The Law Office of Bryan Fagan helps people in southeast Texas of all backgrounds, origins, and political persuasions. We have no biases towards any group and are honored to serve a wide range of clients on a variety of family law issues. This is what we do every day for our clients: we go out into the wide world of family law, and we advocate, support, and fight for our clients. It's something that we take a lot of pride in and strive each day to be able to continue to do so.
Many times, it can feel like what you are going through puts you on a desert island. Nobody to commiserate with. Nobody knows what it's like to be you. It can be a lonely feeling to have child support, child custody, or a divorce case thrust upon you. You wanted to live your life and be the best person you could be. Now you are going through a family law case. Not exactly a fun circumstance. What's more, you look around and it can feel like you are getting picked on or going through something that nobody else can relate to.
The attorneys with our office want to share with you a different perspective on this subject. We know that it can be tough to find yourself going through a family law case. It isn’t exactly enjoyable to have to come face to face with a range of different subjects in your life that are unpleasant or force you to face some uncomfortable truths about yourself. Whether you want to or not a family law case is not something that can be glossed over and ignored. You must face down the case when it comes to calling.
Having to go through an unpleasant family law case is a reality not only for you but also for famous people. While the rich and famous may have perks in other areas of their life, once they find their way inside of a courtroom it can be a dose of reality that hits them in the face. This is the situation that Hunter Biden, the oldest son of President Joe Biden, finds himself in currently. We are going to talk about Hunter Biden's situation in a family court in Arkansas and then tie that into how it is relevant for us here in southeast Texas. Whether you are a parent who receives or pays child support, today's blog post should help you to understand the factors that play into child support determinations and how Mr. Biden's situation can be a lesson for parents- no matter if your dad is the President, or not.
The Background of Hunter Biden's child support saga
I think it will be useful to go through the Hunter Biden situation and then take some pitstops to discuss the ins and outs of Texas family law and how it can be compared to Mr. Biden's situation. On May 1st, Hunter Biden had a court date in an Arkansas courtroom with the mother of his child, a woman named Lunden Roberts. Mr. Biden is the father, through paternity testing, of a four-year-old girl named Navy Joan Roberts. The child in question was born in August 2018. Let’s take the situation from there and implement some Texas family law to bring everyone up to speed on what this situation would mean for a Texas family.
In Texas, if Navy Roberts was born to a mother and father who were not married then that means that there would be no legal presumption of paternity that would apply. When a married woman has a baby then a presumption attaches that the mother's husband is the father to that child. Additionally, even if a mother and father are not married at the time of the child's birth, an Acknowledgment of Paternity form can be signed by the mother and father where paternity can be established. Once both parents sign an AOP it can be turned in to the Bureau of Vital Statistics and that will establish paternity without having to go through a court case.
To my knowledge, that is not what happened with Hunter Biden, Navy Roberts, and her mom. A paternity lawsuit was filed by Lunden Roberts in May 2019- roughly nine months after Navy Roberts was born. A paternity suit is a petition (request) to establish who the legal father of a child is. Just because a man is a biological father to a child does not mean that he has paternity rights or is the legal father to a child automatically. The exception to that rule is if the biological father of a child is also married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth.
A January 2020 court order established paternity, naming Hunter Biden as the legal father of Navy Roberts. In a situation like this, paternity is usually established through DNA testing. The child and the man who may be the biological father to the child have their cheeks swabbed and the samples from each are tested to determine paternity. From there, a parent-child relationship is established. The child has a right to inherit property from the parent, and has the potential to take advantage of Social Security benefits should the father pass away before the child turns 18 and a host of other benefits. The father has the right to then make decisions for the child in certain areas established by the court order and the duty to support the child.
Child Support and Hunter Biden
That is where we are going to pick up the story involving Hunter Biden. When Mr. Biden appeared in the Arkansas courtroom on May 1st, it was regarding a child support hearing that Mr. Biden had requested. Child support in Texas is established in most cases based on the guidelines contained in the Texas Family Code. In short, a percentage of a parent's net monthly income is assessed and paid as child support. For people who work 9-5 jobs, this is not a difficult formula. Your net income won't be hard to figure because you probably have one job and one source of income. The percentage that is multiplied against your income is based on how many children are before the court. This isn't tough math to do. However, the situation changes when you are someone like Hunter Biden.
Mr. Biden has asked the family court to decrease the amount of child support that he is expected to pay to Ms. Roberts. Why could that be? I haven’t seen any pleadings or motions filed into the court case, but we can assume that it has something to do with Mr. Biden contending that his income is not as high as it previously was or that a change in circumstances has occurred otherwise. This is known as a child support modification case. He is asking the court to modify downwards the amount of child support that he is expected to pay. This is a common request to make about three years out from having his initial court order established. At that time, it is normal to see a parent’s income change or have the needs of the child change.
