All states have laws that provide for the financial support of children whose parents are divorced or who were never married. Child support laws differ widely and wildly from state to state. Texas child support laws are relatively simple, however.
In Texas, the most common arrangement is for one parent to pay child support and one parent to receive child support. (Sometimes both parents pay child support to the state under unfortunate circumstances involving the state having to take possession of the children.) The two roles have their own legal terms:
- Obligor. This is the parent who has to pay child support.
- Obligee. This is the parent who receives child support.
Sometimes the obligee is not a parent. If the state has taken the children or if another family member has been designated by the court as a sole or joint managing conservator, then the person or agency that receives child support will not be a parent.
Child Support is a Serious Obligation
If a person does not pay child support as ordered, the court has the power to seize their non-exempt assets and have them sold, the Office of the Attorney General has the power to instruct the IRS to intercept that parent's tax refund every year until child support is caught up. The court also has the power to have the non-paying parent's wages garnished and to send that parent to jail for contempt of court.
If you are ordered to pay child support and find that you cannot pay the amount ordered due to some change in your circumstances (job loss, cut in pay, medical leave, incarceration, etc.) there are two things you must do immediately:
First: File a Motion to Modify Child Support. You must immediately file a motion to abate child support if you are incarcerated or a motion to modify child support if your financial circumstances have changed such that the state's guidelines would impose a significantly smaller monthly payment. If you fail to do this, you will begin to accrue an arrearage at the current payment amount and the judge is completely powerless to give you a break, no matter how good your reason is for not paying. State court judges do not have the authority to retroactively reduce (or increase) previously ordered child support payment amounts.
Second: Continue to Pay Child Support. Unless you have been incarcerated or are completely disabled (e.g. confined to a hospital or other institution), it is NOT credible that you cannot pay any child support at all. This will seem harsh, but it's true: The state's view is that even an unemployed person can walk the streets looking for stray change and then send that in for child support. Paying zero is rarely excusable and is the quickest path to being sent to jail for failure to pay.
If you find that you can no longer afford the payment as ordered, once you file your motion to modify, you must pay all the child support that you can BEFORE you pay any other bills of any kind. That means that if you have a car payment, you quit making it. If you have a house payment, you quit making it. If you have a cell phone, high-speed internet, or any vacations planned--they all get canceled. The court's view is that your children eat before you do. That may or may not be fair or just--but it is the law.
Guideline Child Support
Most obligors pay what is called guideline child support in Texas. Guideline support looks at the obligor's net monthly income (computed according to a formula provided by the state legislature in the Texas Family Code), and requires the obligor to pay a certain percentage of that each month. You can estimate Texas guideline child support by using our Texas Child Support Calculator.
If a child's needs cannot be met by guideline support, the court has the power to order support payments that are greater than guideline support. Parents are able to agree to payment of less than guideline support, and often do in exchange for other consideration.
Our legal services bot attorney.bot, can help you calculate guideline child support.