Putting a “Cap” on Child Support in Texas

Texas Child Support Cap

Many people believe that there is a statutory “cap” or maximum amount of child support permitted under Texas law. This belief is only partially correct.

Texas has enacted statutory guidelines which apply various percentages – depending on the number of children the parent must support – but only to the first $8,550.00 of an obligor’s monthly net resources. See Tex. Fam. Code § 154.125 et seq. (before Sept. 1, 2013, the percentages were applied only to the first $7,500).

So, for example, if you receive an annual income of more than $102,600.00, your income in excess of that “cap” is not included in determining the amount of child support presumptively owed under Texas statutory guidelines.

However, as mentioned in a previous topic in this blog series, Texas has given its courts some discretion in deciding whether to vary from the “guidelines” amount of child support. As a result, it is possible for a court to determine that an obligor owes additional child support above the presumptive amount in a specific case.

To exceed this statutory “cap,” the court must determine that the child’s “proven needs” exceed the presumptive amount of child support under Texas guidelines. Here, the child’s “needs” are based on the parties’ circumstances and are not limited to basic necessities such as food, shelter or clothing. For example, Texas courts have found that a child’s proven needs may include private school tuition, personal bodyguards, a nanny, music lessons, and international travel, based on the family’s lifestyle and particular circumstances.

Another limitation, of sorts, exists under Section 158.009 of the Texas Family Code, which states that no order or writ may direct that an employer withhold more than 50% of an obligor’s disposable earnings. This statute does not limit the amount of child support the obligor may owe, it merely limits the amounts which can be withheld from earnings to satisfy the obligor’s child support obligations. When those obligations exceed the amount that can be withheld from earnings, the obligor remains liable for the unpaid amounts and may begin to accrue arrearages which could extend child support obligations for several years (or lead to other adverse consequences through enforcement actions). In these circumstances, an obligor should consider petitioning the court to modify his or her child support obligations to a level more consistent with the obligor’s current net resources.

Deviating from Texas Child Support Guidelines

The amount of child support based on the statutory percentage applied to an obligor’s monthly net resources is presumptive, but a court may vary from the guidelines amount – upward or downward – based on a number of different factors.

Relevant factors (not an exhaustive list) may include:

  • The age and needs of the child;
  • The child’s educational expenses beyond secondary school;
  • Payment of health insurance or uninsured medical expenses for the child;
  • Extraordinary educational, healthcare, or other expenses of the parents or the child
  • Whether either parent has managing conservatorship or possession of another child;
  • Each party’s period of possession of and access to the child;
  • Travel costs for exercising possession of and access to the child;
  • Child care expenses;
  • Each parent’s respective ability to contribute to the child’s support;
  • Debts assumed by either parent;
  • The net resources of the obligee (the parent receiving child support); or
  • The amount of alimony or spousal maintenance paid or received by a parent.

The court has broad discretion to vary the amount of child support under Texas statutory guidelines for any reason it finds in the child’s best interest. As a result, variation from the Texas statutory guidelines is not automatic, although courts are encouraged to consider the totality of circumstances of the child and the parents in reaching a decision concerning the amount of child support in each case.

Applying Texas Child Support Guidelines to My “Net Resources”

Once you have determined your “monthly net resources” by adding all sources of income or assets you receive in a year, divided by twelve, and deducting the permitted items, you must next determine what percentage of those monthly net resources should be paid as child support.

Texas has two different charts for determining the appropriate percentage – one applies when all of the obligor’s children who require support live in one household. The other chart applies when the obligor has children living in more than one household.

So, for example, if you have one child, the amount of your child support for that child would be 20% of your monthly net resources under Section 154.125 of the Texas Family Code (as of 2023).

However, if you had one child (Albert) living in one household, and a second child (Beth) living in another household, the amount of your child support for Albert would be 17.5% of your monthly net resources, under the chart set forth in Section 154.129 of the Texas Family Code, because you would receive a credit for child support that you owe to Beth.

Obviously, things become very complicated very quickly if you have multiple children living in many different households. In these situations, it is a good idea to consult with a family lawyer to help you determine what amounts of child support you would owe to each individual child under Texas’ statutory guidelines.

Texas Child Support Guidelines: What are My “Net Resources?”

Texas applies a percentage formula to the “monthly net resources” of one parent or conservator (called the “obligor”) to determine the amount of child support under statutory guidelines. The percentage changes based on the number of children involved, as will be discussed in a future topic in this blog.

To begin, what are your monthly net resources?

Net resources include the sum of all sources of income or assets from which income could be derived in a given year. So, “net resources” will include your wages, salary, overtime pay, tips, commissions, bonuses, or any other compensation received for your personal services (regardless of whether you are self-employed).

It will also include any :

  • severance pay
  • retirement pay
  • pension income
  • social security benefits (other than supplemental security income)
  • unemployment benefits
  • disability or workers’ compensation benefits
  • alimony, spousal maintenance
  • rental income from real or personal property
  • interest income, stock dividends
  • royalty income
  • capital gains
  • trust distributions
  • annuity income
  • gifts and prizes

This list is not all-inclusive – if you received money, it will most likely be included in your “net resources” unless it falls within a specific exception recognized by the Texas Family Code. Those exceptions include the return of capital or the return of principal owed to you on a note; accounts receivable; certain welfare benefits (such as food stamps or WIC benefits), foster-care payments, and your spouse’s income.

From your “monthly net resources,” you may subtract a limited number of items:

  • (a) social security taxes;
  • (b) federal income taxes based on the tax rate for a single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction;
  • (c) state income taxes, if any;
  • (d) union dues;
  • (e) expenses for health insurance coverage for your child; and
  • (f) cash medical support for your child. You cannot subtract any deductions for contributions to an individual retirement account or 401(k) plan, insurance coverage for persons other than your child, employee stock purchases, or similar items.