The first step is to compute total resources. For most people, that is easy: It's simply your gross income that you earn each month from your job, or 100% of all wage and salary income and other compensation for personal services (including commissions, overtime pay, tips, and bonuses). It also includes interest, dividends, and royalty income; self-employment income; net rental income (defined as rent after deducting operating expenses and mortgage payments, but not including non-cash items such as depreciation); and all other income actually being received, including severance pay, retirement benefits, pensions, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits other than SSI, unemployment benefits, disability and workers' compensation benefits, interest income from notes regardless of the source, gifts and prizes, spousal maintenance, and alimony. Resources DO NOT INCLUDE payments for foster care or TANF payments.
Compute Net Monthly Resources
Child support is based on net monthly resources. Net monthly resources are "total resources" (computed in step 1) minus the following deductions: (1) Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes paid by the obligor. That means that if you are self-employed and pay both the employee's and the employer's share, you get to deduct the total amount you pay. (2) Federal income tax for a single person person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction. (3) State income taxes (for out of state obligors). (4) Union dues. (5) Payments for health insurance for the child and/or other cash medical support paid.
Count the Number of Children Before the Court
The number of children before the court is the number of minor children you have with the other parent. For example, if you have two children by a former spouse and three children with your current spouse, then there are three children before the court.
Count the Number of Children NOT Before the Court
If you have an obligation (whether ordered by the court or not) to support other children who are not before the court, guideline child support is somewhat reduced.
Determine the Child Support Factor
There are two ways to compute guideline support once you know what net resources are and how many children are out there. The first, given under Texas Family Code Section 154.128 is computationally complex and I have never seen it used. The other, simpler way is given under Texas Family Code Section 154.129. It provides a simple table whereby you locate a column based on the number of children before the court and a row based on the number of children NOT before the court, and arrive at a child support factor. (See links below for looking up the child support factor.)
Computing Guideline Support
Once you have computed net monthly resources in Step 2, take the child support factor your looked up in step 5 and multiply these two numbers. The result is guideline child support.
Adding to Guideline Support for Health Insurance
The method for computing guideline support contained in the Texas Family Code assumes that the obligor (the person making child support payments) is going to pay for the health insurance for the children. If the obligor has private health insurance available to him or her, then the obligor should be ordered to sign the children up for that policy. If the obligee (person receiving child support) is the only one with private health insurance available, the obligee will be ordered to sign the children up and the obligor will be ordered to reimburse the obligee for the cost of the premiums that cover the children, prorated by the number of other children the obligee may be covering.
The formula for computing guideline child support is complex, but in most cases, it's still pretty simple: Gross income less Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Income Taxes multiplied by a factor found in a table.
Do you Need an Attorney?
If you find yourself in a child support dispute, you should hire an attorney to help you work it out. Family law attorneys are trained in the complexities of child support computations and are familiar with the arguments that may lead the court to increase child support beyond guideline support.
If an attorney can save you $100 per month in child support payments (or get you an additional $100 per month) and your child is 8 years old at the time the child support order is being written, that could result in an additional $12,000 in your pocket for one child. If the attorney were to charge you $2,500 to $5,000 to try to achieve that goal, it might be money very well spent.
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