When it comes to a temporary custody hearing there is always a lot at stake for both parents. Specifically, you and your co-parent are going to have your custody circumstances decided by a family court judge rather than by you or your co-parent. This is a risky situation to put yourself in given that neither of you knows exactly how that judge is going to rule. Your attorney may have an idea about the tendencies of this judge, but the truth is that nobody knows just what to expect. You are taking a risk when you go to court for temporary orders hearing but at that stage, you do not have much of a choice.
Negotiation with your co-parent is almost always the best course of action to take when it comes to trying to arrive at a decision that is in the best interests of your child. Even if you and your co-parent are not seeing eye to eye very much these days that does not mean that the two of you can't still be a good negotiating team. Being prepared and being open-minded are two of the most important characteristics to bring in negotiations- be they in informal settlement negotiations or a more formal setting like mediation. This is where you and your co-parent can control the proceedings much better than you can in a courtroom.
Protect yourself, your child, and your finances
If you expect to be named as the noncustodial parent in a child custody case the best move that you may want to make at this time is to set up a hearing through the Office of the Attorney General. Their office oversees the payment of child support in Texas and can be a great help to you when it comes to establishing court orders not only on child support but on a range of important subject matter. We know that child support, child custody, visitation, and conservatorship issues are important to you as a parent. Now the two of you can have those issues determined for you in court but you can still negotiate with one another. Contact the Office of the Attorney General to learn more, but better yet contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to better position yourself for an important hearing. Be it temporary orders hearing in a child custody case or an initial hearing in a child support matter.
If you are a noncustodial parent, there is no benefit to your trying to evade the law when it comes to child support. Eventually, the state of Texas or your co-parent is going to try to establish child support against you. It is only a matter of time. Rather than put yourself in a position where you are going to have to just wait to learn your fate, I would say that filing your child support case (either through the OAG or with a private family law attorney) is a better alternative. That way you control the pace of the case and can prepare to put your best foot forward. Collecting pay stubs and other employment document is essential to your being able to control the case and have a fair amount of child support assessed against you. Going into a courtroom or a negotiating table empty-handed while your co-parent has oodles of documents and evidence is not ideal, to say the least. The better prepared you are the better you will be able to present your case.
Paternity must be established
Before we get to talk about anything related to a child custody case you or your co-parent must be established as the father to a child. Looking at it from the perspective of all your fathers out there it is not enough to have your name on a birth certificate or to be told that you are the father by the mother. What you need is a court order signed by a judge which states that you are the father. Without this, you have no more of a legal relationship with your child than I do. Therefore, I would recommend that you investigate this as something very important. We need to have child custody as a second item on our to-do list, therefore. You should be careful about signing anything before you go to court. In court, you would be given a DNA test for free by the government to establish paternity. Before getting the results back of that test it is always risky to sign documents acknowledging paternity. This is something that can be undone but not without a significant cost or risk of delay. Your best bet may be to contact the Office of the Attorney General to work with them on paternity issues and set yourself up for a child support case once paternity is established.
Once you do have paternity established, I think it makes all the sense in the world to be as thorough as you can be regarding child support. This means providing supporting documents to the greatest extent possible as you begin to make a case for child support. Child support is calculated based on your net monthly income. What your net monthly income is may be an easy question to answer if you are a salaried employee at a normal company. However, if you have a job like this but also work multiple side jobs then you may run into a situation where it is more difficult to calculate your net monthly income especially when your net monthly income is unstable each month. Fluctuating incomes mean that you need to be able to show the court a longer history of your earnings so a fair amount of child support can be assessed.
What can you do if you can’t pay the full amount of child support?
It happens from time to time that we have more months left over than we do money. During those periods it is difficult to make ends meet and we may rely more on credit cards to pull through until more prosperous times return. We already mentioned how variable income earners go through something like this with relative frequency. However, when you add to your list of obligations the payment of child support, we have to consider an entirely new issue. Now we have a bill that we cannot put on a credit card. You need to be able to pay that money to your co-parent each month or risk the consequences.
If you find yourself in this type of situation all is not lost. You should plan on paying the most amount of money that you can towards the obligation, however. You can look at your budget and move money around as best as possible to position yourself for the money that you are going to need. For example, there may be streaming services that you need to go without for a month or two to be able to pay as much child support as you can. Whatever you do, do not skip a payment or a series of payments. This can put you in a position where you are not able to make up the ground. It is hard to dig yourself out of a hole when you have the shovel at your feet making the hole bigger. Do what you can to minimize the damage each month. Try and increase your income even if it is only temporary to stay out of a position where you will be falling behind chronically in child support.
