In the subsequent months and years from the time you and your child's other parent established a child support obligation in court, it may be that the current monthly child support obligation no more extended fits with your particular circumstances. As time has gone on, maybe your child has developed a disability that requires care and increased costs for your family. It could be that your ex-spouse's income has increased substantially. Or, if you are the parent who pays child support, your income could have decreased dramatically, leaving you unable to pay the expected amount of child support monthly.
Proceeding with a modification after a divorce or initial child custody order is established.
Whether your first time in a family law case was for a divorce or a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR), you had orders regarding child support instituted at that time. You are either expected to pay a certain percentage of your net monthly income in child support or have the right to receive child support on behalf of your child from the other parent. After this order, however, modifications or changes are possible in certain circumstances.
Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will detail the beginning stages of a child support modification case in Texas. While you can file a modification case independently without an attorney representing you, I will be providing a rundown of the steps of this sort of case, assuming that you have hired an attorney.
When are you able to modify a prior order on child support?
The current law in Texas is that an order of child support may be modified if you can show a judge that there has been a substantial change in circumstances for you, the other parent, or one of the children for whom the child support is paid. The alternative for this standard is to determine whether or not, after three years from the date of the original order if the amount of child support that you are seeking a modification to varies by $100 or 20% from the original amount every month.
There are other factors that a court can consider, such as whether or not it has been at least a year since the date the original order was entered. It can be shown that the order causes a severe hardship from an economic perspective on either you, your opposing party, or your child. Likewise, if your child has graduated from high school yet still needs to receive child support, this can be addressed as well. The substantial change in circumstances requirement does not necessarily have to be in play to win a modification on these grounds.
The steps to begin a child support modification case in Texas
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to speak to a family law attorney before filing for a child support modification. While your reality may be that you are experiencing difficulties one way or another due to the child support you either pay or receive, the fact is that your case may not be as strong as you may think that it is.
While I listed a handful of ways to increase or decrease child support, it is not easy. Judges do not want to go around changing a child support obligation for your child without an excellent reason to do so. This could create a situation where your child's needs may not be met due to financial insecurity for either you or their other parent.
I was meeting with a family law attorney.
When you meet with a family law attorney to discuss the potential case, you essentially take them on a job interview. You are interviewing them to see how they relate to you and your family. Does the attorney do an excellent job of explaining the issues of your case, the law that will come into play, as well as the potential outcomes that could arise? Or does the attorney spend a majority of the conversation discussing their fee? I always tell potential clients to look for an attorney with a teacher's heart rather than a salesman or woman masquerading as an attorney. You will be better off if you do, in my opinion.
Do not hold back information in these meetings. Share the total amount of information that you have access to. The attorney will need every bit of information that you can provide to analyze your circumstances accurately. The last thing you want to do is to pay a retainer fee to an attorney and begin a case only to share some information later on that probably should have kept you from filing your case in the first place. Save yourself time and money by coming forward with information to the attorney during your initial consultations.
Filing a Petition to Modify
If you have determined, with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney, that it is in your best interest to file a child support modification, your first step would be to file a Petition to Modify in a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. (SAPCR). If you have been through a divorce, this document should look pretty familiar to you as it is the same as an Original Petition for Divorce.
Your attorney will file the document along with any requests for temporary orders in the district court that has jurisdiction over your case. These documents will need to be served upon the other parent- typically by a private process server. The process server will take the filings along with a document known as a citation to the other parent. The other parent will have essentially twenty days to file an Answer to your Petition at this stage.
Mediation will likely be next.
Unless your situation involves some emergency- care for a child support modification- your case will likely proceed to mediation next to determine whether or not a settlement can be worked out instead of having to proceed through a court. If your case is limited to an attempt to modify child support, I can tell you that it is likely that a settlement will be reached at this stage. While you and the other parent may not agree on anything related to child support, with the help of your attorneys, you both will likely be able to arrive at a middle ground to conclude your case.
Trial or Temporary Orders Hearings
The prior paragraph states that temporary orders hearings are rare for child support cases. You or your other parent would need to show that your child's emotional well-being or physical development would be harmed without one.
Otherwise, if a settlement cannot be reached, a trial would be held where both of you present your cases to a judge and ask them to issue a decision. Since this is just an overview of the beginning of a child support modification case, I will not get into the nitty-gritty of a trial. Still, I will tell you that you would be well served to at least attempt a settlement with your opposing party to involve the cost and uncertainty that a trial regarding child support presents to both parties.
Questions about beginning a child support modification case? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
Beginning a family law case means having rock-solid, dependable, and effective legal representation. You will not find more qualified representatives in all of southeast Texas than the attorneys with the Law Office Bryan Fagan. Please get in touch with us today to schedule a free-of-charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys.