Child Support and Medical/Dental Support in Texas

Parents who are divorcing, or never married parents who are splitting up, are usually aware that they owe a legal obligation to financially support their children through child support.  Beyond that, most do not know what exactly child support is, who pays, how much, for how long, what it covers, or that they are also required to provide medical support (and dental support for new cases on or after September 1, 2018).

Importantly, parents generally are unaware that the State of Texas encourages parents to agree on an amount of child support - even if that amount is different from the Texas guidelines or is zero!  The trouble they run into is how to decide the correct amount.  It is difficult enough to have a discussion about child support.  It is impossible if you know little or nothing about it.  We have included lots of information here.  There is a separate page for how to calculate child support in Texas yourself including when there is a 50/50 equal possession schedule or alimony.  If after reading this you still have trouble coming to consensus about child and medical support, consider using mediation as a way to get some help to reach those decisions.

What is child support in Texas?
What is medical support in Texas?
What is the most common Texas child support issue for parents?
Can we agree to child support different from the Texas guidelines?
How long do medical support and child support in Texas have to be paid?
What happens if the parent responsible for child support stops paying?
How do I modify my child support payments in Texas?
What taxes apply to child support in Texas?
How do I calculate child support in Texas?

What is Child Support in Texas?

Texas law does not define what child support is supposed to cover. Child support is money the noncustodial parent pays to help the custodial parent cover a portion of a child’s most basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medical, and dental care. Keep in mind "shelter" can mean rent or a mortgage payment and the custodial parent who is receiving child support already contributes his or her own income to pay the expenses of the child in that parent's home. Child support is money added each month to that of the custodial parent and so long as the child is not neglected, the custodial parent has discretion to use the money as he or she believes is appropriate.  Generally, however, Texas guideline child support is not enough to cover a portion of the child's basic needs and expenses incurred by the custodial parent for education, day care, extracurricular activities, tutoring, lessons, sports, braces, cars, gas, etc. 

One or both parents can pay child support. Texas’s child support guidelines are a minimum (not a maximum) standard of support that the State “presumes” is in a child’s best interest.  However, many parents do not believe it is appropriate to provide only a minimum standard amount of money for a portion of the care and needs of their children and they agree to pay together for the rest either in the decree or order or voluntarily. Child support can be paid in an annuity, lump sum, property settlement, or a combination of these.  Most people pay in installments that their employer takes directly out of paychecks and submits to the state for distribution to the other parent.  Caution: if you make a child support payment directly to the other parent it may not count.

“Temporary child support” refers to child support paid during the period when a divorce is pending.  “Retroactive child support” refers to child support that a parent has not been ordered to pay in the past but that may be legally due.  If you think you have a claim for retroactive child support, act on it.  There are limits on the time you can make the claim and how far back you can go.  Sometimes the Texas Attorney General’s office is involved in retroactive child support decisions, and it may need to be brought into your claim too. 

What is Medical Support in Texas?

Medical support (and dental support for new cases beginning September 1, 2018) is required in addition to child support. The law is if the parent who is paying child support can provide medical and dental coverage for the child through the parent’s health insurance at a reasonable cost (not to exceed 9% of annual gross income), that parent must include the child on the policy.  If the parent cannot get coverage through an employer, then the parent receiving the child support must provide coverage if available through his or her employer.  The parent paying child support would still be responsible for the cost of the child’s insurance and would reimburse the other parent for that child’s cost.  If neither parent has health insurance through an employer, then the court would order the parent paying the child support to pay an amount (cash support) in addition to child support to help cover the child's medical and dental care. Lastly, the law requires parents to decide how each of them will pay uninsured and uncovered medical and dental expenses (copays, deductibles).  The court can consider each parent's ability to pay when assigning responsibility for these costs. 

However, you can make an agreement between you about who carries the child on which parent's insurance policy and who pays the premiums that differs from what the law specifies.  For example, some parents agree that the parent who receives child support will carry the child on his or her policy and pay the premiums without reimbursement from the other parent.  Parents can also agree to divide the uninsured and uncovered medical and dental expenses so one parent pays more than the other (100%/0%; 75%/25%).  Whether one or both parents has an HSA (heath savings account) may play a part in deciding this distribution.

What is the most common Texas child support issue for parents?

The most common issue for parents is they do not know what child support in Texas is supposed to pay for. Lots of arguments between parents start like this: "I pay child support, so you should pay for everything else". As stated above, Texas law does not specify what exactly child support covers, so many parents come to mediation to get help to figure it out when they become single parents faced with paying for children's food, clothing, day care, cell phones, medical expenses, lessons, extracurricular activities, private school, college, cars, etc. 

Can we agree to child support different from the Texas guidelines?

Yes. Parents can agree to a different amount of child support, or they may even agree that child support is not needed.  This sometimes happens when the parents’ income is approximately the same and they have the ability to share equally their children’s expenses and their time with the children.

