The case is done. Your judge has signed their name on the final orders, and you have a copy safely stowed away in a desk drawer. You may have even thought that this day would never come. It certainly felt that way at times- what you just went through is one of the most challenging journeys a person will ever have to go through.
However, you may be left wondering where your situation goes from here. Sure, your case is done and wrapped up, but what are the chances you could be back before a judge to discuss these matters in the future? How long do these orders stay in effect? Today's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, will address and answer these questions for you.
The future of your child custody order
Whether you have a child custody order due to a divorce, modification, enforcement, or child custody case, you should know that these orders will remain in effect until your child reaches the age of eighteen or has graduated from high school, whichever happens later. There is an important distinction here.
For example, our office had a client a few years ago who had to file an enforcement case against her ex-husband because he refused to pay child support for his daughter because he was convinced that his responsibility to do so ended in January- when she turned 18 years old. He failed to read the order correctly, which told him he was on the hook for child support until May she graduated from high school. It was not until he hired an attorney and explained this distinction to him that we were able to settle out of court.
If your child has a disability of some sort, you and your child's other parent would be able to agree to your paying child support beyond high school graduation/age 18. A court cannot force you to pay support beyond age 18 or graduation from high school.
Many clients have asked me whether or not a judge can order their spouse to pay for college if we were to go to a trial. The answer is no. You must agree to this arrangement and settle either in mediation or before trial.
Don't spike the metaphorical football quite yet- wait a month.
Please take a deep breath once you get that order signed by a judge, but don't think that it's all over yet. You or your opposing party can file a motion for a new trial within thirty days of your order being signed. There are a limited number of reasons why the motion can be granted, but to file the motion and get a hearing is much easier. Meaning: while you may have to have your attorney appear on your behalf if your ex-spouse files a motion for a new trial, it is unlikely that they will be able to win that motion.
Did your judge not follow the law as it is written? So much of a family law case is left up to the judge's judgment that it is difficult to prove that the judge acted improperly. As long as your judge follows the law they will likely overrule your motion. You can disagree all you would like with that application, however.
If you don't like the order, can you change it later?
The best time to get an order changed is before it becomes an order. Suppose you aren't able to do that; you can go back to the judge and ask for a change in the form of a modification. To do so, you can't just say that you don't like the order anymore. The requirement for a modification in Texas is that there must have been a substantial and material change in the circumstances of either your child or one of the parties to the case for a court to approve the requested modification.
One of the most common requests for modifications comes regarding child support payments. The law in Texas is that if you are the parent who is ordered to pay child support, there must have been an increase or decrease in the income that you earn, which would lead to either a change of 20% or $100 (in either direction) to go back to the judge and ask for a modification. So, suppose your ex-wife is telling you that she will file a modification to have your child support obligation re-evaluated. In that case, she will have to prove that your income has increased pretty dramatically.
A modification case is not a quick and easy situation to get through. If you thought the child custody case or divorce that brought about the modification was hard, you would not like the modification much either.
Going back and rehashing all of the drama surrounding the initial case is not fun. Correcting errors or re-litigating the past is not fun. So much of a modification case can usually be settled between you and the opposing party as parents of a child. However, due to the emotional nature of the relationship, you all may be unable to see past this issue and resolve problems on your own.
Before filing a modification case, my advice is to look through your divorce decree or original child custody order to see if it requires that you and the other party attend mediation before filing a lawsuit. This could be your saving grace because you may be able to settle your case for a fraction of the time and money investment necessary to move forward with a modification.
An Enforcement case explained.
The orders outlined in your family law case are rules that you and the other party must abide by moving forward. If either one of you disobeys the rules, the other party can file what is known as an enforcement suit in the same court that issued your orders.
A hearing will be held in which the party who filed the enforcement will present evidence to the judge showing what order was violated and the details surrounding that violation. That party will also be able to present its desired punishments for the violator.
If your ex-spouse has violated the terms of your divorce decree regarding child support or medical support, you should know that the most severe form of punishment for having done so is to be sentenced to a term in jail or to receive probation. Many situations where you may find yourself wanting to file enforcement can be settled before seeing a judge is necessary. It may be that you hire an attorney to file your motion for enforcement and then use the time available to you before a hearing to work out a settlement with your ex-spouse.
The bottom line on enforcement is that unless the violation of the order is something egregious, your best bet may be to allow them some time to get their act together. As you know, going to court is a considerable time and money commitment that should not be taken on lightly. If you can attempt to speak to your ex-spouse about whatever issues are going on in your lives, it may work out that you can avoid court altogether.
Questions about post-judgment legal issues? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
If you have any questions about going back to court after your family law case has concluded, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. It may be that you do not even need to see the judge again if a reasonable settlement can be worked out. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week.