusive right to establish the county of primary residence of the child
  • establishes the geographic area of residence for the child
  • states the rights and duties of each parent regarding the child’s care, support and education
  • includes ways to minimize disruption of the child’s schooling, routine and association with friends
  • was entered into voluntarily and knowingly
  • is in the best interests of the child

Texas's medical insurance guidelines:

In any divorce proceeding where children are involved, the court will assign a health benefit plan to be maintained, usually through either parent’s employment. If there is no health plan reasonable available, the court may order other remedies for providing health care/insurance.

In Texas, medical insurance premiums are assumed to be the responsibility of the non-custodial parent. Medical insurance premiums are considered an addition to the amount of support that is otherwise calculated by using the support guidelines.

Most often, the non-custodial parent will maintain a policy available through their employer. If that is not possible and the custodial parent has a policy available through their employer, the custodial parent will enroll the child, and the non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay the premium.

If the custodial parent does not have a policy available, the court may order the non-custodial parent to purchase a policy. If the non-custodial parent cannot afford a private policy, they may be ordered to apply for coverage through Texas Healthy Kids Corporation.

If that coverage is not available, as a last resort, the non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay an additional amount of support for medical expenses. Extraordinary and/or non-reimbursed medical expenses may be cause for the court to deviate from the standard support guidelines, but generally are treated as an expense that is allocated between the parents according to their financial circumstances.

Day care costs are considered after the basic support obligation is determined. The cost of day care incurred by either parent in order to obtain or maintain employment, can be treated as a reason to deviate from the standard support guidelines.

How permanent are the provisions for Texas child support and custody ?

Court orders providing for support and custody of children are subject to change or modification to reflect significant changes in income, and/or living arrangements of the children.

While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, we encourage you to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Most states, including Texas, have a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. The payments are withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

How does joint custody work?

Joint custody is now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures as the preferred parenting plan.

Specifically, joint custody is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities of the children, and for both parents to approve all major decisions related to the children.

While joint custody is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Often one parent is named as the primary joint custodian and the other parent is granted visitation. The primary joint custodian typically retains the decision making power to determine the child’s primary residence and school and to designate things such as the child’s primary physician.

How Texas determines child visitation and custody:

When disputes arise over support payments, courts view visitation and support as separate issues. The level of support you receive depends on your custody arrangement. If you have primary physical custody, you will receive an amount based on that.

If you and your child’s other parent share custody, the level of support will be based on the shared custody arrangement. The Texas statutes dealing with custody — referred to as "conservatorship" can be found at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/statutes/fa/fa015300toc.html.

In the past, if a non-custodial parent refused to pay support, there was not much the other parent could do — except refuse visitation. The courts now recognize that visitation and support payments are two separate issues.

If you are the custodial parent, and your support is late or nonexistent, understand you still must allow visitation. Refusing to allow visitation, based on not receiving child support, could put you at risk for a contempt of court citation. A contempt charge also could be leveled against a non-custodial parent who stops paying support based on the claim that they have not been allowed visitation.

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree to exactly when visitation will occur, the standard visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays
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