If you are considering divorce in Texas, child support and custody may be at the forefront of your mind. You may wonder if you or your soon-to-be ex-spouse will be required to pay child support. Yes, parents can agree to no child support in Texas, but there are multiple reasons why a court will still order a parent to pay child support in that situation.
The guiding legal philosophy in Texas is that parents must contribute to the financial expenses associated with raising their child or children. As a result, it is much more common for the non-custodial parent to be required to pay child support than for neither parent to pay child support at all.
Agreeing Not to Pay Child Support in an Uncontested Divorce
In Texas, divorcing couples can pursue an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, both spouses agree on all the major issues related to the divorce. They must agree on dividing their marital assets and debts, child custody, child support, and spousal support. A couple could agree that neither spouse will pay child support. The couple may have negotiated a child custody arrangement in which both parents have equal physical custody of the children. In that case, the parents may spend nearly equal amounts of money on raising their children. When a couple agrees to a divorce settlement outside of court, they can submit that settlement agreement to the court.
Often, a family court judge will enter the written settlement agreement as part of the finalized divorce decree. However, judges are not legally required to accept the couple’s agreed-upon divorce settlement. If the judge overseeing the case determines that one spouse should pay child support, the judge can strike out an agreement that neither parent should pay child support and enter a child support order they deem appropriate.
Factors Judges Consider When Awarding Child Support
Family Court judges are the ultimate decision-making authority regarding child support. When both parents have complete faith that they will contribute equally to support their child, a judge may consider not ordering child support. Before making that decision, most judges will consider multiple factors to determine whether ordering no child support is in the child’s best interest. The judge will likely consider both parents’ income and debts. If both parents are equally able to afford all of the child’s expenses and split those costs, the judge will be more likely to allow one parent to pay child support. When one parent has an unstable job or income level or is in a volatile industry, the judge may be less likely to avoid requiring child support.
Additionally, If the parents cannot communicate respectfully with the goal of co-parenting effectively, the judge may decide to enter a child support order. After all, to avoid a child support order, both parents need to be able to work together to determine all of the child’s expenses and divide them equally among themselves outside of court.
How Do Judges Decide Child Support Matters in Texas?
Every decision a family court judge makes on behalf of a child should be made with the child’s best interest at the forefront of the judge’s mind. Parents involved in child support cases must remember that all court orders regarding their children will be made with the child’s best interest in mind, not necessarily the parents’ best interest. Consequently, even if the parents agree to pay no child support, the judge can decide to order it anyway. Judges do not have to provide detailed explanations of their rulings, but they may consider the parent’s financial situation or the number of expenses related to raising the child.
For example, if a child’s medical, health, and therapy expenses are high and the parent needing support does not have a high enough income, the court may decide to award child support payments. In some cases, one parent may try to pressure the other parent into stating that they do not need child support. When the spouses have unequal bargaining power, one spouse may be pressured into saying child support is unnecessary. Judges should consider whether both spouses can and will be able to share the expenses appropriately without court intervention. It is rare for parents to be able to negotiate these types of situations on their own, especially when the divorce involves a high amount of conflict.
Understanding Child Support Guidelines
Understanding Texas child support guidelines is important when negotiating matters related to child support and custody. The court uses the child support guidelines to determine the precise amount of child support one parent must pay. These guidelines provide parents with a prediction of what they may expect to pay. Every state has guidelines and variations related to how much a parent should pay.
The child support guidelines are determined by how many children are involved. For example, if only one child is involved, the parent paying child support will need to pay less than if multiple children are involved. The guidelines also consider children from other relationships or marriages for which the parent paying child support is already obligated to pay child support. For example, suppose one parent has four children, but only two are eligible for child support because the other two have already turned 18 or finished high school. In that case, the calculation would only include child support for two children.
Similarly, suppose a parent is already paying child support for two children from another relationship and has two other minor children with his or her soon-to-be-ex-spouse. In that case, the calculation will be based on four qualifying children. In other words, the judge will consider all minor children for whom the parent is currently paying or may be required to pay child support.
Calculating Child Support
The standard child support guidelines in Texas will be applied to determine the amount one parent should pay. The amount of child support is determined using a percentage of the parent’s monthly net income. As mentioned above, the percentage depends on the number of children for whom the parent will be paying child support. The parent’s monthly net income includes the parent’s takeaway income after all relevant deductions have been made, such as those for Social Security taxes, federal taxes, Medicare, and insurance premiums.
