Texas child support guidelines don’t address the increased cost of raising children as they mature or have a way to set child support when couples share custody of their children. Every parent knows child expenses increase with age, because they need more clothes, school lunches, and supplies for school activities plus other extra expenses. It’s difficult for couples facing litigation to arrange child support based on the increased needs of children as they age, but this can be done easily through the collaborative process. Couples who opt for a collaborative divorce can negotiate child support payments that take account of increased costs as children age, and the different expenses created by shared custody. The purpose of this article is to stimulate collaborative attorneys and neutral mental health professionals to be creative in setting child support for couples in the collaborative divorce process.
Texas Guidelines. As you know, guideline child support is calculated by multiplying the net monthly resources of the paying parent by a percentage based on number of children before the court. For example, when one child is involved, it’s 20 percent, for two children it’s 25 percent, for three it’s 30 percent, four receive 35 percent, and five or more children receive not less than 40 percent of net resources. The percentages are reduced if children from a prior marriage are also receiving support.
Above Guideline Support. Judges may order, and collaborative divorce teams can help negotiate, child support payments higher than guideline amounts if justified by the incomes of the parties and the needs of children. For example, Texas courts have approved higher child support payments for attending private school, hiring a body guard or a nanny, paying for foreign travel, music lessons, Christmas presents, and vacations. Child support may need to continue payments for longer intervals when children are disabled or have special medical needs.
Child Support in Other Jurisdictions. Consider how other jurisdictions handle guideline child support. Unlike Texas, many jurisdictions take into account the age of children and the amount of time each parent spends caring for the children when setting child support payments. For example, the Australian Department of Human Services considers the parents’ incomes, the amount of time each parent spends caring for their children, the number of children involved, and the increased cost of raising a child as they mature when setting support payments.
Factors That Influence Child Support. When negotiating child support payments in a collaborative divorce, several factors can be used, including the incomes of parents, the number of children involved, whether children from a prior marriage are receiving child support, ages of the children, special needs of children, and the amount of time each parent spends taking care of the children. Child support payments should probably increase when the paying parent has a higher income, if more children are involved, if the children are older, if they have special needs, and when the custodial parent is the primary care-giver rather than sharing custody. When there are children from a prior marriage, support payments may be lower.
What About Shared Custody? Especially in collaborative divorces, modern couples are choosing to share custody of their children, and this trend has changed the way child support payments are set. Texas statutory guidelines assume the custodial parent has primary childcare responsibility while the other parent has standard visits with the children and pays child support. However, if the parents are sharing child care, does it make sense for either parent to pay child support? There’s a difference of opinion on this issue. One approach assumes that because the parents are taking care of their children equally, there should be no child support payments. The other view is that, with shared custody, the parent with a larger income should pay something to the lower income parent for support of their children based on the differences in the parent’s income. This can be done by calculating the child support that would be due according to guidelines, and having the parent with the higher income pay the difference to the parent with the lower income.
Texas guideline child support is based on the net income of the paying parent and the number of children involved. However, one size doesn’t fit all families. To remedy this situation, collaborative divorce teams and other jurisdictions consider additional factors, such as the age of children and the amount of time each parent spends caring for the children when setting child support payments. Parents who opt for a collaborative divorce can agree to increase child support payments as children mature or work out creative arrangement if they share custody. For example, they can adjust the support payments to account for the time each parent actually spends caring for the children or take into account the income differences of the two parents. The more flexible formula better meet the needs of most families than the one size fits all child support guidelines.