Texas Court of Appeals Partially Reverses and Modifies Trial Court Decision in Child Support Case

In a recent case involving the recalculation of child support payments and the custody arrangement between two parents, a Texas Court of Appeals partially reversed the trial court decision, holding that the mother was entitled to be awarded a larger sum of monthly child support from the father, and reversing and remanding the issue of conservatorship and custody back to the trial court. An agreed order regarding the two minor children was entered into by the mother and father on June 22, 2017. In the agreed order, the and the father were named joint managing conservators, and the father was ordered to pay $620 per month in child support.

In January 2020, the father filed a petition to modify the parent-child relationship, contending that circumstances had materially and substantially changed. The mother filed a counter-petition, requesting that the father’s monthly child support payments be recalculated and that the agreement be modified to appoint the mother the sole managing conservator of the children.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the father failed to appear in court for a hearing in April 2021. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court announced that it was denying both the mother’s and the father’s requested modifications to conservatorship. Additionally, the trial court ruled that the monthly child support payments would increase from $620 per month to $1,700 per month by the father. The trial court listed the following findings and conclusions regarding the case.

(1) There was a martial and substantial change in circumstances of the parties; (2) the mother presented permissible uncontroverted testimony regarding the father’s income; (3) 25% of the father’s net monthly resources amounted to $2,300; (4) child support calculated using the Texas Family Code’s guidelines is presumed to be in the best interest of the children; (5) the trial court may deviate from the guidelines only if evidence rebuts the presumption that using the guidelines is in the best interest of the children; (6) no evidence was presented to overcome the presumption; (7) if the amount of child support ordered by the court varies from the amount calculated by the guidelines, the court is required to making findings supporting the variance; (8) no such findings were made by the trial court; (9) after July 16, 2020 the father disappeared from the children’s lives; (10) the father was properly cited to appear at trial but failed to; (11) at the time of trial the father had not seen or spoken to the children in nine months; (12) the father refused to participate in custody evaluations; (13) the father presented no evidence at trial that join conservatorship was in the best interest of the children; (14) the father presented no evidence that standard possession was in the best interest of the children; (15) the father presented no evidence that residency restriction to Dallas was in the best interest of the children.

The Decision

On appeal, the wife contended that the trial court award of $1,700 for child support was not supported by the court findings or the evidence presented in court. Additionally, the wife claimed that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant her request for a modification to the children’s conservatorship. Regarding the first issue, the appellate court found that the trial court award of $1,700 was not supported as the Texas Family Code’s guidelines establish that in such situations, the proper amount of child support is 25% of the father’s net monthly resources. As a result, the appellate court modified the order, increasing the award to $2,300 per month in child support. On the second issue, the appellate court could not find support for the denial of the mother’s request for modification of the children’s conservatorship. As a result, that portion of the trial court order was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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