Can Stepparent Spouse Be Held Liable for Other Spouse’s Child Support Obligation?

The simple answer is no, generally a stepparent will not be held liable for their spouse’s child support nonpayments.

In fact in Texas the person held liable or responsible for paying child support is the person who has a duty to support the child. Usually the person who has a duty to support is a legal parent of the child, i.e., a biological or adoptive parent. Stepparent spouses are not legal parents and they have no legal duty to help support the child. Relatives such as grandparents or siblings also do not have a duty to support the child. See what is a legal parent here. Legal parents must either help raise or financially support their children. A legal parent’s spouse is not responsible for supporting a child who is not theirs.

A reason some spouses think they are responsible for support of their stepchild is because their monies are commingled with that of the paying spouse. This may seem like a reason for bringing in a spouse’s income into child support calculations. However, child support is not based on the two spouses’ household income or joint net worth, but on the individual obligor’s own net income. There is always a way to trace back each dollar to categorize them as either obligor income or spousal income.  See an accountant for help on doing this.

What about when the obligor and their stepparent spouse work together or co-own the same income-producing business?

One gray area where a stepparent spouse can find her income coming into the equation is when the couple co-owns a family business where the stepparent spouse’s income is intertwined with the obligor’s. An example is when the obligor does not receive a paycheck from the business but lives off their spouse’s business-based income coming into the household.  Another example is when the co-owner stepparent spouse does not have an income, but lives off of the obligor’s salary, the whole of which is unfairly targeted for child support.  In such cases the stepparent spouse is  negatively affected by the way the couple’s financial lives are structured. In such situations, it is wise to put in place financial boundaries to protect the stepparent spouse’s money. Co-worker spouses should know the Texas child support laws, especially the Texas Family Code’s Chapter 154.062, which lists what constitutes “net resources” for determining child support. See below:

Sec. 154.062. NET RESOURCES. (a) The court shall calculate net resources for the purpose of determining child support liability as provided by this section.
(b) Resources include:
(1) 100 percent of all wage and salary income and other compensation for personal services (including commissions, overtime pay, tips, and bonuses);
(2) interest, dividends, and royalty income;
(3) self-employment income;
(4) net rental income (defined as rent after deducting operating expenses and mortgage payments, but not including noncash items such as depreciation); and
(5) all other income actually being received, including severance pay, retirement benefits, pensions, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits other than supplemental security income, United States Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits other than non-service-connected disability pension benefits, as defined by 38 U.S.C. Section 101(17), unemployment benefits, disability and workers’ compensation benefits, interest income from notes regardless of the source, gifts and prizes, spousal maintenance, and alimony.
(c) Resources do not include:
(1) return of principal or capital;
(2) accounts receivable;
(3) benefits paid in accordance with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or another federal public assistance program; or
(4) payments for foster care of a child.

Limited ways a stepparent spouse can be liable under the law for the obligor’s nonpayments.

Although a stepparent spouse, as a nonparent of the child, is generally not responsible for the other obligor spouse’s child support nonpayments, there are some ways the stepparent spouse can suffer under the law. Here are some, when the  stepparent:

  1. forgets to file an injured spouse claim.
    • Spouses often file taxes jointly together. If an obligor spouse owes back child support and the IRS intercepts the couple’s joint refund check to pay off child support arrears, the stepparent’s portion of the joint refund check will also be taken to pay off the obligor spouse’s debt, unless the stepparent spouse files an injured spouse claim with the IRS using FORM 8379.
  2. hires the obligor and does not withhold income.
    • This is tantamount to helping the obligor hide their income. The fact that a child support obligor is an employee of their spouse (or any relative) looks bad enough. Caution should be taken by the employer stepparent spouse to make sure all withholding is done correctly and sent in regularly.
  3. does not insist on boundaries when there is a co-owned income-producing business between the spouses.
    • Spouses who work together must protect each other. Steps should be taken to create transparency on each spouse’s share of the income-producing business and to help outsiders classify each spouse’s income correctly when calculating child support.