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Resolving Child Support Disputes without going to court: A how-to guide for Texas parents

Family law cases are typically not decided in a courtroom with a judge playing tiebreaker between two parents that cannot seem to agree on anything. I know that television and movies would have you think otherwise, but if you are facing a family law case do not start your case off with this mistaken assumption.

I have known more than one person who was hesitant to file a family law case because they were so concerned that the case would take a lot of time, cost a lot of money and would be decided by a person that didn't even know you or your child.

I think the subject that gets the most attention in family law has to be child support. Parties to family law cases will often times reach settlements on issues like property division, child custody, visitation, and other issues, but child support can be one that requires a little more effort to settle. Communication between parents is essential to settling a case and for some reason the ability to communicate breaks down when it comes to discussing child support.

On some level, this may be confusing to many of you reading this blog post. Many family law cases are the sort where child support is very straightforward. For example, if you are responsible for the support of one child and earn $50,000 per year, you will likely pay child support according to the guidelines set forth in the Texas Family Code. However, if you earn more than $8,550 per month or if your child has a special need or disability then your situation may not be so simple.

If you anticipate that settling your case will be difficult because of child support related issues, then today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is for you. I will share with you some tips that I have picked up in my time as a family law attorney that relates to settling child support issues before getting to a courtroom. Settling a case means that you have direct say over what the final orders of your case will be. If you are trying to avoid the expense and headaches associated with family law trials you should read this blog post.

Discuss child support in terms of the specific needs of your child rather than in dollars and cents

For most children, you should have a very good idea of what he or she "costs" each year as far as their activities are concerned. Does he or she participate in extracurricular activities through school? Does he or she go to a private or public school? Does he or she play travel soccer which requires gear, uniforms and hotel costs?

Or does he or she run cross country, which requires a couple of pairs of shoes and a Gatorade bottle? My point is that for most parents, you know pretty well what it takes to keep your kid moving as far as money is concerned.

More importantly, you will know if your child has special medical or school-related needs that have to be attended to. If your reality is a child who goes to see a specialist once a month for treatment then those costs should already be worked into your family budget. Likewise, if your child has to receive tutoring in math every week in order to keep their grades up then this is likely a cost that has been in place for at least a few months prior to the start of your family law case. Again, you can predict these costs. They should not catch you by surprise once your family case gets moving.

What you need to do is that once you have a firm idea of what those costs are on a monthly basis, you need to communicate them to your attorney. Many attorneys will fall into the trap of applying guidelines levels of child support for every case they have. This would for most cases, but your case isn’t one that the guideline levels of support would work for. If you know that your child needs a greater than average amount of monthly child support then you need to communicate that to your lawyer so that he can negotiate for that in mediation.

Work with your attorney on coming up with outside the box solutions to your child support challenges

The Texas Family Code is like any other group of laws contained within a codebook, especially in relation to child support. They are pretty inflexible. That works ok when you have a straightforward case. However, once you throw some curveballs into the mix of your case, then you may need some more creative, outside the box thinking in order to settle your case before a trial.

You and your child’s other parent need to work with your attorneys to incorporate your child’s specific needs into a plan for achieving a just amount of child support to be paid. Remember that the amount of child support that is set may be the law for years to come. Fortunately what you and your soon to be ex-spouse agree to pay in child support can be much more flexible than what a judge is likely to order be paid.

Suppose that you and your spouse want the ever-popular “50/50possession schedule, where you split your child’s time with your spouse 50/50. If this is what you want as far as possession is concerned, you can calculate what each of your child support would be based on your income and then subtract the smaller amount from the larger amount. The parent who earns more income would then pay the difference in child support to the parent who earns less income.

Uninsured medical costs can also be handled in a similar fashion. If you look at your own income and compare that to the other parent. Whatever your percentage of the household income is, you can pay that percentage of the uninsured medical costs that your child incurs. This way neither parent can argue that the other one doesn't have "skin in the game" when it comes to paying for these costs which can be difficult to predict on a year to year basis. If you want to feel like you have ownership over the costs of your child then this is a great way to do so.

What about travel costs?

Many parents in today's world do not live in neighboring areas or even neighboring towns. In a metropolitan area like Houston, even suburbs like Kingwood and Katy can feel like they are light-years apart. What happens if, during the middle of your divorce case, your ex-spouse moves to Galveston for work? He would not necessarily be in violation of your court order's geographic restriction but there would be increased costs associated with transporting your child back and forth across a great distance.

You should certainly take into consideration these costs when setting an amount of child support. If your spouse must bear the burden of paying most of the travel costs then you may offer a reduction in child support in an effort to settle your case rather than push it to a trial.

This is a fair thing to do even after your child support case has ended. Suppose that you as the custodial parent choose to move to Galveston two months after the divorce was finalized. You are not in violation of your court order but that move has put a huge burden on your ex-spouse who now has to do a great deal more in the way of driving to see your child.

In order to make this right, you can decrease the amount of child support that he is expected to pay. Having a handshake agreement to decrease the amount of child support is one way to go about accomplishing this goal, but you can also seek a modified order through mediation if you would like to get something in writing. In addition, you could always offer to do the driving once a month (for example) or offer to meet your ex-spouse halfway in between your homes in order to cut the driving distance he has to cover down by 50%.

In order to give yourself a good shot at being able to negotiate successfully in this area, make sure that you come ready with receipts, estimates for cost, estimates for time and anything else that would be helpful in meditation. If you can come with an Excel spreadsheet of figures for your spouse to pour over that will go over much better than throwing around a lot of numbers with very little in the way of back up.

What other sources of income do you and your spouse have?

We tend to think of income as money that we earn from our 9-5 job. However, many people in today’s workforce take on more than one job. Those jobs oftentimes do not pay a salary that comes to your bank account every two weeks as in years past. Moreover, many employers offer employees benefits that are not displayed in your bottom-line salary.

For instance, does your ex-spouse get a housing allowance, free use of company vehicles, cell phone plan, weekly allotments of cash for spending how he or she chooses? If you are the parent who expects to be paid child support as a result of your divorce case then you should clue your attorney into the existence of these perks so that he or she can add them into the calculation of your ex-spouse’s monthly income.

Your attorney can take these perks and present an estimate of the costs that your ex-spouse saves on a monthly basis due to them being offered for free from their employer. If you can convince your ex-spouse to spend some of those savings on your child then that will be better for you and your child.

Should high-income earners be made to pay more in child support than middle-income earners?

High wage-earning parents will often attempt to argue that because the Texas Family Code sets a cap at $8,550 per month in net income for child support considerations, they should not have to pay a penny more than what is set forth in the code as far as child support is concerned. I can see the logic behind this if your spouse earns $115,000 annually. His take-home pays maybe $8.600 or something like that. But what if he earns $215,000 annually? What if he earns $1.15 million annually?

If your child has an established history of attending an orchestra camp each summer, goes skiing each winter in Aspen and does other "nice" activities during the year that should not stop just because of a divorce.

It is probable that a judge would take these extras into consideration when setting child support, and so should your opposing attorney and the mediator. Unless a slightly above guidelines increase in child support would set your spouse back financially, there should not be a problem pushing for this sort of number. Stability in your child's life begins with their extracurricular activities and their schooling.

More strategies, tips, and tricks to settle child support cases will appear in tomorrow's blog post

If you have any questions about the material that we wrote about in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.

Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to represent our clients. These are not just our clients that we advocate on behalf of- they are our neighbors, people that live alongside us in southeast Texas. We invite you to contact us today to see how we can help you and your family in whatever circumstances you may find yourselves in.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Spring Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Spring, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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