I’m often asked how child support is calculated in Texas if the parents share equal time with their children (50-50). We, as Dallas family law lawyers, know that many parents mistakenly believe equal time means no one is paying child support. They are often shocked to learn that is not always the case.
To explain this, the important thing to remember is that most courts believe child support is paid to assist with the expenses of raising kids. If one parent has the kids 65% of the time, they are bearing 65% of the everyday expenses of the kids. And let’s face it: kids will eat you out of house and home, you have to drive them here, there and everywhere for birthday parties and soccer games and tournaments, and they need cell phones and data plans and all the other fixings of today’s world. As kids grow older, their expenses grow too. They will take more showers, they will use more electricity, they will eventually drive your car (and your insurance will skyrocket). It takes money to do all that.
When parents share equal parenting time (50/50), the natural expectation is that there is no need to pay child support. He and she have the kids equal time, so they are paying roughly the same amount to house and feed them. Right? Wrong. The child support statute is completely silent on that scenario!
So, the courts are left to make a decision in each case about what is fair and just and in the best interests of the kiddos in terms of child support. That may look different in your case than it does in your neighbors’ or your friends’ cases.
Understanding the Different Types of Child Support Orders
Some courts will calculate the amount of child support due from mom to dad and the amount of child support due from dad to mom. The difference is what the monthly child support will be. For instance, if mom’s obligation to dad is $1200.00 based on her income, and dad has a lower income so his child support is calculated at $900.00 a month, then a child support order of $300 would be paid from mom to dad each month ($1200 – $900 = $300). That is called “offset” child support.
Other courts say that full child support orders should be in effect both way. Thus, every month mom would pay dad $1,200, and every month dad would pay mom $900.00. It results in the same $300 difference as above, but it takes a different route getting there.
An order of “no child support” being paid at all might make sense when both parents earn equally the same amount of money, work equally the same amount of time (thus have equal child care expenses), and equally contribute to their kids’ out-of-pocket expenses (like fees for sports, uniforms, traveling to games). The important thing to keep in mind in this scenario is that the parents are starting out on equal playing fields economically.
Establishing a Regular Monthly Child Support Obligation
When parents have equal parenting time but one party earns significantly more than the other (for instance, mom earns $25,000 a year and dad earns $250,000 a year – or vice versa), that is when the court will look at establishing a regular monthly child support obligation (with no offset). Here’s why: the Court always wants to do the right thing for the children. It is not in the child’s best interests to go between houses where one parent’s income is barely enough to cover a 1-bedroom apartment in a not-so-dangerous part of the city while the other parent is living in a mansion and taking the children to Fiji for Christmas and Switzerland for Spring Break. In that instance, it makes a lot of sense to order the higher wage earner to pay maximum child support (and sometimes even more) if only to equalize the playing fields. Maximum child support for 2 children is $2,137.50 each month. That support could be the difference between mom living in that not-so-dangerous neighborhood to being able to afford a nice, comfortable, safe apartment closer to dad. The court does not look at it as supporting the other parent’s “lifestyle.” They look at it as supporting their kids (and their needs) when they are with mom.