Texas Appellate Court Partially Reverses Trial Court’s Child Support Ruling

The amount of child support a parent must pay can depend on a number of factors. A parent’s current income and assets are relevant to their child support obligations, but courts may also consider the child’s age and needs if they justify a departure from typical child support guidelines. A court also may order retroactive child support payments in addition to future payments. Recently, a Texas appeals court partially affirmed and partially reversed a trial court’s child support order for abuse of the court’s discretion.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, this dispute arose between a Mother and Father who were not married at the time their child was born and had since ended their relationship. The Mother moved from Texas to Indiana with her infant daughter to be closer to family. The Father, who remained in Texas, filed a petition with the Harris County trial court seeking a declaration of his parentage. He further asked the court to declare Texas as the child’s home state.

While the suit was pending, the Moher and Father entered into a settlement agreeing that neither party would child support until the proceeding concluded. After a bench trial, which is a trial before a judge without a jury, the judge declared that the Father was the child’s father and appointed the Mother and Father as joint conservators. It also found that Indiana was the child’s current home state, but Texas was her home state in the six months before the suit. The trial court further ordered the Father to pay child support in the future, along with retroactive child support. The Father appealed. On appeal, the Father argued that the trial court erred in naming both Indiana and Texas as the child’s home state; calculating his monthly net resources and resulting monthly child support payment; and ordering him to pay retroactive child support notwithstanding the settlement agreement.

The Decision

The appeals court agreed with the Father that Texas was the child’s home state. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which applies to custody disputes involving multiple states, defines “home state” as the state where the child lived for at least six consecutive months before the suit. According to the appeals court, the trial court should not have determined a second home state once it found that Texas was the child’s home state. Because the child had not lived in Indiana for six consecutive months, Indiana was not her home state. Therefore, Texas courts had the power to hear the Father’s suit.

The appeals court also found that the trial court erred in determining the Father’s monthly net resources. The only evidence presented at trial was proof that the Father’s income was $2,000 per month. However, because he made $40,000 at his previous job, the trial court imposed a higher child support amount. As the appeals court explained, the trial court had no basis for determining his child support obligations based on his earning capacity. Finally, the court upheld the trial court’s retroactive child support order. While the parties agreed that no one would pay child support while the suit was pending, the agreement stated that it was only temporary. The appeals court held that a trial court does not abuse its discretion by later ordering retroactive child support during the period covered by the temporary agreement. Therefore, the appeals court affirmed in part and sent the case back to the trial court to recalculate the Father’s child support payments.

Are You Seeking a Lawyer in a Texas Child Support Dispute?

Texas courts use a number of tests to determine a parent’s child support obligations. The Texas family law attorneys at Guest & Gray have extensive experience with custody and child support proceedings. Whether you are seeking child support or anticipating the imposition of child support, our attorneys will use their skills and experience to protect your interests. For a free consultation, give us a call today at 972-564-4644.


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