10 Common Child Support Misconceptions in Texas

If you are involved in any type of dispute involving child support in Texas you have probably been given advice from well-meaning family and friends about what your options and rights are. Unfortunately, some advice that may have been accurate in the past may not be accurate now and because each family law case presents a unique fact situation even completely accurate statements about something that happened to another person may not matter in your case. So, here are 10 child support misconceptions that we would like to clear up:

  1. The guy is always going to be ordered to pay child support.

The Family Code in Texas is gender-neutral. There is nothing in the code that presumes that the mother should be with the child the majority of the time and there is nothing in the code that says that the father should be the one paying child support. In many cases parties are able to prove that it would be in the child’s best interest to spend the majority of the time with the father and the mother should be the one paying child support. This is obviously a very fact-sensitive issue and it may seem to a lot of people that the dad is always the one ordered to pay child support, but that is not a requirement under Texas law.

2. Child support must be set according to the guidelines in the Family Code.

The child support amounts that are set out in the Family Code are presumed to be in the best interest of the child. What this means is that, in general, Texas legislators have decided that this is the amount of child support that the person who has possession of the child less under a standard visitation schedule should be paying to the person who has possession of the child more. Judges are allowed to change this amount based on numerous factors that include any deviation from the standard possession schedules and specific needs of the child.

  1. Whatever the Attorney General says goes.

This one is related to the one above. If you have ever been involved in a matter in which the attorney general is trying to enforce or set child support it may have seemed like you didn’t have any wiggle room when it came to what the assistant attorney general was requesting of you. However, the judge has the final say in a child support matter and does not have to follow what the Attorney General’s office wants and judges will often decide to deviate from guideline amounts based on the specific situation of a party or child.

  1. If you have equal custody of the children there will be no child support awarded.

It might seem that it would be most fair to say that if the parties spend the exact same amount of time with a child neither should be paying the other child support. That is something that can happen. However, this is not a requirement and along the same lines as what was explained above, judges have discretion when it comes to child support with a 50/50 possession schedule. Often, judges will do what is called an “offset” with parties with 50/50 possession. This means that the judge will take the child support amounts that would normally be owed by each party and then the party that would have owed more money per month will be ordered to pay the difference in the two amounts. For example, if parent 1 would have been ordered to pay $200 and parent 2 would have been ordered to pay $300 under the guidelines, the judge would order parent 2 to pay $100 a month the parent 1. This is not something that judges are required to do, but it is the way that many judges handle a 50/50 possession situation.

  1. All of the child support paid to the state disbursement unit goes directly to the person caring for the child

This is generally a true statement. However, in some instances where the child has received state assistance in the past or currently, whether that is through Medicaid or another governmental assistance program, some of the money that is paid to the state disbursement unit, usually by being withheld from a paycheck, is actually paid back to the state. While this may seem like a minor distinction, it could be important if a child has specific needs that need to be provided for and a parent is expecting to receive every dollar that is provided for in a child support order.

  1. The person paying child support for the child should get credit for any money they spend that goes towards caring for the child.

The child support percentages that are provided for in the family code take into account the amount of time the party that does not have primary possession of the child will be spending with the child. It also takes into account the fact that during these times of possession the parent will need to be buying food, clothing, and other items for the child. This means that any money spent outside of child support does not automatically mean that you should get a credit towards your child support amount that is due every month.

  1. The person being paid child support can only spend that money on food, clothing, and shelter for the child.

Anyone who has a child knows that raising a child is incredibly expensive. Most people who are receiving child support will tell you that the amount they receive in child support does not come anywhere close to covering the expenses that need to be paid for the child every month. Because money is fungible, which means that all money is the same and can be spent interchangeably, it doesn’t really matter where the specific money that is being sent as child support is being spent as long as the needs of the child are being provided for. Just because there is not a separate account set up for child support that is evenly distributed to housing, food, and clothing every month does not mean that the child support is being misused.

  1. Once child support is set it cannot be changed.

There are specific provisions in the family code that allow for a change in child support. There are actually a wide variety of reasons that a child support order can be looked at again by a judge and changed. Ranging from a change in living arrangements to a change in medical needs of a child. Just because a child support order would stay in effect if not changed until the child graduates high school or turns 18 does not mean that the exact order that is in place must remain the same until that time.

  1. If you don’t have possession of your child you don’t have to pay child support.

Many people have an idea that they can sign away their parental rights and not worry about the child anymore. While something like this may happen sometimes and may have been more common in the past, this is not quite as simple as it sounds. In fact, some judges may see the fact that one party is not spending any time, and therefore not spending any money supporting the child during their time, as something that would cause a child support judgment to need to be higher. In order to supplement for the increased cost of child care and other needs of the child that are presumed to be paid by the person obligated to pay child support during their time of possession, judges may decide that the person not having any possession of the child should be paying more child support.

  1. If you are being denied access to your child it doesn’t matter that you stop paying child support.

Child support and possession may have some connection when it comes to setting the amount of child support every month, but that is where their connection ends. When it comes to the order that comes out of the court, the parties are not supposed to withhold child support if they are not able to have any visitation with the child and vice-versa. Withholding child support or possession of the child can have serious consequences.

If you have a family law matter involving child support in Kaufman, Dallas, Rockwall, or a surrounding county contact Guest and Gray and we can set up a time to talk to you about your options and any concerns that you may have.