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Defining a material and substantial change in a child support modification case

Picture this: You're juggling the chaos of daily life, trying to keep up with work, bills, and the million other things on your plate. Then, out of the blue, you get hit with a curveball – a change in circumstances that has you questioning everything, including that pesky child support order. What do you do now? Well, you're in the right place because we're about to unravel the mystery of what exactly constitutes a "substantial change in circumstances" when it comes to child support in Texas.

Short Answer:

In a nutshell, a substantial change in circumstances can be anything from a rollercoaster ride in income to a twist in custody arrangements. But don't worry, we're here to guide you through this whirlwind with tips, real-life stories, and all the juicy details you need to navigate the world of child support modifications. So, fasten your seatbelt, and let's embark on this adventure together!

What's a 'Substantial Change in Circumstances' for Child Support in Texas

Yesterday we spent a great deal of our blog post discussing the subject of how to modify a prior child support order in Texas. From experience meeting with many clients of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, at their initial consultation, I can tell youLaw Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, that this is a very relevant subject in the lives of many of our neighbors here in southeast Texas.

If you, too, are here to learn more about how you can adjust the level of support you are receiving or paying this to, will be a blog post with you in mind.

The standard that we introduced yesterday is a “material and substantial” change in circumstances for either party or any child since the last order was signed. It is the party's responsibility and burden that files the modification lawsuit to prove that a material and substantial change has occurred.

For instance, if you are the parent who has filed a modification with the idea that your child support obligation should be decreased, you will need to show a court that a different financial condition was in place for yourself at the time the current order was signed into place and where you currently stand in terms of your finances. While it is necessary to show a change in your circumstances in this instance, it is not required to do so for your child.

A court is looking for something substantial, not something minute or trivial if it will ultimately modify a prior court order. If your income has decreased by $100 a month since the last order was signed, it will not be a fruitful lawsuit for you if you seek to have your child support obligation modified downward.

Additionally, a court will consider whether or not you purposefully reduced your income level (intentional unemployment or underemployment) and if the change in income is temporary or permanent.

For example, suppose you were laid off from your old job due to downsizing within the company but quickly found new employment that will pay you the same as your old job after a ninety-day probationary period. In that case, a modification is likely not in the cards for you.

The reason is that although your income has decreased, it will be for a relatively short period. It is unlikely that this hiccup in your income will materially and substantially represent a change in your circumstances.

Financial status vs. income at the time of a modification attempt

Suppose you attempt to show a judge that there are material and substantial changes in your economic life. In that case, it is not sufficient to show that you are living in a smaller house, behind on bills, or otherwise suffering from a lack of resources.

The income you earn is the most crucial factor that a judge will consider when deciding whether or not to decrease your child support obligation. Your previous income will be compared to your current income.

This is not to say that your current financial circumstances are irrelevant to the evaluation. Suppose your events have become materially and substantially different than they were previously. In that case, this is a factor that the judge can consider in addition to any changes in your actual income.

That’s not to say that your peripheral circumstances can win you a child support modification case, but it is possible that they can have a positive impact.

The burden is on the party who files a modification to prove a material and substantial change.

It does not matter if the ordered amount of child support is so out of whack with your current financial circumstances and income that it is evident that a change needs to be made.

The burden is still on you as the filing party to prove this material and substantial change. A judge will not save you from poor representation or a poor presentation of evidence in your hearing.

Proving a case in which you want an award of child support to be increased

Suppose that you are the parent receiving child support on behalf of a child. At the time of your divorce, your daughter was four years old.

Not quite in school full time and not yet involved in any extracurricular activities that cost additional money. The child support ordered at the time of your divorce worked well for you, and there have been no issues with you receiving the child support on time from your ex-spouse.

However, now your child is twelve and in middle school. She has no medical issues but needs to see her doctor more regularly as she has grown older and needs an annual physical due to playing sports.

As the costs associated with raising your daughter have increased and the passing of eight years, the amount of child support you are receiving has become insufficient. Will these sorts of circumstances lead to an increase in child support if argued to a judge?

The answer is yes. A child’s growth, in addition to an increase in your spouse’s income and the passage of a lengthy period, is enough to have a judge agree to increase a child support obligation for your child’s other parent.

Again, it is not enough to show that your current amount of child support is out of whack with the present financial circumstances or your child. You must prove your case and present sufficient evidence to meet your burden of proof to be successful.

Understanding a Substantial Change in Circumstances for Child Support

When it comes to child support, life is never static. Circumstances change, and sometimes those changes can be significant enough to warrant a modification of child support orders. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the concept of what constitutes a "substantial change in circumstances" concerning child support in Texas.

Types of Material and Substantial Changes

To begin, let's explore the various scenarios that can be considered material and substantial changes. These changes can encompass a wide range of factors, including:

Changes in Income

One of the most common reasons for seeking a child support modification is a significant change in income. This could be due to a job loss, a substantial increase in earnings, or any financial shift that significantly impacts your ability to meet your child support obligations.

Employment Status

Changes in employment status, such as going from full-time to part-time work or experiencing prolonged unemployment, can also qualify as substantial changes. The court will assess whether these changes are voluntary or involuntary and their long-term implications.


Serious health issues affecting either parent or the child can be considered substantial changes. Increased medical expenses or a parent's inability to provide care due to health concerns may warrant a child support modification.