From what Mr. Biden's attorney has said, Mr. Biden pays $20,000 per month in child support. This is an extremely large amount of money. Any of you reading this blog post who are parents can probably understand that the monthly needs of most children are not nearly $20,000. However, based on the income of Mr. Biden and his unique circumstances it was determined in his last court case that it was in the best interests of his daughter that she receive that much in child support each month.
The best interests of the child standard are one that is applied across our country as far as decision-making is concerned on the part of judges towards minor children. The factors and other details about the analysis may differ from Texas to Arkansas but the judge looks at the needs of the child both now and in the future. Special medical needs, behavioral issues, school, or other educational costs are all gauged, and then a determination is made as to what amount of money is appropriate.
In the hearing on May 1st, the judge provided deadlines for the parties and their attorneys to follow as far as submitting discovery questions to one another. Discovery is a formalized process where each side can submit questions and seek answers from the opposing party. Mr. Biden may be interested in learning the monthly childcare costs that Ms. Roberts incurs if she has the little girl in daycare. Ms. Roberts will be interested in learning what Mr. Biden’s monthly income is and where he draws a paycheck from. Mr. Biden may need to turn over income tax records and other things like that to verify his income. It may not be the case that Mr. Biden receives a paycheck like the rest of us do from our jobs, so verifying his income must be done another way.
One of the many unique parts of this case is that Mr. Biden is something of an artist and has sold artwork worth hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars. The attorney for Ms. Roberts is requesting information and details about the art deals, his salary, and employment for the past five years, any money that he has received from non-U.S. citizens as well as income earned from family members. Mr. Biden and Ms. Roberts have until May 12th to answer discovery questions and either submit the answers and documents requested or to offer an objection as to why the document or answer cannot be properly submitted. A trial in the child custody modification case has been set for July.
What does this all mean for child support purposes?
From a family law attorney's perspective, this situation is an interesting one because it ties together so many issues that are relevant to the world of child support. First, you have a father who is trying to get his child support obligation decreased. This is done through the modification process. A material and substantial change in circumstances for the father, the mother, or the child would need to be found before a judge would consider a modification of child support. Even then, the judge would further need to find that the requested modification is in the best interests of the child.
In Mr. Biden's situation, the judge would need to take into consideration all the evidence regarding Mr. Biden’s income and likely compare that to the situation back in 2020 when an order for child support was first established. If Mr. Biden can successfully show that his income has decreased, then he may be able to get the child support reduction that he is seeking. Of course, if Arkansas is anything like Texas, he would need to further show that it is in the best interests of the child to have his child support decreased. Whether or not Mr. Biden has a relationship with his daughter was not something I found while reading up about this case. However, the nature of his relationship with the child (or lack thereof) may also figure into the judge's determination of best interests.
Getting to the bottom of his income may be easier said than done. When a person like Mr. Biden draws income from multiple sources it can be a real challenge to figure out exactly what he earns and then break that down to a net income situation. It could be that his income fluctuates a great deal or that his income is "hidden" in how he gets paid or the source of his income. For that, the attorney for Ms. Roberts would need to be very detail-oriented as far as how he requests information to confirm his income. Discovery is going to be his best bet to find out about Mr. Biden's income because he would not voluntarily turn over this sort of information unless he was forced to by a judge.
Sometimes a parent will attempt to undercount their income to give the impression that he should pay less in child support. Mr. Biden is accused of doing just that by the attorney for Ms. Roberts. In a more common scenario, a parent may appear to have taken a pay cut or have had their hours reduced to avoid paying as much child support. In rare instances will a parent purposefully loses their job to argue that their income is zero. What happens in a case like that is that a minimum wage income is applied to the person with zero income. Therefore, a minimal amount of child support will need to be paid to facilitate the monthly needs of a child.
Mr. Biden's argument that his child support should be reduced is harmed by his lifestyle as well as his connections given who his father is. It is not hard to imagine that Mr. Biden has near limitless income-earning potential given who his father is, as well. On the other hand, $20,000 is a lot of money. Were this case in Texas, and using the standard guidelines for child support, for one child it is presumed that Mr. Biden's net monthly income would be $100,000 given that he has one child before the court.
In any event, the key to this case would seem to be the lawyer for Ms. Roberts getting his hands on documents that can verify the income of Mr. Biden. This could be easier said than done for all the reasons that we went over earlier. Finding a person’s income and then being able to search high and low for documentation to prove this income is difficult. Tax returns would seem to be the most direct way to find out this information, but Mr. Biden may object to turning over something like that.
All in all, this is a case to watch in the coming months. The judge has indicated that she wants the case to move along steadily. Both Ms. Roberts and Mr. Biden must be present for hearings moving forward. You can imagine that Mr. Biden wants to see this case through to the end especially if he truly cannot live with an amount of child support at $20,000 per month. He would necessarily need to turn over some financial documents if for no other reason than to show that the material and substantial change, in this case, is that his income has slumped and that the current amount of child support is unjustified and not in the best interests of his daughter.
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's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.
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