Whether you’ve recently lost your job and are concerned about the continued affordability of your court-mandated child support payments to your child’s other parent or are seeking a modification of the support due to you, you may be wondering what awaits you.
Modification of a child support award can be a fairly straightforward process. However, there are some nuances to Texas’s child support laws you may not expect, and seeking modification while your financial situation is still in flux could limit your future options.
Read on to learn more about the circumstances in which a Texas child support order can be changed, as well as what you’ll need to show to persuade a judge that modification is both necessary and in your child’s best interests.
Texas child support orders can be modified through either an informal review process or formal court hearing. To prevail, you’ll need to prove a “significant change in circumstances” has occurred since the initial child support order or most recent modification.
The only exceptions to this requirement are if the original order was entered (or changed) more than three years ago or if the ordered support varies significantly from what the child support guidelines require. This restriction is designed to prevent a “race to court” each time a parent’s income or living situation changes.
Filing a child support modification petition without alleging the requisite change in circumstances could lead to dismissal of your claim or even prevent you from re-filing for a certain period of time.
Changes in Circumstances
What constitutes a “material and substantial” change for child support purposes can vary according to the judge’s discretion, but often includes:
– a job change;
– an increase or decrease in salary;
– a pregnancy or partner’s pregnancy that will result in additional expenses for another child;
– being called to active duty in the military (or returning from active duty);
– a loss of court-mandated insurance coverage; or
– being transferred to another state and losing parenting time as a result.
While many may want to petition for a reduction in child support payments immediately after a job loss, this isn’t always enough to demonstrate a “material and substantial” change in circumstances, especially if the local job market is strong or you work in an industry where finding a new job is easy.
Modifying your child support during the job hunt, only to modify it again once you’ve obtained a job at a different rate of pay, can be an inefficient use of court resources, leading the court to deny your request until a salary decrease becomes long-term.
By that same token, seeking to modify your support obligation because you or your partner is pregnant with another child may not be enough to convince the court that your obligation to your older child or children should be diminished unless you can demonstrate additional changes in your circumstances that make it impossible to meet these obligations.
Modifying A Delinquent Child Support Award
At times it may be necessary to seek modification of a child support award even though the other parent hasn’t been making timely payments on the current support award.
Fortunately, the existence of unpaid back child support shouldn’t negatively impact your ability to have the support obligation raised if you can demonstrate the other necessary factors.
On the other side of the coin, a parent who is delinquent in his or her child support payments can still petition for modification. While the court will likely address the arrearage and may put the petitioner on a payment plan, the court still has the power to amend the child support award going forward.
However, it’s unlikely that any modification put into place would be applied retroactively. This means that petitioning for modification isn’t a good way to try to reduce your child support arrearage.
What to Prove to Prevail in a Motion for Modification
In order to prevail on the modification you seek, you’ll need to establish several factors through a preponderance of the evidence. These include:
– the modification you’re seeking will bring the child support obligation in line with current legal requirements;
– the modification is in your child’s best interests; and
– the situation leading to the modification is likely to be a long-term one.
Because modifying a child support order can eliminate your ability to request subsequent modifications for at least a few years, it’s important to seek legal advice before petitioning the court for a modification.
In some cases, waiting to file may be in your best interests, while other situations require quick and decisive action. Your attorney will be able to work with you to take a holistic look at the situation and determine your best (and worst) options.