When the parent only has one child to support, the support percentage is 20%. For two children, it is 25%. For three children, 30%, and 35% for four children. When four or more children are involved, 40% of appearance monthly income can be designated for child support payments. The percentages are only guidelines for how much child support a parent should pay. Judges can order more or less child support depending on the case’s unique facts.
Child Support and High-Income Parents
In some cases, calculating a child support obligation based on a parent’s take-home income is not effective. The court will consider all sources of income, including wages, rental income, salary, retirement in annuity income, gifts, and benefits for disability and unemployment. When the parent’s income is over $9,200 a month, the monthly child support amount will be calculated as if that parent earns $9,200 a month. There is also a cap on the maximum amount of child support a parent can pay according to the Texas guidelines.
Under Texas law, calculating child support according to these guidelines is presumed to be in the children’s best interest and reasonable. However, when one or both parents are very high-income earners, such as executives, CEOs, or professional athletes, placing a cap on child support amounts may seem unfair. Family court judges have the legal authority to deviate from the guidelines when following the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.
Parents Can Agree to Deviate From the Guidelines
Judges can consider the needs of the child, extraordinary education or health care expenses for the child, travel expenses, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent when deciding whether to avoid applying the texas child support guidelines. As a result, a judge can agree that parents do not need a child support order, especially when both parents are high-income earners.
Nonetheless, judges should consider the child’s needs, not the parents’ lifestyle needs. Requesting child support below or exceeding the guidelines is rare, but it is not unheard of. If parents would like to deviate from the guidelines, they should consider attending mediation and signing a binding mediated Settlement Agreement. Again, signing an agreement is not a guarantee that a judge will enforce the agreement, but it can help a parent’s case.
What if Parents Cannot Agree on Child Support?
It is relatively rare that parents will agree to a divorce settlement that does not require one parent to pay child support. When parents can’t agree on whether to pay child support or they can’t agree on the amount of child support, the family court judge overseeing their case will calculate child support using state guidelines. Child support is always considered when it is in the child’s best interest to pay for necessities such as clothing, food, and shelter. Child support can factor in those additional expenses when there are extra expenses, such as extracurricular activities.
A Child Support Order Increases Accountability
The parent with primary custody may want to consider a court order for child support to increase transparency and accountability. The parent who will incur the most expenses raising a child trusts their co-parent to pay child support. For a while, this arrangement could work and be beneficial for everyone involved. However, things could change in the future, making it difficult for the parent to obtain the financial support they need. For example, what happens if the parent who doesn’t have primary custody loses their job unexpectedly or experiences a salary decrease?
If the parents only have an informal agreement and do not have a court order regarding child support, it could be difficult for the custodial parent to obtain the child support needed. In other cases, the informal arrangement to not pay child support may work well for months or even years, but an area of conflict could arise between co-parents. The co-parents could begin disagreeing on an important aspect of parenting that comes up as their kids get older. The lack of a child support order could result in the parent with more assets and finances rejecting their agreement to divide costs among themselves.
Having a child support order allows the parent receiving child support a safeguard. Even if a parent trusts their co-parent, a court order provides an additional layer of enforcement and accountability. If the other parent does not pay what they are ordered, the parents who should receive payments can enforce the child support order in court. If the paying parent refuses to pay, the court can garnish his or her wages.
Courts Generally Avoid Not Ordering Child Support
There may be rare cases where child support is not requested or demanded, and a court will agree to this arrangement. Generally, courts avoid this type of situation because they do not think it is in the child’s best interest. Taking time to clearly understand the protections of a child support order can help you clarify which route you would like to take while ensuring your child has all the resources they need going forward.
The Benefits of an Uncontested Divorce
If you’re considering getting a divorce in Texas, you may have heard about the benefits of pursuing an uncontested divorce, also called an agreed-upon divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the divorcing parties agree on all the significant issues related to the divorce. Pursuing an uncontested divorce has many advantages. You will save significant time by not going through litigation and multiple court hearings. You can also save significant money on legal fees and expenses. Pursuing an uncontested divorce will speed up the divorce process significantly. Doing so can also decrease the stress for you, your soon-to-be ex-spouse, and any children involved.
