Articles Posted in Child Support

You have a final family order, whether it is an order in suit affecting the parent-child relationship, final decree of divorce, etc., and you would like it modified.  You are either the parent receiving child support and you want the amount increased or you are the parent paying child support and you want it decreased.  Or, there has been a change that would require the conservatorship or visitation modified.  It is not an uncommon question and the Texas Family Code does specify particular deadlines and requirements with respect to filing a modification.

For child support, Texas Family Code Section 156.401 states that final orders can be modified if either (a) there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances for a party or the child after the order was entered; or (b) it has been three years since the order was last entered or modified AND the monthly amount either differs by 20% or $100 from the amount that it should be under the child support guidelines.  So, it has been less than three years but something has happened that would require a change in child support then you can seek a modification.  For instance, did the parent paying child support get a new job after your orders were rendered and they are now making more money?  Or, did the obligor lose their job and they are no longer making any money?  Additional instances of material and substantial change in circumstances would also be (a) the obligor parent had another child that they are financially responsible for; (b) health insurance has changed (lost or new premiums); or (c) the children are now living with the obligor parent or another person.

That brings us to modifying orders as to conservatorship and/or possession or access.   If you are seeking to modify the parent who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child in less than one year from the orders being rendered, Texas Family Code Section 156.102 governs.  If you do so, you must attach an affidavit to your pleadings and the affidavit must allege specific facts that the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair their emotional development.  Not only must these allegations be made, but you also have to prove this.  If you do not have this, you will have to wait more than one year to change who has the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  If you are modifying in more than a year, your burden is a material and substantial change in circumstances of a party or the child AND it must be in the best interest of the child.  In fact, best interest of the child is the ultimate burden in every family law case.

You are a father who wants to be a good dad and support his child without breaking the bank and not being able to support yourself.  You do need financial resources in order to do this and you will probably pay guideline support. Our firm can help you.

How Much Will I Pay in Child Support?

          Some fathers fall into the trap of paying above-guideline child support.  That is, they agree to pay more than they are required either in amount of child support or they pay support and in addition to that pay for extracurricular, daycare, etc.  Texas Family Code 154.125 provides the chart on child support guidelines and it is as follows:

New 2013 Texas Family Laws

 At Guest and Gray our Forney and Rockwall Family team works to keep our clients informed on changes in the Family Code. Recently, the legislature passed many new laws that affects Texas families. Our family attorney can help you understand how these laws will affect your case, and we offer confidential consultation for all family law cases. Call us today so we can help you.

Miscellaneous Changes

If there is an allegation that either you or the other parent is abusing an illegal controlled substance, then a drug test can be requested. Typically, the testing will occur with Forensic DNA & Drug Testing facility in Dallas and if requested by either party, then the court will order both parties to participate and pay for their respective drug tests. However, sometimes, the court will only order the one party accused of using an illegal substance to take the drug test and order that the requesting party pay for the drug test with the caveat that if the testing party has a positive result, then they must reimburse the requesting party the drug testing fee.

If you fail a drug test, or if the other party fails a drug test, there are consequences in a child custody case. The court could order that the failing party have little to no visitation with the child and if any visitation, then it will be supervised. Sometimes, the judges will ask if there is a family member who could do the supervision of the visits with the child. If there are not, then the extreme form of supervised visits is either Family Court Services if in Dallas County or other court-approved supervision facility. Also, if there is a history of abuse of an illegal controlled substance, then the court could order that you participate in a rehabilitation program before the failing party has any access to the child. In fact, there could be several steps that the court puts in place for the failing party to complete before they have any visitation with the child. Again, most courts will order supervised visitation with the child but it could be very limited to a number of hours per month.

Courts have also started putting injunctions in place to the effect that a party is to not consume an illegal controlled substance within a certain period of time (example 72 hours) before possession or access to the child begins. This is also something that can be requested by either party. Additionally, in final orders, it can be ordered that you submit to random drug testing at any time in the future if requested by the other party and they pay the testing fee.

Congratulations, you have made it to mediation stage in your family law case. For many, this is the step to final orders in your case. That is, if you have a successful mediation. There are a few things that you and your attorney can do to ensure this is the case for you.

(1) Many mediators send out a mediation packet to the attorneys/parties once the mediation is scheduled. This mediation packet should be taken seriously and completed to your utmost ability. It gives the mediator information about you, the other party, and the issues at hand as well as your stance on those issues. Some mediators go into more depth than others. The more that is addressed right off the bat, the better.

(2) If your case is a divorce with property issues, make sure you have at least a sworn inventory and appraisement from both sides so that you can make sure all of the property is addressed. To be more organized, you could make a spreadsheet of assets and debts, with a column for the ones you would like and the ones you would like for your spouse to have, as well as a column to check off whether or not the asset/debt is addressed in the mediation settlement agreement.

The court in your family law case has received a request to order you to pay attorney’s fees for the other party. Is the court allowed to do that? And if they are allowed, what kind of evidence is required to prove the amount? The Dallas Court of Appeals explored this issue in a recent decision and stated that reasonable attorney’s fees may be awarded. The Court also discussed the factors that it considers when calculating attorney’s fees.

