Can child support be updated over the years?

Times change. People change. These are two realities that we deal with in our daily lives. When it comes to matters related to your family after a family law case these two rules are even more true. Your final orders in a child custody or divorce case are a snapshot. They are not a movie that chronicles a development in your family’s history. This is a shortcoming of those orders if we are being honest with ourselves. The best court orders anticipate some challenges and consider those. 

However, even the most well-thought-out orders are not perfect. There is no way to anticipate certain changes that occur in your life. That’s not to mention changes in your co-parent’s life. All the same factors (and then some) that impact your life apply to your co-parent as well. Your child has issues and circumstances that are unique to him or her. All in all, you should expect there to be challenges and changes that impact your family in unique ways. 

The question the Law Office of Bryan Fagan seeks to answer in today’s blog post relates to updating court orders. Specifically- can child support be updated over the years? We are going to delve into this topic in detail. If you have previously gone through a divorce or child custody case, then this blog post is for you. Child support is an important yet challenging topic. Let’s get right to it. 

Child support in Texas

Before we start to discuss child support changes it makes sense to define what child support is. Child support is payments of money from one co-parent to another. The purpose of the child support is to help financially care for the needs of a child shared by the co-parents. This money is typically withheld from the paycheck of the noncustodial parent. The payments then go to the Office of the Attorney General who pays the custodial parent. 

A record of payments is maintained on the website of the Office of the Attorney General. This provides you with two key benefits. One, you have a record that objectively shows you how much money you owe in child support. It also shows how much has been paid. No arguing between parents about this important subject. Also, your co-parent knows how much she is due in child support each month. Gone are the days where she sets the amount of child support based on that week’s or month’s bills. 

All in all, child support is a delicate balance of figuring out what your child needs to succeed. There are options when it comes to child support, however. What a judge says or what the Texas Family Code says does not enter the picture until it is necessary. Before this, you can negotiate with your co-parent. Where you come out on this is up to you all. However, do not assume that this case goes before a judge. 

Why is child support so difficult to get right?

One way to look at child support is like Goldilocks and The Three Bears. The key is finding just the right amount of child support. Too much child support means that you as the parent who pays feel a pinch too tight in the pocketbook. Pay too little in child support and your co-parent shoulders too heavy of a burden. For many families arriving at just the right amount of child support is not a challenge. However, depending upon the complexity of your life this is a challenge that is not to be understated.

For instance, does your child have a special need that has to be accounted for? In many situations special needs children have steady and predictable monthly costs as far as childcare and things of this nature. In that case, negotiating an appropriate amount of childcare is not a huge issue. Consider these additional costs and build them into the child support assessed in your case. 

However, it’s when your child has a special need that cannot be easily predicted monthly that problems arise. These problems can be outmaneuvered with diligent negotiation. That is not always easy considering your relationship with your co-parent. When you and your co-parent do not see eye to eye on child support then this is a challenge. In that case, working with an experienced family law attorney is a great idea. Removing yourself from these negotiations and allowing an experienced attorney to perform that role is sensible. 

Taking the time to prepare adequately

So many people who negotiate child support do so with inadequate preparation. This means that you or your co-parent do not put in the work to learn as much as is needed for the process. Child support is not something you or your attorney would copy and paste from another case. This does not reflect the best interests of your children. What matters to them is getting the child support right so that there is a limited need to change these orders moving forward. 

Understanding all the issues at play in your case is a must. We just talked about how child support reflects your child’s circumstances right now. You can build in anticipated costs into child support but that is not required. Rather, considering what your child needs right now is how most parents approach this subject. It is not enough to merely assume that everything works out in the end for your child. The better you prepare the more your child benefits now and in the future. 

This means being honest with yourself as a parent. If you are a parent who pays child support, then you must understand a couple of things. Number one, that your budget will be constrained because of paying child support. The other issue to bear in mind is that the needs of your child matter more than anything. Your child’s best interests are the guiding principle in child support. This is true even when the best interests of your child conflict with your financial realities. 

What is the best interests standard?

The best interests of the child standard are one that applies to family law cases in Texas. Essentially, the court attempts to determine what is in the best interests of your child. This is done by looking at a range of factors relevant to your child’s life. For instance, the physical health and well-being of your child are considered. Which parent, you, or your co-parent, is better positioned to be able to account for the needs of your child in this regard? Have either of you had run-ins with child protective services or law enforcement? The safety of your child matters to you as a parent and it matters to a court.

Next, the educational performance of your child matters. A court wants to ensure that your child can attend classes daily. Are you living in the same neighborhood as your child’s school? This helps from a standpoint of continuity of care. Does your child perform well with you as a primary caretaker? Or does your child tend to complete their schoolwork and behave better in class when with your co-parent during the school week? 

