When parents in Texas decide to file for divorce and have children from their marriage, it is important for both parents to think about child support and what is necessary to provide financially for their kids. Under Texas child support law (Texas Family Code § 154.001 et seq.), the court can order either or both of the parents to provide child support until the child is 18 years old or graduates from high school (whichever happens later), until the child is emancipated through marriage, until the death of the child, or for an indefinite period if the child is disabled.
TEXAS CHILD SUPPORT NONCUSTODIAL PARENT
Although the Texas Family Code states that the court can order either or both of the parents to pay child support, most situations in which two parents share custody and visitation of a child involve the noncustodial parent paying child support to the custodial parent. The noncustodial parent is also known as the “possessory conservator,” and that parent does not choose where the child lives but can share in equal parenting time or “possession” with the other parent. The custodial parent who receives child support payment and is the primary custodian of the child is known as the “managing conservator.”
To understand issues surrounding minimum child support in Texas if unemployed, it is first important to learn more about how child support works if the noncustodial parent is employed. Texas has a formula for calculating child support. When the noncustodial parent is employed, this is what the guidelines look like:
● 1 child = 20 percent of noncustodial parent’s net income;
● 2 children = 25 percent of noncustodial parent’s net income;
● 3 children = 30 percent of noncustodial parent’s net income;
● 4 children = 35 percent of noncustodial parent’s net income; and
● 5 or more children = 40 percent of noncustodial parent’s net income.
But when a noncustodial parent is unemployed, a percentage of his or her net income can literally be nothing. What options does the custodial parent have to obtain child support?
WHEN THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENT LOSES HIS OR HER JOB
Unemployed child support can be a particularly contentious issue, especially when the child relies on support from the noncustodial parent for food, shelter, and activities of daily living. But unexpected events can happen, and parents can lose their jobs without warning by no fault of their own. For example, a company can go bankrupt, requiring it to lay off all of its employees in the process. Or, a business can change its focus and goals, leading it to lay off employees in one area and to open a new part of the business with new talent altogether. In circumstances like these, there is often little that the noncustodial parent can do about losing his or her job.
Even if the parent made an error at work and got fired for cause, this still does not mean that the parent had any ill will toward the custodial parent or the necessity of paying child support. Many parents who pay child support and lose their jobs are devastated, and they become extremely worried about how to support their children. What do courts do when a noncustodial parent loses his or her job?
A Texas parent who loses his or her job and becomes unemployed should inform the court as soon as possible, but it is important for that parent to understand that the court can still require the parent to make child support payments. The court often assigns child support payment amounts based on a 40-hour workweek if the parent were earning minimum wage.
WHEN THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENT IS UNEMPLOYED BECAUSE OF FULL-TIME EDUCATION
Generally speaking, it is good for the child and the parent alike for the parent to go back to school in order to complete a college degree or to obtain a professional license that can allow the parent to earn more money and provide a better life for the child. However, when one parent decides to enroll in school on a full-time basis, it can hurt that parent’s ability to pay for child support. How do courts handle child support situations in which the noncustodial parent is unemployed because she or he is in a full-time education program?
If the parent was a full-time student at the time of the child support order, the court may turn to the formula for child support based on minimum wage and a 40-hour workweek. The current minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 per hour. Even if the parent had been earning $100,000 per year before losing his or her job, the court may still apply a child support obligation of a minimum wage 40-hour workweek.
If a parent is in prison and will be there for more than 90 days, however, the court does not operate on the presumption that a parent can earn minimum wage at a 40-hour per week job.
WHEN THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENT QUITS HIS OR HER JOB TO AVOID PAYING CHILD SUPPORT
The discussion above is premised on the fact that the parent did not intentionally lose a job in order to avoid paying child support. When a parent becomes unemployed (or underemployed) in bad faith, the court can then order a child support obligation based on the earning potential of the parent. For example, if the parent has a net income of $6,000 per month and supports two children, and then that parent intentionally becomes unemployed or underemployed to avoid paying child support, the court can say that the parent still owes $1,500 per month (or $18,000 per year) in child support payments. This is true even if the parent has $0 earnings or is working for minimum wage.
SEEK ADVICE FROM A TEXAS CHILD SUPPORT ATTORNEY
If you have questions about obtaining child support from an unemployed noncustodial parent, or if you are a noncustodial parent who has lost your job and need assistance with child support issues, an experienced Texas child support lawyer can assist you. Contact the Law Office of Ben Carrasco PLLC to speak with an advocate today.