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Lump-sum child support payments: Are they legal in Texas?

by | May 17, 2024 | Child Support, Child Support Modification |

You might be surprised by the very idea that someone would want to pay child support in a lump sum—rather than pay once a month according to the schedule and amount set in a divorce decree.

But it’s possible to do so.

A presentation at last year’s Advanced Family Law conference highlighted lump-sum payments as one of several unique child support cases that Texas case law has weighed in on. According to the 1977 Walsh v. Walsh case, the Waco Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to award a lump sum of child support. In that case, the obligor was set to make monthly payments after his divorce, but got into a car accident and learned he would be bedridden until he died.

In this case, in which an obligor gets a settlement large enough to make a lump-sum payment, the court ordered the lump payment to be paid.

A later court case, 1991’s Baucom v. Crews, determined the legality around a slightly different situation. In that case, the obligor received a severance package and when the trial court determined that the obligor was “ intentionally underemployed,” that met the “good cause” requirement allowing the court to award a lump-sum payment.

To give you an idea of how much a lump sum could be, if it was paying out everything owed all at once, let’s say that a person was court-ordered to pay $600 for a five-year-old until that child turns 18. Assuming the child support obligation is for 13 years at $7,200 a year, that’s $93,600 for the duration of the time the decree covers.

In another instance, the obligor was a beneficiary to a trust, and was ordered to pay child support through the trust. However, in that case, the order to the trustee was not binding on that trustee if they were not properly served and able to participate in the lawsuit. It’s not just possible, under Texas law, to intertwine the trust in the child support case without that essential step.

The presentation also explored an interesting element that isn’t so unique anymore, as blended families get more and more common. Regarding how new spouses figure into the process, the presenters noted, “It is generally understood that a new spouse’s income cannot be considered in calculating child support. This does not mean, however, that a spouse’s income or financial status cannot be considered in overall child support considerations.”

The presentation also covered a child support enforcement case in which the obligor’s payments to a child’s school ultimately counted toward the child support amount he owed. It’s risky to make a payment to a third party like a school or even directly to the other parent, and expect the Office of the Attorney General to credit it as a child support payment. They may, but they may not.

The Supreme Court ruled that a trial court has discretion as to whether to include payments made outside of the registry towards child support arrearages. In this case, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parent making payments to the school and assessed that those payments did, in fact, count toward child support. The safest course of action is to make payments exactly as directed in the custody agreement between the parties.

The Office of the Attorney General created an FAQ to answer commonly asked questions about child support. It addresses several good questions and covers a range of situations people owing child support might find themselves in. However, the situations we discussed above indicate that there are some situations that are outside the parameters of what an FAQ might cover.

It is also possible that you have a situation that a Texas court hasn’t yet weighed on. Whether that’s what you’re looking at, or you have a more standard child support concern, the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance can determine the best course of action for you when it comes to child support — or any other family law concern. An initial consultation is the best way to get started on a plan of action and settle whatever the issue might be.