In mediation we encourage parents to look carefully at the actual expenses of the child, evaluate the child’s living arrangements and individual needs, the parent’s ability to cover those needs, and adjust according to what is best for the family as a whole.

Parents who cannot reach agreement on an amount of child support can bet the court will order the Texas child support guideline amount.  If a parent believes more than a guideline amount is appropriate, the parent must “rebut” the presumption that the guideline amount is in the best interests of the child.  The parent must also consider how much money he or she will spend in attorney’s and expert fees to present evidence of the child's "proven needs" in excess of the Texas guideline child support amount and weigh whether the expense of taking action in court would ultimately nullify the increased amount of child support he or she is trying to get.

There is another consideration if you are thinking about going to court to fight for over guideline child support in Texas.  Be aware that even if you win, you might end up paying.  The judge does not have to place that additional financial burden solely on the one who was already paying.  The judge has discretion to order each parent to contribute to the excess amount you sought.  Our attorney-mediator can help parents make these evaluations and come to a decision about the best course for their children and themselves considering all the options and alternatives.

How long do medical support and child support in Texas have to be paid?

A parent’s legal obligation to provide child support and medical support in Texas lasts until the child graduates from high school (the child has to meet enrollment and attendance requirements) or turns eighteen whichever is later unless the child marries, is emancipated, or dies before then.  However, a judge can order a parent to pay child support in Texas for a disabled child indefinitely until that disability ends.

What happens if the parent responsible for child support stops paying?

If the parent who is ordered to pay child support does not do so, the judge can enforce the child support order in Texas by holding him or her in contempt, impose a fine, and ultimately order jail time.  There can also be income withholding and suspension of the driver’s license and even professional licenses. The law does not permit one parent to withhold children from the other parent because child support is not being paid and a parent cannot stop paying child support if he or she disapproves of the way the custodial parent uses the money (unless there is proof the child is being neglected).

How do I modify (change) my child support payments in Texas?

Texas law allows a change in the amount of guideline child support when 1) the parents agree to the change, or 2) when circumstances have materially and substantially changed, or 3) when the three year rule below applies.

If the parents agree on the change, it is easy. Then it is just a matter of processing the paperwork at the court house.

If the basis is a material and substantial change of circumstances, the person asking for the change has to prove the change happened after the date of the most recent child support order or modification or after the date the parents signed a mediated or collaborative law agreement about child support, whichever was earlier.

Every family is different and the judge will decide whether there has been a material and substantial change based on the specific facts of each case. A material and substantial change could be a major shift in parenting time where the parent who was paying child support becomes the primary caregiver; or the court finds a paying parent is not the biological father. Other changes might be when a parent gets a better job or loses a job (so long as the unemployment or underemployment is not intentional), becomes ill or recovers from illness, or gets released from prison. A child’s illness, disability (or recovery from disability), or need for special education may justify a change in the child support amount. Military service is not a material and substantial change for modifying child support.

Court ordered guideline child support can also be changed through an Attorney General’s review or by a court when there is no material and substantial change of circumstances if three years have gone by since the court ordered the child support or last modified it and the monthly amount the parent is paying differs by either twenty percent or $100 from the amount the court would order under the current guidelines. Even if the three year rule is met, the court still can choose to follow the child support guidelines. This three year rule does not apply to parents who originally agreed to a child support amount that was different from the guidelines at the time they made the agreement. In that case, either the parents must agree on a new amount of child support, or the parent who is trying to change the amount must prove to the court a material and substantial change in circumstances.

It is important for a parent who is thinking about modifying child support to talk to a professional family mediator or a family lawyer about their own situation. What happened in a friend's or family member's case is not a good predictor of what will happen in yours. A parent must also weigh how much it will cost to fight for a change in child support versus how much he or she might save or gain in the long term. If the cost exceeds the potential benefit, then it is not worth it. There are other costs to be considered as well. A post-divorce argument over child support can be very emotional and open old divorce wounds for parents and children.

If there is a chance for agreement about a change in child support but they need some help to talk it through, parents often find a professional family mediator is the best place to start.

What taxes apply to child support in Texas?

Child support is “tax neutral”.  There is no deduction by the parent who pays it, and no income tax on the amount of child support the receiving parent gets.

What happens if we cannot agree on the amount of child support? 

If the parents cannot agree on the amount of child support in Texas, a judge can order one or both parents to provide medical support and pay child support under the Texas Child Support Guidelines.  Most likely, however, the judge will request the parents try to agree to an amount before doing that.  Mediation is an effective and affordable resource for working through those decisions. 

How Do I Calculate Child Support in Texas?

For information and to figure child support yourself, go to "How to Calculate Child Support in Texas".  Click here if you want to know how a 50/50 equal possession schedule or alimony (spousal maintenance) affects Texas guideline child support calculations.