Child Support Beyond the Guidelines in Tarrant County, Texas
In family courts in the Dallas and Fort Worth area we see a wide variety of child support orders. If you didn’t know better you might think judges come up with these orders out of thin air. Child support orders are actually carefully crafted against a specific set of guidelines under the Texas Family Code. Divorce attorneys and other family law attorneys calculate child support under the guidelines. We also consider whether the guidelines may not provide the child support order in the best interests of the child or children involved in the divorce or other custody lawsuit.
The Texas Family Code establishes a set of factors for judges to consider when a party asks for child support above or below the guideline amounts. Deviating from the guidelines is not common in Dallas County or Tarrant County but it does happen sometimes. Today’s post discusses the Texas Family Code factors and how they apply in courts in Dallas and Tarrant County.
The Basics of Calculating Child Support in Texas
Child support in Texas is calculated under the provisions in chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code. The first step is determining the net resources of the party required to pay child support (the obligor). The Texas Family Code sets out the types of income and other financial resources calculated into this amount.
Once the judge calaculates net resources the next step is to determine what percentage of net resources apply. Section 154.125 lays out the basic rule. For the first $7,500 of net resources per month the obligor pays 20% for the first child and an additional 5% for each additional child up to 40%. That percentage is reduced based upon how many other children in other households the obligor is responsible for supporting. Above $7,500 of net resources monthly the support can increase based upon the actual needs of the child.
This support amount is presumed to be in the best interests of the child (section 154.121). This is a rebuttable presumption. The court can deviate only if the party seeking a non-guideline amount produces evidence why the presumption is wrong.
Factors the Court Can Consider to Set Child Support Beyond the Guidelines in Tarrant County
To deviate from the guidelines the court must hear evidence that speaks to the factors in the Texas Family Code. This evidence must rebut the presumption that guideline support is in the child or children’s best interests. It is reversible error for the judge to go off the guidelines without a finding that the evidence justifies the deviation as in the best interests of the child.
The factors the court can consider are in section 154.123(b) as:
(1) the age and needs of the child;
(2) the ability of the parents to contribute to the support of the child;
(3) any financial resources available for the support of the child;
(4) the amount of time of possession of and access to a child;
(5) the amount of the obligee’s net resources, including the earning potential of the obligee if the actual income of the obligee is significantly less than what the obligee could earn because the obligee is intentionally unemployed or underemployed and including an increase or decrease in the income of the obligee or income that may be attributed to the property and assets of the obligee;
(6) child care expenses incurred by either party in order to maintain gainful employment;
(7) whether either party has the managing conservatorship or actual physical custody of another child;
(8) the amount of alimony or spousal maintenance actually and currently being paid or received by a party;
(9) the expenses for a son or daughter for education beyond secondary school;
(10) whether the obligor or obligee has an automobile, housing, or other benefits furnished by his or her employer, another person, or a business entity;
(11) the amount of other deductions from the wage or salary income and from other compensation for personal services of the parties;
(12) provision for health care insurance and payment of uninsured medical expenses;
(13) special or extraordinary educational, health care, or other expenses of the parties or of the child;
(14) the cost of travel in order to exercise possession of and access to a child;
(15) positive or negative cash flow from any real and personal property and assets, including a business and investments;
(16) debts or debt service assumed by either party; and
(17) any other reason consistent with the best interest of the child, taking into consideration the circumstances of the parents.
Considering Facts that May Justify Deviating from Child Support Guidelines in Fort Worth
Evidence can support any one or any combination of these factors to justify increasing or decreasing the child support; however typically judges will only deviate from the guideline amount if the evidence supports a significant deviation. The evidence must speak specifically to the factors. Parties cannot put on any evidence and hope to persuade the judge to disregard the guidelines. The first sixteen factors give specific issues the judge can consider. The seventeenth factor is a catchall provision. That means a party seeking to use the catchall provision needs to not only show evidence in support of the proposed reason but that the reason proposed is a justifiable reason for deviating support.
How judges in Fort Worth and Bedford handle child support orders
Judges deal with deviating from the child support guidelines differently. Some judges rarely deviate while others consider requests more carefully and are easier to persuade. This is especially true with trying to rely on just the catchall provision because judges have so much leeway to consider the best interests of the child and how a deviation may affect the child. Assuming judges will not deviate is as much of an error as assuming any given judge will necessarily grant a deviation if requested.
Understanding how local judges behave can be useful in assessing which arguments and what evidence to present but at least in Dallas County and Tarrant County no reasonable request supported by the facts is necessarily off the table. On the other hand, presenting bad arguments or unsupportable requests for a deviation may blow up in your face.
Understanding the right arguments and evidence to present to a particular judge is where your family law attorney really provides you a benefit in a child support dispute. Many parties go into court on child support disputes, sometimes even with the help of the attorney general or other government agency, and fail to accomplish their goals because they do not understand the local judges’ preferences or proper evidence to present on these issues.