Pursuing an “Agreed Divorce” With Minor Children
You may have also heard you should not get an uncontested divorce if children are involved. It is true that when minor children are involved, an uncontested divorce can be more challenging to obtain. However, it is possible to file for an Agreed Divorce with Children when you and your spouse have one or more children under the age of 18.
Technically, when you have children under 18, you cannot obtain an uncontested divorce in Texas. You will need to petition the court for an “agreed divorce.” As with an uncontested divorce, you will still need to show the court that you and your soon-to-be spouse agree on all the major issues related to your divorce, including child custody and child support. You also need to be willing to sign all the court forms. There cannot be any court orders for child support or child custody already in place. If there are court orders in place, you will not be able to pursue an agreed divorce.
Filing for Divorce
To pursue an agreed divorce in Texas, you or your spouse and your children meet the residency requirements. You or your spouse must have lived in the county where you are filing for divorce for at least 90 days and lived in Texas for at least six months before filing your divorce petition. For Texas courts to have jurisdiction over your child custody and visitation, you will need to show that your child or children lived in Texas for at least the previous six months or since birth or that Texas is your child’s home state. You will need to file your original petition for divorce and serve your spouse with the paperwork.
Will I Have to Attend a Hearing?
Texas has a mandatory 60-day waiting. Before the date when the divorce petition has been filed and when the final divorce decree can be signed. Even if you and your spouse have a greeting on every issue, including child support, you’ll still need to wait 60 days before the divorce can be finalized. During this period, you and your spouse must complete a form called the Required Initial Disclosures in Dissolution of Marriage within 30 days of the answer being fined.
In every divorce, the parties must go to a prove-up hearing, even when they agree on all relevant matters. You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse need to complete and sign the Final Decree of Divorce before going to court for your prove-up hearing. During the prove-up hearing, you will complete your uncontested divorce. Essentially, you will ask the court to honor the terms to which you and your spouse have already agreed. During this hearing, the judge may take issue with your agreed-upon decision related to child support.
The Judge May Require an Initial Status Hearing Regarding Child Support
There may be instances when a court will not grant a prove-up hearing, especially if minor children are involved. In that case, the judge may require the parties to attend an initial status hearing to discuss the information you and your spouse provided in the Original Petition or Original Anwer. Suppose you filed the original divorce petition and stated that you would not petition the court for child support. Your spouse may have filed an answer stating they would not be requesting child support.
In that case, a judge may review those documents and determine that the court should order child support. In that case, the judge may require an initial hearing to ask you questions, gather more information and evaluate whether not requiring child support is in the best interest of your child or children.
Similarly, suppose the child support amount you and your spouse have agreed upon is significantly different than the amount required under Texas guidelines. In that case, the judge may take issue with your agreement. In that case, you should each bring your paycheck stubs and other Financial documentation showing your income and expenses. You can work with an attorney to show the court that your income justifies your decision not to request child support.
When Can a Child Support Order Be Modified in Texas?
What happens if a judge decides to allow you and your spouse not to pay any child support, but your situation changes, and now you need to request child support? Parents can petition the court to modify the child support agreement after the court has entered an original child support order. It is always possible to change how you make child support payments, but you can only do so through a court order. A child support order is eligible for modification when the order was established or last modified at least three years ago.
Additionally, you can modify a child support order when the monthly amount differs by either 20% or $100 from the amount that would be awarded according to Texas Child Support Guidelines. Alternatively, when a parent can show that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstance since the last child support order was set, he or she may be eligible for a modification. Material changes can include the following:
- The noncustodial parent’s income has decreased or increased
- The non-custodial parent is legally responsible for additional children
- The child’s medical insurance coverage has changed
- The child is now living with a different parent
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With an Uncontested Divorce Attorney
The attorneys at Divorce Concierge understand that pursuing a non-contested divorce when minor children are involved can be more complicated. We provide flat rate packages for couples pursuing an uncontested divorce. When minors are involved, they may need to spend more time negotiating and resolving child custody and child support issues.
That is why we offer our clients traditional legal representation and flat-rate packages. We offer potential clients a free case evaluation so they can learn more about our legal services and options. Contact the McKinney, Texas, divorce attorneys at Divorce Concierge to schedule your no-obligation consultation today.