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Can’t pay your Texas child support because of coronavirus?

One of the many impacts of the coronavirus this past year has been a government LED shutdown of the economy. Originally, the idea for the shutdown as I'm sure we all remember was to flatten the curve and to limit the number of people who would fall ill with the coronavirus. A twin motivator for these shutdown was also to prevent hospital beds from filling up too rapidly. An unintended consequence of this plan was a terrible impact on our economy. 

Throughout the months of March, April and May we saw unemployment numbers grow to points that most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. Those of you working in retail and other service industry jobs were impacted the most. You may have seen your hours cut down dramatically or even lost your job as your employer was unable to pay your wages or salary during the shutdown. Governments then had to backtrack in an attempt to open up the economy so that the economic bleeding could be stopped. 

The next phase of this process is one that we are going through right now. There are those questioning state officials who determined it was best for our economy to open up sooner rather than later. It is certainly a balancing act to keep people safe but also to allow our economy to continue to create jobs and pay wages so that people can go about Their lives as normally as possible. Anyone who says they had all the answers from the very beginning were either not being truthful or were severely overestimating themselves. Both sides of the argument make compelling points and once that merit listening to. 

All this is fine to discuss on a philosophical or political level, but ultimately what we care about is having our jobs, maintaining our health and fulfilling our obligations as citizens and parents. If you are a parent who has a child support obligation each month than you know especially well just how important it is to have a steady stream of income. Child support isn't always touchy much debated topic within family law cases. No matter if you are the parent who receives child support where the parent who is obligated to pay child support odds are good that you are keenly aware of the economics surrounding this topic. 

What is child support in relation to a Texas family law case? 

Before we go any further, I would like to go over some basic information about child support and how it may relate to your life. Seeing as how you are on the blog of a family law attorney; I think that you have some understanding of this topic but may not see fully how the statewide economic trends can impact your monthly child support obligation.

For starters, child support is paid by a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent. The non-custodial parent is the parent that does not live with their child on a full-time basis. That parent will typically have Visitation rights to their child the custodial parent is the parent with which the child resides primarily. During the school year that child will wake up in the house of the custodial parent on each school day and go to school. 

Because the custodial parent is in possession of children on a much more frequent basis it follows that that parent will bear the burden of spending more money for the care and upkeep of that child. Here I am considering things like shelter, clothing, educational costs and medical costs. The state of Texas believes that both of a child's parents should be engaged in caring for that child on a financial level. As such, the non-custodial parent is typically ordered to pay a certain amount of child support in order to assist in the daily care of that child even when he or she is not with the child physically. 

If you have been ordered to pay child support, then you know your child support is determined by taking your net monthly income and multiplying that buy a percentage based on how many children you are obligated to support. A non-custodial parent can expect to pay 20% of their net monthly income for child support if they have one child before the court, 25% for two children 30% for three children and on up to at most 50% of their net monthly income going towards child support. 

Net monthly income is essentially your wages, salary, commission, dividends from stock purchases, retirement income, workers compensation benefits in a handful of other sources of monthly income minus taxes in other monies that are paid out. The Texas family code contains specific guideline levels of child support that are commonly utilized in family law cases. You and your child's other parent are able to negotiate just about any sort of child support setup that you would like but most people favor the guideline levels of support as set forth in the family code. 

How does child support make it from your bank account to that of the custodial parent?

Let's assume that you are the parent who is obligated to pay child support. As your divorce or child custody case is coming to a close you will be tasked with making sure that your child support obligation is properly paid each month on time and in full. It is likely that you will need to give your employment information to the court so that a wage withholding order may be drafted and signed by a judge which confirms the amount of child support that you are to pay each month. 

A wage withholding order will be kept in your case file at the courthouse and sent to your employer. Your employer will be obligated to hey your child support obligation to the office of the attorney general child support division. The office of the attorney general child support division is the state agency who is in charge of administering child support payments. These folks receive child support payments from non-custodial parents like yourself and then pay the Child Support to custodial parents directly. 