When a suit affects the parent-child relationship, courts have the discretion to award attorney’s fees to a party. Suits affecting the parent-child relationship include matters like child support, possession, and conservatorship or custody. Awards of attorney’s fees can be challenged on appeal. The appeals court will analyze the award based on the “abuse of discretion” standard. This lenient standard is difficult to overcome because the appeals court can look at many factors, any or all of which can show that the trial court was not arbitrary. Most of the time, these factors will support the original award or attorney’s fees and the award will be upheld.

Factors to consider in determining the reasonableness of attorney’s fees are: (1) the time and labor required based on the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the skill required to perform the legal service properly; (2) the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will keep the lawyer from taking other cases and employment; (3) the fee customarily charged in the local area for similar legal services; (4) the amount of money involved in the case and the results obtained; (5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship between the client and lawyer; (7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer performing the services; and (8) whether the fee is a set fee or if it is contingent on results obtained or if before the legal services have been rendered there is uncertainty about the ability to collect.

When you seek to modify a mediated settlement agreement that is an original determination of parent-child relationship matters, does a trial court have to enter an order that meets the terms of the mediated agreement? The Dallas Court of Appeals considered this issue in a recent decision and found that because modification suits apply a different set of rules than the rules that apply to original agreements about the child-parent relationship, a modification of child support suit may result in a ruling that does not comply with the terms of the agreement produced by mediation between the parties.

A mediated settlement agreement reflects the agreement of the parties about the child-parent relationship, including matters like child support, possession, and conservatorship. Child custody is called conservatorship in Texas. Texas courts and laws put a heavy emphasis on mediation and encourage alternative dispute resolution in a lot of situations. Mediation is supposed to encourage problem-solving and cooperation as well as reduce the financial burden on families and the court system. Many courts actually require mediation before allowing litigation to begin. Because of this emphasis, courts are likely to respect mediated settlement agreements unless a compelling reason exists that indicates that the court should ignore the agreement. Sometimes, statutes provide that required compelling reason.

In this recent case, the parties’ mediated settlement agreement was the original determination of conservatorship, possession, and access to the children. An original determination arises under § 153 of the Texas Family Code. As long as the mediated agreement met the rules of § 153, the court would enforce the agreement as written if a suit was brought seeking enforcement of the agreement. However, one of the parties sought a modification of child support suit. This type of suit is brought under § 156 of the Texas Family Code. This section requires different policy concerns than § 153, namely the need for stability for the child and the necessity of preventing constant litigation in family law cases. Because the policy concerns are different, the law has a different standard the court must use when applying the law. The Texas Family Code’s § 156 legal burden requires the court to determine if there has been a “material and substantial change” in the circumstances of the parties as well as to consider whether the requested modification is in the best interests of the child. So, when there is both a “material and substantial change” in circumstances and the modification sought is in the best interests of the child, the court only has to consider these facts and is not bound to enter an order that strictly complies with the mediated settlement agreement.

IN RE: IN THE INTEREST OF A.A., A CHILD

The Texas Family Code requires notice for a hearing on the petition for confirmation of a non-agreed child support review order, but does not specify the notice requirements. So, what must be included in such a notice to satisfy the due process rights of the parent on whom it is served? On August 23, 2013, this question was addressed by the 256th Judicial District Court in Dallas County, Texas.

Appellant Pedro Albarran was served with a Form #329 Notice (“notice”) and the petition for confirmation of non-agreed child support review order. The notice stated that a hearing had been set and provided the location of the hearing, but failed to include the date and time of the hearing. Mr. Albarran did not respond to the notice. The hearing took place over six months after service; during the hearing an order was confirmed by the trial court that established paternity of the child and ordered Mr. Albarran to pay child support. Mr. Albarran contended that the notice did not satisfy due process and was therefore insufficient to confer jurisdiction upon the trial court.

IN THE INTEREST OF B.E.V. AND B.J.V.

Can a court modify child support obligations when the parent seeking modification provides no historical financial data and asserts only the most general justification for the increase? The answer is no, according to an opinion from August 23, 2013, by the 302nd Judicial District Court in Dallas County, Texas.

In order for the trial court to conclude that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of a parent’s monthly child support obligation, the movant must present at least some testimony or other evidence sufficient to enable a trial court to compare the circumstances at the time of the order to be modified with the circumstances existing at the time modification is sought.

You’ve been through a divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, and the other party was ordered to pay child support by the Court, the terms of which were all located within the Court’s final orders. With all orders of child support, the orders state how much the obligor (responsible parent) is supposed to pay, how often they have to pay, and to whom they make the payment (in most if not all cases, the state disbursement unit). However, it’s been several months, or even years, and the other party has failed to comply with the child support order. You need financial help in raising your child; but you’ve reminded the other parent time and time again about this, and they still refuse to help you. So, you contact your attorney at Guest & Gray, P.C. who informs you that there is a solution–motion for enforcement.

Within this motion for enforcement, you will plead the dates that the child support payments were due, the amount that was due, and the amount that was paid. So, for instance, if the obligor was ordered to pay $200.00 on the first day of each month, and they just didn’t make a payment at all, then the amount paid would be $0.00. And, if they did make a payment of some amount, you can list that. But, the reality is that they were ordered to pay a certain amount, and that amount needed to be paid in full.

Because the obligor has failed to make their child support payments, then they are now in what is called arrearages for child support. This means that they have an outstanding balance. In pleading for an enforcement of the child support order, you will plead the total amount that the obligor is currently in arrearages. You will ask that the Court confirm this amount when you have your hearing and order that the obligor be responsible for that full amount.

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