The economic news has been grim over the last few months. The number of Americans who have lost their jobs over the last couple of months, due to the ongoing pandemic, has reached 36 million. Here in Texas, according to a new Texas Tribune article, 1.9 miliion people have filed for unemployment, just as the Texas Supreme Court is allowing for eviction proceedings and debt collections to resume.
The financial stress some people are feeling may be compounded by child support payment that was in line with what they were making prior to the recent economic downturn, but no longer is. The good news for people who find themselves in this situation is that it is possible to modify a decree to reflect a change in financial fortunes. However, it’s not something that’s automatic, and it’s not something that you can do on your own. It requires a modification through a court order.
The Texas Family Code has very specific guidelines about modifying a child support payment. A decree will typically specify the money that one parent pays to the other based on the Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Calculator. It factors in the parent’s income, whether that parent is providing medical insurance under his or her plan, and how many children that parent is responsible for supporting.
Modification is allowed under the Texas Family Code’s Section 156.401 if “it has been three years since the order was rendered or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support award under the order differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the child support guidelines,” or “if the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed since the date of the order’s rendition.”
So, while it’s not something that’s meant to be done every six months or even every year, it does allow for people to address major job changes and changing life circumstances, and it does allow for adjustments to be made periodically throughout the life of the decree.
The 20 percent figure suggests that a parent doesn’t have to experience a complete job loss to be eligible for modification. For example, if a parent works at a restaurant and loses significant hours there, that could be enough for the court to justify a modification. It starts with the calculator and determining what you should be paying versus what you’re currently paying.
Parents can also work with the OAG’s Child Support Office directly, through what’s called the Child Support Review Process, which is typically done in one of its offices. While parents might informally agree on an amount that works for them, it’s not official until a judge signs off on a modification, whether it happens in a courtroom of with a Child Support Office employee working with both parties in an office.
What’s important to remember in all this is that the amount a parent owes, per a decree, is court-ordered and a legal obligation. Without modifying a decree, you’re required to pay the amount there, and you can’t ignore it even if you can’t afford it. The OAG encourages parents who can’t meet their obligation to contact it. That won’t stop the obligation, but as the OAG warns, not notifying it makes it more likely for enforcement actions to take place.
There’s helpful info on the OAG site itself to help you determine if you need a modification, and what the best way to go about it might be. Of course, the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance is happy to step in on your behalf; if you determine you’re eligible and ready to take a modification request to court, we can do an initial consultation to help you pay