As a San Antonio, Texas family law attorney, I see child support issues come up nearly all the time, whether in divorce cases, child custody cases, child support enforcement cases, child support modification cases, paternity cases, and even in adoption/termination cases.
Most folks know that Texas applies percentage guidelines to calculate child support. In a nutshell, Texas figures out your NET income (after taxes, costs for health insurance, and a few other things), then multiplies that figure by a percentage which has been statutorily "presumed" to be in the best interest of the child.
What many people don't understand are the factors which a judge can consider in reducing or increasing the presumptive amount of child support. The Texas Family Code lists a whole bunch of those factors. Chief among those is the costs the non-custodial parent may be paying in order to exercise visitation. For example, it isn't uncommon for a custodial parent to move out of state shortly after a divorce (unless there is a geographical restriction--but that's a different subject). In doing so, the custodial parent is engaging in conduct which will increase the non-custodial parent's cost of exercising visitation, even if the parties split the costs.
Since the Texas Family Code also provides that continuing and frequent contact between the non-custodial parent and the child is in the best interest of the child, the Court will often reduce child support to account for those increased costs. The Court can also simply require the custodial parent to pay 100% of the travel costs, which I think is a much better idea. That way, the actual costs of visitation are born by the custodial parent, rather than the hypothetical costs. For instance, reducing child support isn't really fair to the custodial parent if the non-custodial parent doesn't in fact exercise any of his or her visitation.
The previous examples assumed the custodial parent moved first, thereby being the cause of the increased cost of visitation. What about if the parents are already living in different states at the time of the suit? Or if the non-custodial parent moves to get a better job? The Court can still reduce child support to account for the increased cost of visitation if the Court is convinced that it will help the non-custodial parent be able to visit his child.
What about getting more child support than what's called for by the percentage guidelines? That's also a possibility under the Texas Family Code. Occasionally, a child is considered a "special needs" child, requiring an extraordinary amount of financial support (uninsured medical expenses, special education, etc.). In such cases, the Court will look at the parents' respective ability to pay those costs, may increase the statutory amount of child support to account for the child's needs.
It is important for any family law attorney handling child support issues to be aware of the nuances of child support law. An attorney who tells his or her non-custodial parent client that "child support is a matter of mathematics, and you're going to have to pay based on the percentage guidelines" is not telling the whole story. Be sure you know your options.
J. Michael Clay is a San Antonio Family Law Attorney who practices in Bexar County and its surrounding counties, focusing on family law matters such as divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, enforcement, modification, and adoption cases.
J. Michael Clay is licensed to practice law in all Texas state courts, and in federal courts in the Western District of Texas. Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.