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Have child support questions? Don’t fall for these popular myths

Yesterday we began to discuss the much debated topic of child support. If you have been through a divorce or a child custody case then you are likely aware of this. However, if you are just beginning your journey through a Texas family law case then you have likely heard rumors and general false statements about what child support is and what it is not. For those reasons, we are continuing our series on this subject in today’s blog post.

Split custody equals no child support

Many parents (usually fathers) will come in to our office and will tell me that their goal for custody of their child is to split it with their spouse after the divorce is finalized. This will allow for two conditions to exist, in their mind at least. The first is that he will be able to see his child much more than most fathers. This may be true. A Standard Possession Order (or something that looks very much like a Standard Possession Order) is the typical possession order for the non primary parent in a post-divorce world. This allows a parent something like 55/45 visitation.

The other condition that split custody supposedly satisfies is the elimination for either parent to pay child support. Ultimately, while you may love your child you likely do not trust your ex-spouse any farther than you can throw him or her. The thought of paying at least hundreds of dollars a month to a person’s back account of whom you do not trust is not an appealing prospect for many parents. Having to then pay that money and not know how it will be used is even more frustrating. By proposing a 50/50 custody split there would be no excess in time spent with either parent, thereby negating the need for child support.

Well, it doesn’t exactly work this way in the real world. In some instances it may work out this way. If you and your ex-spouse agree to there not being any child support obligation this will likely go into effect as soon as the judge signs your order. On the other hand, if the judge determines that it is not in your child’s best interests that no child support be paid he or she may override your agreement and order some support to be paid.

What will typically happen is that the judge will determine what you earn annually and will compare that to what your spouse earns annually. Any difference will be paid by you to your spouse- or vice versa- with the parent who earns less receiving the difference in incomes on a monthly basis. It is likely that the difference will not equal what a standard amount of monthly child support is but it could be close.

Once you have a child support obligation you are stuck with it for life

Or at least stuck with it until your child graduates from high school or turns 18- whichever occurs first. When you are in the mediation session or informally negotiating with your attorney you may have the thought in your mind that you need to hammer out the best agreement that you can because once it is in place there is no going back.

Of course, you should ask your attorney about this wrongly conceived thought and he or she will dispel that notion pretty quickly. However, if you are not in a position where you are represented by an attorney and you desire some perspective on this topic then I am here to tell you that, yes, you can go back and amend a child a child support order.

Most of the time this is done when either a significant amount of time has passed since the order was signed by a judge (three or more years) or when the current child support obligation differs by a factor of 20% or $100 on a monthly basis. Situations that lead to child support orders needing to be modified include when a parent changes jobs and begins to earn either more or less money, or if a parent has become responsible for additional children previously not in place. Think about situations where parents marry for a second time and have children after a divorce.

So, suffice it to say that there are opportunities to amend and modify a child support order. Be aware that if your circumstances change, say you lose your job unexpectedly, you do not have a grace period to change the order. You should contact the Office of the Attorney General and notify them immediately of this situation. You should let your child’s other parent know about the situation. Next, look into hiring an attorney as quickly as you can if you anticipate this change in income as being something long lasting.

If you pay for your child’s braces then you don’t need to pay child support

I’ve heard many, many variations about this common misconception regarding child support. I had a client a couple years ago who was convinced that because he paid for a new engine for his daughter’s car that he shouldn’t be held responsible for not having paid child support over a period of a couple months. Besides, this was money that would have been need to have been spent on the vehicle anyways, right? Doesn’t it all count the same?

The answer is, no. If there is an order in place that mandates you pay a certain amount of money to your ex-spouse each month for the support of your child then you have to do so in the manner that is laid out in the order. Substituting payments of another sort won’t cut it.

Think about what we talked about in yesterday’s blog regarding “off the record” payments of child support that are sometimes made from one ex-spouse to the other without first going through the attorney general’s office. These payments do not count on the official record of a child support obligor. If these do not count- then why would indirect, unofficial payments like the one I mentioned just two paragraphs ago count?

The bottom line is this: pay your child support in the amount, to the entity and on the date you are ordered to do so. If you fail to abide by this straightforward rule then you may be in for a world of hurt.

Closing thoughts on false notions on child support

It is easy in this world of ours to be provided bad information. After all- information of all sorts is available just about everywhere we turn. Whether it is on the internet, in the print or television media or from a friend, we have information swirling around us at all times. That information tends to be focused on areas of life that are juicy, interesting. Notice that there is not a ton of false information about cuttlefish and their relationships with hammerhead sharks.

Be aware of this false information. Be also aware that there are people out there that can assist you when you need to cut through false information and access facts that can assist you and your family. Do not rely on people for advice who do not deal in cases like yours on a daily basis. While they may be well meaning they likely do not have accurate information to present to you. Instead, consider contacting a family law attorney who not only knows the law but knows how to apply it to your advantage.

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