Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Customizing Child Support

The Traditional Approach

Most, if not all, states now rely on formulas to calculate child support in a uniform manner for the child support cases filed within their state. In Texas, for example, our primary formula is 20% of net income resources for 1 child, 25% for 2 children, 30% for 3 children, etc. Some other states base their calculations on gross income. They may also use different percentages. Texas also has adjustments (different percentages) when there are children in different households and there are child support obligations in each household. There may also be variations from state to state about what deductions are permitted before the child support is calculated and about what resources are to be considered possible funds for child support.

Traditionally, one parent pays child support to the other parent each month, regardless of how much time the child spends with each parent.

In Texas Collaborative Law cases, we often explain how child support is calculated under Texas rules, and we can also look at other states' statutes, as well. BUT, we don't want the parties to feel like they need to follow the statutory formula of Texas or any other state. On the other hand, the parents should feel free to examine and consider the child support arrangements of any state.

New Ideas

To open up the discussion further, here are three other suggestions of approaches that parties might take in Collaborative cases, especially in cases where the parents end up with close to equal time with the child, a scenario that is becoming more and more common.

1. Split the difference. The parties each calculate how much child support he and she would pay under the Texas Family Code. Whichever parent has the greater income would pay to the other parent the difference between the two amounts of child support.

2. Pay half of the expenses. Some parties get along well enough that they can each pay half of specified expenses. Sometimes the list of expenses includes items the court would not, or could not, order, such as religious expenses or college expenses. Generally, parents can agree to share any expenses that they want to.

3. Pay a proportionate share. If there is a significant difference in income between the parents, they could agree for each to pay a proportionate share of specified expenses. For example if wife made $6,000.00 per month and husband made $3,000.00 per month, wife might pay 2/3 of the expenses and husband could pay 1/3 to match their comparative incomes.

There are obviously many other possible formulations for child support. The most important point here is that the parties should not feel bound or limited by traditional or statutory schemes for calculating child support. Spending time brainstorming at a joint meeting can lead to creative, flexible and satisfying child support arrangements.

The lesson to be learned: don't limit your options!


Sam Hasler said...


Not so sure how this will work in Indiana (and then depending on the county or the judge). Our child support guidelines require an explanation for any deviation. Some judges are liberal in allowing deviations and others are not. It definitely depends on the writer of the explanation.

Dick Price said...

Sam's comment illustrates the similarities and differences in child support laws between states. In Texas, there are guidelines which are almost always followed unless there is a very high income or some very unusual circumstances. There can be deviations from the guidelines for specified reasons, but it's rarely done. In Collaborative cases, by contrast, we're fortunately not bound by the Texas guidelines, so we can choose to use them or ignore them.