Houston Child Support Lawyer
Under Texas law, biological parents of a minor child are required to support that child financially, both during a marriage and following, and regardless of whether the parent has ever been married to the other parent. Oftentimes, a court will order child support as part of a divorce proceeding, but child support can be sought outside of a divorce proceeding as well.
Calculating Child Support in Texas
The amount of child support is usually determined according to a statutory formula. Under Texas law, the percentage of the noncustodial parent’s net resources that are awarded as child support generally follows these guidelines: 20 percent of net resources for one child, 25 percent for two children, 30 percent for three, 35 percent for four, 40 percent for five and no less than 40 percent for six or more children, not to exceed certain maximum limits.
When you contact our Houston child support lawyers for your initial consultation, we can quickly give you a reliable idea of how much you are likely to receive or be ordered to pay in child support. We can also discuss the options available for enforcement of the court order in cases of unpaid child support and for the modification of support orders when circumstances change.
Modification of Child Support
A request for modification of child support must be filed in the court that last entered an order regarding the children involved. Either spouse may seek modification based on the assertion that a change in circumstances has rendered the prior order unfair or unworkable such as:
- The noncustodial parent (the one paying child support) is making substantially more money than was the case at the time support was determined.
- The noncustodial parent has lost a job, has had a medical crisis, or has otherwise experienced a significant change in employment and/or financial status.
- The child has experienced a medical emergency that places an unfair burden of medical bills and costs of care on the custodial parent.
The legal process of modifying a support order is designed to ensure that children’s rights and best interests are protected and that the fairness of court orders is maintained. Modification of child support is not meant to be a vehicle for rehashing old arguments or opening old wounds.
Paternity and Child Support
When the parents of a child were not married when the child was born, it may be necessary to prove the paternity of the child before a court will order child support. Paternity can be established through agreement among the parties or through DNA testing, and establishing paternity can also be important for obtaining various survivor benefits (life insurance, veterans’ benefits, etc.) and in custody matters. In cases where the parties cannot agree on paternity, the mother or child can file a paternity suit, and such a suit can be brought from anytime before the child is born up to two years after the child reaches legal adulthood at 18.
Under what circumstances will the court award alimony or spousal support?
The obligation of spouses to support each other does not necessarily terminate when they divorce. If the divorce will leave one spouse with very little income and the other with enough to contribute to the low-income spouse’s support, the court will usually award alimony, at least temporarily.
Historically, spousal maintenance was awarded to homemaker wives, and paid by wage-earning husbands; that is no longer always the case. Now, either spouse may be awarded alimony if the other has the more substantial income and the recipient spouse’s income is insufficient to support him or her at the level to which the spouses were accustomed during the marriage.
Spousal support is often awarded in cases in which one spouse has put his or her education or career on hold in order to raise the parties’ children while the other climbed the career ladder and achieved a higher income. In such cases, the alimony will often be temporary, providing income for a period of time to enable the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. This temporary, or rehabilitative, spousal support enables the recipient spouse to further his or her education, receive job training, reestablish himself or herself in a former career or complete childrearing responsibilities, after which time he or she can be self-sufficient.
How is the amount of child support calculated?
Each state has developed guidelines that help establish the amount of child support that must be paid. The guidelines vary from state to state, but are all based on the parents’ incomes, expenses and the needs of the children. In some states, the guidelines allow judges greater discretion in determining the amount of child support that must be paid, but in other states any variance from the guidelines must be carefully justified or it can be readily overturned on appeal. Often, the guidelines are set out in a chart-type format that calculates the child support amount as a percentage of the paying parent’s income that increases as the number of children being supported rises. The purpose of guidelines is to aid the judge in determining child support amounts. Judges are free to deviate from the guidelines when there are good reasons to do so. If, for instance, one party or a child has higher than average expenses, the amount can vary. Or if the court determines that the paying parent is voluntarily earning less than he or she could for the purpose of minimizing the child support obligation, the judge can calculate the amount of child support based on what the payer is capable of earning.
Despite the variations from state to state, there are some general factors that are almost universally considered by judges issuing child support orders, including
- The child’s standard of living before the parents’ separation or divorce
- The paying parent’s ability to pay
- The custodial parent’s needs and income
- The needs of the child or children, including educational costs, daycare expenses and medical expenses (health insurance or special health care needs)
Once a court issues a child support order, can the amount of support that is paid be changed?
The amount of child support may be modified under certain circumstances and through a variety of methods. The simplest method is for the parents to agree to a change, but the court must approve even an agreed-upon change in order to be enforceable.
When there is no voluntary agreement, the party seeking the change must request a court hearing at which each side will present, usually through counsel, the reasons supporting and opposing the modification. The court usually will not grant the request unless there has been a significant change in circumstances that justifies the change, such as a significant increase in either parent’s income through a remarriage, a job change or a considerable change in the needs of the child. Changes in the child support laws, too, may justify a change in previously issued orders. Also, under certain circumstances, an increase in the cost of living can warrant an upward modification of child support. Generally, periodic increases can be provided for in the original order so that the parties do not need to make repeated court appearances each time there is a significant change in the cost of living.
How is child support collected if the person responsible for paying it moves to another state?
Under the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA), an order for support issued by the family court in one state will be enforced by the family court in another state to which the paying parent moves if certain conditions are met. Under RURESA, the custodial parent has two options for how to proceed to collect support.
Under the first option, the custodial parent who receives the support must register the order for support in the county where the payer parent now lives. The family court will move to enforce the order and make the non-custodial parent pay. The payer parent can, however, go to court in his or her new home state and argue that the child support amount should be modified, and if he or she is successful, the child’s home-state court may be stuck with the reduced amount.
Alternatively, the custodial parent can go to the family court in his or her home state to commence an action to enforce the support award issued by that court. The enforcement agency that serves that court will notify the payer’s new home state so that enforcement actions, such as wage withholding, can be implemented there. Under this method, the payer cannot get the award modified in his or her new home state. The new state’s court can, however, determine that the amount of child support ordered is too high and require that only a portion of it be paid, but the original state does not have to accept the reduced amount. The payer remains liable for the full amount as originally ordered, and if he or she fails to pay it, the original state may issue an arrest warrant, and the delinquency can show up on the payer’s credit report.
What are parents’ obligations to their children?
Every parent has the duty to provide his or her children with the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing and shelter. This duty usually terminates when the child is emancipated, when the child graduates from high school, when the child enters the military or when the child marries, but the support obligation can extend beyond that point if the child is unable to support him or herself. The law generally does not dictate the level of support that is provided when the children live with both parents, but when, through divorce or other circumstances, the child is living with one parent, there are laws specifying the amount of financial support the non-custodial parent must provide.
Contact a Houston Child Support Lawyer for help in Houston, Harris and Galveston Counties
If you have questions regarding obtaining, enforcing, or modifying an order for child support, contact one of our experienced Houston child support lawyers for a consultation by calling 713-654-2112 (Houston) or 281-486-6116 (Galveston County by appointment only) .