Living Arrangements

Alterations in living arrangements can impact child support. For example, if a child moves in with one parent, the financial responsibilities may shift, requiring a modification.

Custody Arrangements

Changes in custody arrangements, such as a parent gaining primary custody or visitation rights being significantly altered, can be deemed substantial changes, affecting child support calculations.

Documentation and Evidence

Now that we've identified potential changes, let's discuss the importance of documentation and evidence when pursuing a child support modification:

Gathering the right documentation is crucial. You'll want to provide financial records, employment history, medical records, and any relevant documents that substantiate the changes you're claiming. This evidence will be instrumental in building your case for a modification.

Temporary vs. Permanent Changes

Understanding the difference between temporary and permanent changes is key in child support modification cases:

Temporary changes, like a short-term job loss, might not be sufficient grounds for modification. The court generally seeks substantial and lasting changes that significantly impact a parent's ability to pay or the child's well-being.

Calculating Child Support

In Texas, child support is calculated using specific guidelines that take various factors into account:

Courts consider the income of both parents, the number of children, and any special needs or expenses. Understanding how these guidelines work is essential when pursuing a modification.

Consequences of Intentional Underemployment

Intentionally reducing one's income to avoid child support obligations is a serious matter. Courts look closely at cases of intentional underemployment and may impute income based on the individual's earning capacity.

Child's Best Interest

The court always prioritizes the best interests of the child. When considering child support modification requests, they assess how changes in the child's needs, activities, and circumstances may impact their well-being.

Legal Process

Now, let's delve into the legal process of filing for a child support modification:

Filing involves specific forms, court appearances, and timelines. Understanding this process is essential to navigate it successfully.

Mediation and Settlement

While litigation is an option, mediation or out-of-court settlement can be more efficient and less adversarial. Exploring these alternatives can save time, money, and stress.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoiding common mistakes is crucial when pursuing child support modifications:

  • Incomplete Documentation: Failing to provide comprehensive documentation can weaken your case.
  • Missed Deadlines: Timeliness is crucial. Missing deadlines can result in delays or even the dismissal of your case.
  • Not Consulting an Attorney: Going it alone can be risky. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process effectively.

Attorney's Role

Speaking of attorneys, let's explore their role in child support modification cases:

An attorney can help you gather evidence, present compelling arguments, and represent your interests effectively in court.

Recent Legal Changes

Texas family law is subject to change. It's essential to stay informed about any recent legal updates that may impact child support modifications in the state.

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

Enforcing child support orders is another aspect to consider:

If the paying parent fails to meet their obligations, understanding the available options for enforcement is crucial to ensure the child receives the support they deserve.

Modification vs. Enforcement

Distinguishing between seeking a modification and seeking enforcement is essential:

  • Modification: If your circumstances change significantly, you may seek to modify the existing child support order.
  • Enforcement: If the paying parent fails to comply with the existing order, you may need to pursue enforcement actions.

State-specific Rules

Child support laws can vary from state to state. It's important to be aware of any unique rules or considerations that apply specifically to child support modification cases in Texas.

Impact of Co-Parenting Agreements

Co-parenting agreements or custody arrangements can influence child support modification cases:

Changes in custody or parenting agreements may necessitate adjustments in child support obligations.

Financial Assistance Programs

For parents struggling with child support payments, it's worth mentioning that there may be government programs or resources available to provide assistance during challenging times.

In conclusion, understanding what constitutes a substantial change in circumstances regarding child support is vital when seeking modifications. It's a nuanced process that involves documentation, legal procedures, and the best interests of the child. By navigating these complexities wisely and seeking legal guidance when needed, parents can ensure that child support remains fair and equitable as circumstances evolve.


And there you have it, folks – the not-so-secret recipe for understanding the enigmatic "substantial change in circumstances" in the world of child support. We've journeyed through twists and turns, explored the importance of evidence (more crucial than your morning coffee), and even uncovered the difference between temporary hiccups and full-blown life changes.

Short Answer:

So, to answer the burning question – yes, a lot goes into it! But fret not; armed with knowledge, you're ready to face the child support modification adventure head-on.

Now, before we part ways, let's leave you with a pearl of wisdom: life's a rollercoaster, and sometimes, you've got to adjust your seatbelt. Whether you're up for a thrilling loop-de-loop or just navigating a gentle curve, remember that you've got the tools to handle it.

So, go out there, conquer those twists, and may your child support journey be smoother than a well-oiled rollercoaster. Until next time, keep reading, keep learning, and keep enjoying the ride!

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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. How to correctly calculate child support in Texas
  2. Is Overtime Pay or Bonus Pay Considered for Texas Child Support?
  3. Child Support in Texas: What is the most you will have to pay, and what are the exceptions to that rule?
  4. The Dirty Trick of Quitting Your Job to Avoid Child Support During a Texas Divorce
  5. Can I get child support while my Texas divorce is pending?
  6. Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Have Joint Custody of My Child in Texas?
  7. Can I Sue My Ex for Retroactive or Back Child Support in Texas?
  8. Child Support and College Tuition in Texas
  9. Texas Child Support Appeals
  10. In Texas, are Child Support and Visitation Connected?
  11. Why Ignoring Child Support Obligations is a Bad Idea in Texas
  12. Can I get child support and custody of my kids in Texas if we were never married?
  13. Handling a child support case as the non custodial parent, Part Five
  14. Modifying your divorce decree in Texas
  15. How to handle child support as the non custodial parent, Part Three

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