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Guideline Child Support in Texas Divorce and Child Custody Litigation

| May 25, 2017 | Child Custody, Divorce |

In Texas divorce and child custody litigation, the phrase “guideline child support” gets thrown around quite a bit. What is guideline child support and how is it calculated? Is it possible that an obligor (i.e., the person legally obligated to pay child support) will have to pay more (or less) than guideline child support? This article explores and answers these questions.

  1. What is guideline child support?

When it comes to determining the presumed amount of child support to be paid, Texas law provides a method of calculation known as guideline child support. Importantly, by law, guideline child support is presumed to be reasonable and in the best interests of the child. This is indeed a powerful presumption. In most cases, the court is likely to order the obligor to pay guideline child support.

2. How is guideline child support calculated? Is it based upon gross or net income?

It can get a little complicated but, generally, you take total average monthly earnings, minus Social Security taxes, income taxes for a single person, and dependent health insurance, which results in “net monthly resources”. “Net monthly resources” are then multiplied by the applicable percentage (20% for one child, 25% for two, 30% for three, and so on up to a maximum of 40%) to arrive at monthly guideline child support. If there are other children not currently before the court for whom the obligor has a legal duty to support, the obligor is entitled to a further reduction to account for those children.

The Texas Attorney General has a calculator to help determine the amount of guideline child support:

3. Is there a way to pay less than the guideline child support amount?

Yes, although it isn’t easy. In order to deviate from the guidelines, the obligor has the burden to rebut the presumption that the guideline amount is reasonable and in the best interests of the child. This is achieved by successfully arguing that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the particular circumstances. The Court can consider “all relevant factors,” including the age and needs of the child and each parent’s financial ability. A non-exclusive list of other factors is contained in Texas Family Code § 154.123(b). Don’t be mistaken, however: just because the code has a method for deviating from the guidelines, this doesn’t mean it is easy or even likely. It is fair to say that, except for extreme circumstances, the Court is unlikely to deviate from guideline child support.

4. Is there a way to force the obligor to pay more than the guideline amount?

Yes. Currently, the guidelines are only intended to apply to the first $8,550 of net monthly resources. (Note: this amount increases every six years; the next scheduled increase will occur on September 1, 2019). If an obligor’s income exceeds this amount, the Court can order child support above the guidelines, provided that the cost of the “proven needs of the child” exceeds the guideline amount. In such a case the Court would then have to allocate the responsibility for the child’s additional needs between the parents.