If you are interested in updating or changing your child support orders, then you are not alone. The circumstances of parents around the state have changed, sometimes dramatically over the past few years. As a result, you may need to brush up on your child support essentials as far as how and why a modification may be justified. In today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to provide you with that information so that you can determine whether now is a good time for you to come forward and start the process of a child support modification case.
The Office of the Attorney General allows you to submit a request for review with their office. If you did not know, the OAG has a child support division that oversees the payment and administration of child support in Texas. You can ask their office to review your circumstances to determine if a modification will be justified. Someone from their office will review your file and will get back to you and your co-parent within thirty days on any additional information that may be needed. Your co-parent's income and updates on children born to you or your co-parent will all be helpful.
Keep in mind that this can be a less expensive path to take but one that takes longer than it would need to potentially. For example, if you were to file a child support modification with a district or county court for your area it would not take the court thirty days to get back to you on your request. Rather, your case would be filed, and you could be given a hearing date sooner than that. During the waiting period, you and your co-parent could attend mediation where the two of you could discuss whether there will be an opportunity to work out a resolution to the issue of child support before a judge has to make a decision. Many times, fair-minded parents can accomplish more as a team in mediation than in front of a judge for a contested hearing.
Collect information (as much as you can)
The income of you and your co-parent will be important when it comes to determining child support. The Texas Family Code has something called “guideline” levels of child support spelled out within its pages. Those guideline levels of support are what many family court judges from all over the state end up basing the child support of parents on. Here is what the guideline levels of support look like.
Essentially, the Texas Family Code takes an equation and applies that to determine child support totals for Texas parents. It starts with a percentage. The number of children before the child support court is determined to figure out the percentage. One child is 20%, two children are 25% and you increase the percentage by five for every additional child before the court. The percentage is capped at 50%. Then, the appropriate percentage is multiplied by a co-parent's net monthly income. Net monthly income is your total income from work with a few things subtracted from it. This is the basic equation that determines child support for thousands of Texas families.
Another reason why income may come into the equation for you is that your income may become relevant if you and your co-parent share custody of your child. If neither of you has the child much more often than the other, it could make sense to have some amount of child support be exchanged. The parent who earns less money would be paid the difference in what child support would have been for either of you. For example, if your monthly child support bill would be $1200 but your ex-spouse would be $1400 then your ex-spouse would pay you $200 as the difference between $1400 and $1200.
Next, your children need to be covered by health insurance. The judge in your divorce or child custody case will inquire about health insurance coverage through your employer, that of your co-parent, through a union, or a plan purchased on the open market. Whatever the circumstances, your child will need to be covered by some health insurance. If none of these options are available to you or your co-parent, then the judge will get your child on public assistance/Medicaid.
From there, you or your co-parent will need to be able to pay back the state of Texas for spending its money on your child’s health insurance. The ability of the two of you to pay the state back for any trouble that they had to incur for paying health insurance premiums will be discussed in your final decree of divorce.
Your mailing address and that of your co-parent will be kept and the two of you will exchange this information as a part of the divorce or child custody case. This way neither of you will attempt to hide anything from one other- including your whereabouts.
A review will be conducted by the OAG
An employee with the OAG will review the information provided to them and then determine if a modification of the child support figure is warranted. If there is a more than 20% discrepancy between the current child support that you are paying and the correct amount of child support that would be paid based on the new circumstances, then a modification will be granted to either increase or decrease the amount of child support that is paid. Wage withholding orders will have to be updated to reflect the new information and then sent to your employer.
What are some of the factors that a court will look at when determining whether to modify an award of child support? The length of time between now and the last time a court issued orders on child support will be considered. If you just had the child support in your case modified a few months prior, then this will not be a factor in your favor when it comes to modifying child support.
The OAG will conduct a review with their personnel
If you choose to file for a review of your child support via the OAG, then their in-house staff will review the documents that you have filed including any past order(s) and agreements that you and your co-parent may have come to in their offices. Whether or not you will be able to move forward successfully with your modification request depends upon several factors. The first will be the amount of time that has passed since the last time that you went to court and had an order signed by a judge. If that amount of time has been several years, then you have a better opportunity to modify your order. On the other hand, if you had just been to court a few months ago then the likelihood of your being approved for a modification of this sort becomes less likely.
Next, the Texas child support guidelines will be utilized to calculate child support based on the figures provided to the OAG in your petition. Your net monthly income and the children before the court- and outside the court will matter. You can get “credit” if you have become responsible for a new child who is not involved in this current court case. For example, if you have a baby with your spouse then this will result in a reduction in the child support owed to your co-parent.