You will not need to nor should you make child support payments directly to your child's custodial parent. This may seem like a more simple or direct method of paying child support, but I can tell you from experience that it almost always complicates matters in regard to child support. For instance, while you in the custodial parent are on good terms this scenario may work well. However, if you and the custodial parent have a falling out or a worsening of your relationship it may become more difficult for you to interact and have child support be exchanged in this manner. 

What paying your child support through the office of the attorney general does is to help ensure that a record is maintained regarding the amounts of child support that have been paid and received. This is a nice thing for a non-custodial parent like yourself who does not want to put themselves in a position where they are relying upon the goodwill of another parent to verify that child support has been paid. You will not be asked by the custodial parent to pay you more child support for example. If there is any question as to what amount of child support is still owed or if you have been paying in full you need only look to the office of the attorney general's website to verify the amount of support that you have paid. 

Child support can work well for parents, until it doesn’t

Paying child support with the assistance of a wage withholding order and the automatic payments by the office of the attorney general is almost like setting up your household bills to be paid automatically through your bank or through your mortgage company. At the beginning of each month it is nice to know that your utilities, your mortgage and other bills will be paid automatically without you having to think about it this allows you to free up time in mental space for doing other things. 

However, the difficulty comes in when the money that you are relying on to pay your bills is not there at the beginning of the month. Getting back to what we have talked about at the beginning of today's blog post the economic uncertainties brought about by the coronavirus lockdowns have created a situation for many families that has seen incomes become less predictable and employment prospects worsen. If you have lost your job recently or have had your hours cut back, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

The trouble can start for a non-custodial parent who owes child support when the 1st of the month comes around and you have to make a decision about whether a child support will be paid or whether your household bills will be paid. You don't want to neglect your child and leave him or her without the Child Support that is helpful to go towards their bills and towards caring for that child but at the same time he realized that you will be no help to your child if you don't have a place to live yourself. When money becomes tight a dollar can only stretch so far. 

If you are in a position now where your income has changed dramatically or has outright dropped to zero, then you need to be aware that your obligation to pay child support does not cease simply because you have lost your job. You need to take proactive steps towards making the court aware of your circumstances. The only way a child support obligation will come to an end is by court order. You cannot obtain a valid order from a judge unless you modify your current child support obligation. 

Modifying a child support obligation during the coronavirus pandemic 

The method that you would need to employ in order to change your child support obligation would be to file a modification case. A modification seeks to amend or change a prior order due to a material and substantial change in the circumstances of you, the custodial parent or of your child. Modifications for child support are filed frequently when income of a parent paying child support changes or a circumstance regarding one of the children has changed since you all were last in court. 

In regard to the coronavirus, the most common modification that I could imagine regarding child support will be a request by a non-custodial parent to decrease their obligation due to a change in income. If you plan on filing a modification for this reason then you need to be prepared to have evidence showing that your job has changed your pay , you have no employment currently or that your place of employment that has been recently obtained pays you less money than your prior order indicated. If your net monthly income has gone down due to the coronavirus buy a material and substantial amount, then you may be justified in your requesting a modification of her child support orders. 

Keep in mind, however, that you need to initiate a modification case. The judge of your court will not be going through child support orders during this time and calling non-custodial parents to make sure that their income is the same as it was six months ago. You should contact your custodial parent and explain to him or her your circumstances and see if a temporary agreement can be reached between the two of you to allow you to continue to pay some degree of child support but that would keep him or her from filing an enforcement case against you. You can also contact the office of the attorney general and notify them of your situation. 

The office of the attorney general can also file a modification on behalf of the state of Texas. Keep in mind, however, that the office of the attorney general will not be representing you nor the custodial parent in any modification case. the office of the attorney general represents the state of Texas only it has no interest in representing you for your own sake. Also, it can take much longer to rely upon the office of the attorney general to file this case for you. When in doubt, you would need to initiate a modification case if your income has decreased due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Questions about modifying child support during the current virus pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us today here on our blog. If you have any questions about the material that we have gone over, please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week here in our office. Additionally, we offer consultations via phone and video conference. We take a great deal of pride in representing clients who live in our community and are our neighbors. Please contact us today so that we may share with you how we best can serve you and your family. 

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