When a couple with children decides to divorce, the financial implications for the children can be significant. To ensure that children have the support necessary following a dissolution of marriage, one or both parents may be required to make child support payments.
Child support payments can vary in length and amount. In addition, the payments can be modified under certain circumstances.
Across the country, the average child support payment is $430 each month, according to 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the same report, Texas is the state with the most money collected in child support payments in the United States.
The length of child support payments
Texas law dictates the length of time during which child support payments may be collected. In most cases, child support payments are made until the child is 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever takes place last.
In some rare circumstances, child support payments may stop prior to that time. For instance, if the child becomes emancipated - whether by a court order or through marriage - child support payments may be stopped. In addition, if the child passes away prior to his or her 18th birthday, child support payments would halt. Also, child support payments may end if the child enlists in the military.
In other cases, child support payments may continue after he or she reaches 18 years of age. If the child has a disability, child support payments may be ordered for an indefinite length of time. Under Texas law, a disability can include both physical and mental disabilities. In addition, the law provides that the child need not be institutionalized to receive ongoing support, but must require "substantial care and personal supervision" and must not be "capable of self-support."
In addition, parents may agree to continue providing financial support to the child beyond his or her 18th birthday, as part of the divorce agreement. In such cases, the parent making child support payments may agree to contribute financially to support the child while he or she is in college. In some cases, parents may agree to split the financial burden while the child is in college.
Calculating child support payments
The amount of the child support payments is calculated based on the paying parent's net income. An individual's net income includes not only an individual's income - including tips, commissions and overtime pay, - but also earnings made off rental properties, self-employment and other payments received, such as:
- Severance pay
- Retirement benefits
- Social Security benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Workers' compensation benefits
Under Texas law, if the parent's net income is under $8,550 per month, specific guidelines determine the amount of the child support payments. If the parent has one child, the child support payment will be 20 percent of his or her net income. The amount paid increases if the parent has more than one child. For example, a parent with two children will pay 25 percent of the net income; three children, 30 percent; four children, 35 percent; and five children, 40 percent. If the parent has six children, he or she will pay no less than 40 percent of the net income.
If the paying parent has more than one child, but the children live in different households, the calculations will be somewhat less than if the children lived in the same home.
Modifying child support payments
Child support orders can be modified under a number of different circumstances. While many situations may necessitate the modification of an order, however, the modification can only be made by the court. Even if both parties agree to a change, the modification will not be made unless issued by the court.
In Texas, a parent may request that the court review the child support agreement once every three years. In such cases, the individual requesting the modification must indicate that the child support payments would be altered by a minimum of 20 percent or $100.
In addition, modifications may be made at any time if a material and substantial change in circumstances has taken place. For instance, if a parent loses his or her job, it may be wise to seek a downward modification. In contrast, if a parent's income increases substantially, it may be a good idea for the receiving parent to request an upward modification.
When one parent fails to make child support payments
When a child support order is issued, the responsible parent is obligated to continue making payments, unless a modification to the order is made. If the parent fails to continue making payments, a number of consequences can result.
To begin with, a parent who fails to make child support payments may find that his or her wages are garnished to account for the payments that were not made. In addition, if the parent is due a federal income tax refund, that money may be intercepted to account for the child support payments that were not made.
In the relatively unlikely event that the parent wins the lottery after failing to make child support payments, that money may also be collected to pay the amount owed.
In addition to these steps used to collect unpaid child support, other consequences may result. For instance, licenses issued to an individual who fails to pay child support may be suspended or revoked, including driver's licenses, professional licenses, hunting and fishing licenses and passports. Professional licenses can include law, medical and dental licenses.
A parent faces the potential suspension of his or her licenses when child support payments have not been made for over three months and the parent has failed to comply with a repayment plan. Before a license is suspended, however, the Office of the Attorney General provides warning to the parent who failed to make child support payments. The parent then has a chance to repay the owed child support before the license is suspended.
Finally, a parent who fails to make child support payments may face a contempt of court order, which can result in fines, incarceration or both.
According to the Valley Morning Star, it is not uncommon for parents in Texas to fall behind on their child support payments. In all, around one million people are required to make child support payments in Texas. Of those, approximately 460,000 were reportedly a minimum of one month behind in 2013. In total, they owed approximately $11 billion in unpaid child support.
Seek the advice of a family law attorney in Texas
Whether you are just starting to think about getting divorced or have been divorced for many years and would like to consider modifying your child support agreement, it is a good idea to first seek the counsel of a skilled family law attorney. A lawyer can work with you on all aspects of your divorce, from property division and spousal support to child custody and child support issues.
The attorneys at Teller Law Firm, P.C. will work with you to ensure your interests are protected when it comes to child support payments and all other issues involving your divorce. Take the time to consult with a legal professional to ensure your rights are protected.