Other life changes that may have occurred in that time will also be examined. For one, if you have seen a change in your income over the intervening months then this is a factor that will be looked at closely. There are many reasons why your income may have changed over the years. With technology evolving the way that it does your job may have become obsolete or at least performed at a lower rate of pay. Your income may have dipped as a result. There is nothing wrong with this but if you have seen your income decrease then you may be interested in having your child support reduced similarly.
On the other hand, your income may have increased because of your completing a degree, progressing along in your professional career, or even because of raises. Whatever the reason for your increased rate of pay your co-parent is likely to be the person who has sought the child support modification if you are earning more money. In a situation like this, it is even more likely that you have been contacted by the OAG. Your co-parent could request a review of your child support situation through the OAG without having to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. This is an ideal situation where she can perform her due diligence without having to spend a lot of money to get there.
Next, let’s consider a situation where your income has not fluctuated but you may no longer be eligible for health insurance benefits. Health insurance must be provided to your child because of a family law case involving child custody. Either you will provide it to your children from your work, your co-parent will do the same, a private plan will be purchased, or Medicaid will provide coverage to your child. In that case, you and/or your co-parent must pay back the state for any benefits that it provides to your child.
If you and your co-parent talked about your child’s health insurance coverage being lost but are unable to afford to make payments through the open market, then there are options for the two of you to consider. Contacting the OAG about helping you with resources related to Medicaid can be helpful. Do not underestimate the assistance that they can provide you with in the short term. People tend to think of the OAG as only the child support people. That is not necessarily accurate. You can update them with any changes to your employment, as well, when you move on to a new job.
Finally, the OAG would consider any changes to your child’s possession schedule when deciding whether to proceed with a modification case. If your co-parent voluntarily relinquished primary custody of your child to you then you have an option on whether to ask the OAG to stop your child support obligation and instead shift the burden onto your co-parent. It would make sense for you to do this since you are now in a position where you will be caring for your child on a primary basis.
What can be decided by the OAG
If the OAG reviews your application for a modification, then they can decide to either grant a review or deny your application for review. If they grant your modification request, then they will notify you and your co-parent of that decision. Next, the OAG will work to schedule a negotiation appointment or a court date to look further into the situation. Before a court date, you will have an opportunity to negotiate with your co-parent on child support matters. An attorney with the OAG's office will sit down with you and your co-parent to see if a settlement can be reached before going to see a judge.
If your review is not approved by the OAG, then you and your co-parent will be notified of this by mail. You can still request another review but many times people in this position will simply file a modification petition with the district court directly. A judge can then decide on whether to grant you a hearing to present evidence as to why the modification is needed. Hiring an attorney to help you with the process can make a great deal of sense considering the circumstances and stakes involved.
What happens at a child support review process appointment?
If the office of the attorney general approves your request to have them review your child support orders, then the next step in the process may be to schedule a child support review process appointment. This appointment will be a negotiation session between you and your co-parent. You all will negotiate on matters related to child support and can allow the two of you to draft updated orders without having to go to court. You and your co-parent will have an opportunity to attend this meeting and the process works best when both of you are present and accounted for in the meeting.
The office of the attorney general will have an employee available to help the two of you write a new court order for the judge to sign off on. Depending upon the circumstances of your case this step in the process can take time. There are so many factors in play when it comes to child support that you may even need multiple meetings with the attorney general's office to complete a walkthrough. Ideally, you and your co-parent we'll agree on a modification in this meeting, and you would not need to attend a court date. However, if you are unable to settle this matter in a meeting the next step in the process would be to set up a court date with the judge to have him or she decide the issue for your family.
Attending court for child support modification
When the day of your hearing finally comes, you will present your case to the judge as far as evidence is concerned. The more complex your case is the more likely it will be that you all will have to attend a hearing. Also, if you failed to attend a negotiation session with your co-parent and the office of the attorney general then this can increase the likelihood of your having to go to court. Finally, if your family has a circumstance involving violence in the home this will also act as a reason why a court appearance becomes necessary.
the judge will consider the evidence submitted by you and your co-parent and then decide if the order should be modified. After a hearing, the modified order will be provided to both you and your co-parent so that you all can be kept up to date with any changes that have been made in your case. The modification process is done when the judge has signed a new order or has decided that no modification was justified.
At the end of the day, each case is very different. As a result, you should consider the specific circumstances of your case and whether you need assistance from an experienced family law attorney to proceed efficiently. The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to assist you and your family in whatever modification or child support-related matter you are currently facing.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained 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 in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.
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