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Guideline Child Support: How it works

The Texas Family Code is an amazing legislative work. It covers divorce, annulment, how to divide stock options, rules regarding whom you can marry and when, provisions for child custody, grandparent rights, and more. There may not be any part of the Family Code, however, that causes as much heartache as child support.


For those getting child support, it is often either not enough or far more than necessary. For those paying it, the amount is almost always more than desired.


Texas courts typically award child support using the Guidelines for Child Support found in Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code.


The use of the Guidelines is “rebuttably presumed in best interest of child.” That means that a court can use the guidelines and will virtually never be reversed by an appellate court for having done so.


The basics of the Guidelines are this:


1. Determine the number of children for which support is being considered.


The amount of guideline support varies based upon the number of children in the case being considered. For one child, the starting percentage is 20%. For two, it’s 25%. And it continues to go up by 5% for each child, up to five children. For six or more children, the guideline amount is to be “not less than” it would be for five.


2. Determine how many total children the obligor is responsible for.


The person paying the child support is known as the obligor. The next step to determine the guideline amount is to determine how many children the obligor has a legal duty to support. That number includes the children in the case for which support is being calculated, and any others that he or she is legally obligated to support, whether the support is currently order or being paid. The number does not include step-children. The percentage determined in step 1, gets reduced if there are additional children for whom support is ordered.


3. Determine the Net Resources of the Obligor.


In Texas, for Guideline support, only the income or other resources of the obligor are considered. That means that even if the obligee – the one getting the support – is a multi-millionaire and the obligor is making minimum wage, the obligor must still pay. “Net Resources” basically includes all income of the obligor, regardless of the source of the income. There is often a misunderstanding about how “net” resources, as opposed to “gross” resources are determined. In short, the net amount is the amount that the Attorney General’s chart says should be the net, not what the net is in reality.


4. Apply the appropriate percentage to the amount of the net resources to which guidelines apply.

There is not a maximum amount of child support – a court can order a person making $5,000.00 per month to pay $4,000.00 per month in child support. But, there is a “presumptive max” of child support, and that is the percentage obtained in 1 and 2 applied to the maximum amount specified in the Family Code. The maximum number is designed to go up over time.


There are provisions in the code for the court to disregard the guidelines, and for the court to award more or less than what the calculation detailed above would lead to. Additionally, as with virtually everything in family law, this just covers the basics. There is a lot more to it.

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