This article was written by Hance Law Group associate attorney Jonathan James.
There are specific guidelines in Texas for modifying child support. According to the Texas Family Code, a child support order can be modified if:
- It has been three or more years since the order was established or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support ordered differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded according to child support guidelines; or
- A material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the child support order was last set.
Those material and substantial changes aren’t just limited to a decrease (or an increase) in income; if an obligor becomes legally responsible for additional children, or if the children’s medical coverage and/or living situation has changed those count.
Child support can be changed either in the courts or through what’s called the child support review process. The latter is a faster method, but it requires both parents to agree to the change in a meeting at an OAG office.
The child support amount doesn’t change until the court officially changes it, even if a request for modification is underway, regardless of circumstances. And if parents do agree in the child support review process, it still does have to go to a judge for a final signoff, which the office will do.
Some people who are paying child support might have questions about whether the money being used to truly support their children as intended. Most child support in Texas consists of men turning over part of their earnings to their ex-wives. Some of those men have great co-parenting relationships with their exes, who are also the mothers of their children. But some don’t, to put it bluntly, and might be suspicious of what their exes are doing with the money.
So how do you know if the money you pay in child support is really being spent appropriately on your children? Most of the time, you don’t. If you suspect that the money is being misused, and that the children’s basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) might be compromised, it can be grounds for you gaining custody. (And if that’s granted to you, your ex would most likely be ordered to pay child support to you.) This isn’t the easiest thing to prove, but if you do honestly believe that your children aren’t getting what they need, it’s worth talking to a lawyer to see if you truly do have a case.
It’s best, of course, to try to negotiate a reasonable child support payment fair to both parents and the children in the initial divorce settlement. In Texas, the income of the custodial parent doesn’t figure into child support calculations, but in a collaborative negotiation, alternatives to the guidelines can be determined, as long as each parent has sufficient resources to support the children.
There is some new ground being broken with 50/50 custody arrangements. In some cases, both parents’ incomes will be taken into account, a child support amount would be calculated for each, and the parent with greater income would pay the parent with lesser income the difference in child support.
As with many other areas of divorce, the collaborative approach allows for more innovation and a wider range of possibilities than the litigated approach when it comes to child support. But once a divorcing couple agrees to a child support amount, the modification process is set up to provide some level of stability for parents who receive child support.