Finally which parent is better equipped to work together and co-parent with one another? Do you make a concerted effort to involve your co-parent in discussions regarding your child? Have you or your co-parent ever not informed the other about a doctor’s visit or parent-teacher conference? From the big to the small, the best interests of the child standard attempts to consider what your child needs now and in the future.

What can you plan for in child support?

We all know that there are some things in life that you cannot adequately prepare for. Issues that truly come up out of the blue with no warning signs. A cancer diagnosis where you are unable to work suddenly. There is nothing you can do to get ready for having cancer, specifically. With that said, there are steps you can take to better prepare your life for certain events that tend to occur regularly or at least on a set schedule. 

Other things in life are anticipated events. From a financial standpoint, this looks like having an emergency fund. Planning for a rainy day is one of those things that all of us can do to one extent or another. Depending upon the needs of your family your emergency fund may need to be larger than another person’s. For example, let’s say that you work a job where you are paid well but job security is poor. Or your job frequently goes on strike or is seasonal. These are all reasons to have larger than normal emergency funds. 

The point is that there are true emergencies out there. They happen from time to time. However, these emergencies can be planned for financially. You may not know exactly what the emergency is going to be. However, the money you save can be applied to that issue before it ever comes up as a real problem for you or your family. This is one way how you can avoid issues with paying child support in the future. 

Job loss- the ultimate in making child support difficult to manage

On one end of the spectrum of income, uncertainty is losing your job. This is a tough position to be in no matter what your situation is in life. Having kids makes it even more difficult.  The responsibility to pay child support falls on your shoulders no matter what your employment circumstances are. You must have an income not only for your child but also for yourself. Being unable to meet your financial obligations makes doing so with child support even more complicated. 

Taking into consideration the child support you need to pay during job loss means planning. Having an emergency fund is what matters here. The more money you can set aside for job loss the better position you will be in. It is not easy to have the discipline needed to do this each week. Putting money aside each month is a simple task, but self-control and ability are not simple. 

Look at your court orders on child support. There likely is nothing in there about job loss as a valid excuse or defense against not paying child support. It is difficult to find yourself in this position but there are steps you can take to help yourself out. For one, hiring a family law attorney with experience helping parents is crucial. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan helps parents just like you each day in courts and at negotiation tables across Texas.

Communicate your circumstances to your co-parent 

It is hard to admit a weakness or a sore spot to your co-parent. This is a person that you may have just divorced or at least have gone through a breakup with. Meaning that this person is not someone you are a huge fan of now. Likely, that feeling is mutual. However, you need to set aside those differences today to co-parent well. The first step you need to take when it comes to not being able to pay child support is to talk to your parent about this.

As much as it pains you, let your co-parent know when you lose your job. You don’t need to get into the details about the job loss. However, be clear about the impact that the job loss is going to have on your income. If you have more than one job, then this should be mentioned. Help her to get a full picture of your income situation so that she has no questions about what your financial circumstances are currently. 

When you discuss issues like this in an upfront manner there are fewer doubts that your co-parent would have. People appreciate being told the truth. Being lied to or avoiding the truth is no fun for anyone. This is especially true for a parent expecting child support payments. Put yourself in that person’s shoes. Your co-parent needs this money to pay for essentials for your child. Not receiving that money for even one month can be devastating.

Modifying child support – a brief how-to guide          

Child support can be updated after you go to court for the first time. Remember that child support is established based on prior circumstances. It is unlikely that your circumstances will remain the same until your child ages out of the child support system. As a result, periodically reviewing your court orders is reasonable. Checking to make sure you know what you are paying and the length of time for which you need to pay child support is what I am talking about here. 

A change in your income is a subject we have talked about in detail during today’s blog post. What the court looks for here is a material and substantial change in circumstances. In other words, this needs to be a big change in the circumstances of your case. Losing your job may cause your income to decrease, but is that change permanent? If you work in a volatile field like oil and gas, then it may not be.

On the other hand, having a consistent decrease in your income because of suffering a disability or some other medical issue is much more permanent. This is in line with what the court would identify as a material and substantial change in circumstances. The better you can provide evidence showing the nature of your issue and how it changes your life as far as income is concerned can lead to a modification being successful.

Final thoughts on changing child support orders

Child support is an emotional topic no matter if you are paying or receiving the support. It requires constant evaluation in terms of the best interests of your children. Additionally, you and your co-parent need to be on the same page and communicate about child support frequently. When all these steps are taken there are methods for changing child support which are possible.

Ultimately, the success of a modification of child support depends upon the best interests of your child. Even if a material and substantial change has occurred that does not trump the best interests of your child. At the same time, a court will not order you to pay more child support than you can’t afford. This is a delicate balancing act. Working with an experienced Texas family law attorney makes a huge difference in your case. Thank you for spending time on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. 

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. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.

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