Once you have a child support order set by the court you are in a position where you do not have to worry about your co-parent denying you visitation with your child because you won’t pay whatever amount of child support, she wants you to pay that particular month. This is a much better situation to find yourself in and is a key reason why it is not a bad thing to get set for child support at the beginning of your child's life. The alternative is to find yourself having to pay varying amounts of child support each month as your co-parent attempts to justify their requests for additional money. This will not always work out well for your co-parent and is something that you should avoid falling into the trap of. While you have a child support obligation you are going to be in a position where you at least know how much money you need to pay each month and can budget toward that number effectively. Planning is important once you get involved in a child custody or child support case.
A child support order can be modified in the future. This can be done in several ways. The first way would be to simply contact the Attorney General and ask them to do a review of your child support figure to determine if it is appropriate. If not, then they can file a modification request with the court to have your child support figure potentially adjusted. Please note that your child support can be reduced or increased if your wages change substantially. A small increase or small decrease in your net monthly income would ordinarily not result in a change in your child support obligation one way or another. However, there is no harm in asking and seeing what adjustments can be made in your circumstances.
Rather than going through the Office of the Attorney General, you can file a modification case yourself and ask the court to increase or decrease the child support you receive or pay. A material and substantial change in circumstances would need to result in the court granting your modification request. Having proof of an income change is a good place to begin. Next, if your child has a need that has developed since the last time you were in court which has led to an increased need for support that would certainly be worthwhile to bring up. Next, you could also make an argument that your child support should decrease because you have had a child with another woman and that reality should decrease your child support. Either way, check with an attorney to go through your change in circumstances to determine what your chances are at getting a decrease in child support.
Past-due child support cannot be wished away or removed from the books. Your failure to pay child support will only make the situation that you find yourself in that much more precarious. It is not a good thing for you to owe child support. It potentially harms your child; it harms your relationship with your co-parent and puts you in a position where you will need to be constantly on guard about your co-parent attempting to bring you back to court for an enforcement lawsuit. Trying to enforce your prior order and then asking the judge to increase child support if your income has increased would be a double whammy that could result.
The amount of child support that you owe will grow each month by an amount greater than the actual monthly payment of child support. The reason for this is due to interest being attached to the balance. Your child support balance will increase almost like a credit card or other bill if you do not start to make large payments towards the principal amount. It does not matter if your child comes to live with you full-time or if you take on the responsibilities of being the primary conservator of your children. You would still need to focus on paying child support in full each month. However, you should notify the court if your child comes to live with you so that you can request a change of status with the court. Until there is a child support order that states you no longer have the obligation to pay child support then you need to continue to do so.
Starting a child support case on your own as a noncustodial parent
What some people do not know is that a non-custodial parent can start a child support case. The assumption is that it would be the custodial parent who has the motivation to file the lawsuit. However, all parents have the motivation to do what is best for their children and to establish their obligation for financial support sooner rather than later. This is preferable to many people as opposed to living in a situation where you do not know how much money you will be on the hook for each month in child support. Living a life like this is difficult because you are not able to effectively budget from month to month.
Even before you get to a temporary order hearing you will be able to meet with your co-parent at a negotiation conference provided by the Office of the Attorney General. If you can agree with your co-parent on issues like child custody and child support, then you all can have a settlement agreement drafted on that date and you will not have much of a need to do anything as far as a courtroom is concerned. Child support is a subject that can be emotional to negotiate. Sometimes both sides to a negotiation have to feel the push of a deadline approaching to make significant movement. You should always be prepared to negotiate and should not hold your co-parent personally responsible for a failed settlement conference. It may just be that your circumstances may it extraordinarily difficult to settle a case and that has little to do with your co-parent.
Focus on paternity
When you are the legal father to a child that puts you in a good position to be able to negotiate and present a case in family court. You have standing to bring a series of lawsuits such as a child support suit. Being the legal father to a child also allows that child to inherit from you and vice versa. Finally, you can deepen the bond that you and your child have by seeing it through and establishing paternity. Do not underestimate how tricky this can be. There may be some loops that you need to jump through to get you and your co-parent into a courtroom together. For that reason, you need to consider hiring an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can help you to navigate the sometimes-difficult landscape of a family law case. A lawyer can help you to understand what you are facing, how to prepare, and how to develop goals for yourself as you engage in a child custody case in Texas.
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 how your circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.