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. A judge will require mediation of child support issues before a judge will make a decision about child support in a trial. It makes sense for parents to try to find agreement on child support from the beginning with the help of a knowledgeable,  professional family mediator.  

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?

Child support in Texas is money a parent (usually the noncustodial parent) pays to the other parent (usually the custodial parent) to supplement what the other parent already contributes from his or her own income to pay for a child's care and expenses in that parent's household. One of the most confusing parts of child support is Texas law does not define what child support is supposed to cover. Generally, child support in Texas is money for a child’s basic, minimum, needs for food, clothing, shelter, education (public), medical, and dental care.   So long as the child is not neglected, a parent who receives child support has discretion to use the money as he or she believes is appropriate. For example, a parent who houses a child is allowed to use child support to help pay that parent's rent or mortgage. Texas guideline child support is rarely enough to cover a portion of the child's basic needs and expenses incurred by the custodial parent for private education, day care, extracurricular activities, tutoring, lessons, AP/SAT/ACT test fees, sports, braces, phones, cars, gas, auto insurance, college application fees, prom expenses, 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 Office of the Attorney General is involved in retroactive child support decisions, and the OAG  may need to be brought into your claim too. 

What is Medical Support in Texas?

Texas parents are required to provide medical support (and dental support for new divorce and custody cases beginning September 1, 2018) in addition to child support. The law in Texas about medical and dental support is:

1. The parent who will be paying child support is required to provide medical and dental coverage for the child if it is available at a reasonable cost.  Health insurance is available at a "reasonable cost" if the total cost of health insurance for all children for which the payer of child support is responsible under a medical support order is not more than 9% of the payer's annual resources.  Dental insurance is available at a "reasonable cost" if the total cost of dental insurance for all children for which the payer of child support is responsible under a dental support order is not more than 1.5% of the payer's annual resources.

2. If the parent who pays the child support cannot get medical and/or dental coverage for the child at a reasonable cost, then the parent receiving the child support will be ordered to provide the medical and dental coverage if available to that parent at a reasonable cost. The parent paying child support is still responsible for the cost of the child’s medical and dental insurance premiums.  The parent paying child support will be ordered to pay the other parent "cash medical support" for the child of not more than 9% of gross resources for medical insurance and 1.5% of gross resources for dental insurance.

3. If neither parent has access to private health and dental insurance at a reasonable cost, the judge will order the parent who receives child support to apply for coverages under a government medical assistance program and will order the parent who pays child support to pay cash medical support to the parent receiving child support as described above. 

4. Lastly, the Texas requires parents to decide how each of them will pay uninsured and uncovered medical and dental expenses (copays and deductibles).  Parents and the court can consider each parent's ability to pay when assigning responsibility for these costs. There is not a requirement that a Texas court order each parent to pay 50% of the children's medical and dental copays and deductibles.

On the other hand, parents can make agreements that differ from what the law specifies about who carries the child on which parent's medical and/or dental insurance policies and who pays the premiums.  For example, some parents agree that one parent covers the child for medical and the other for dental.  Or, the parent who receives child support carries the child on his or her medical and dental policies and pays the premiums without reimbursement by cash medical support 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 a health or medical savings account and whether an employer contributes to it may also play a part in deciding this distribution.

Divorcing spouses may also have concerns about health insurance for themselves after divorce. Read more.

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 for the children". 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 each parent’s income is the same amount and they have the ability to share equally their children’s expenses and their time with the children. Their incomes and expenses for the children are balanced and equal in each household, thus no child support payment between them is necessary. 

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 the law, and 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 otherwise emancipated, joins the military, or dies before then.  However, a judge can order a parent to pay child support in Texas for a disabled adult 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 to change (modify) the previous court order to the new amount. Parents who represent themselves without divorce attorneys  receive the assistance of the professional family mediator at Detente Mediation to guide them through completing the free, publically available, child support court forms. 

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 of the child, or anyone affected by the child support order.

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 paid with after-tax dollars; however, child support is “tax neutral”.  The parent who pays child support gets no income tax deduction, and the parent who receives child support pays no income tax on that amount.

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 and dental support and to pay child support under the Texas Child Support Guidelines.  Most likely, however, the judge will order the parents to a mediator to try to agree to an amount before doing that.  Mediation is an effective and affordable resource for parents who are 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.