Whether it’s part of a divorce or not, there’s often a long and involved process in setting up a child support order. Child support amounts are based on the child’s needs, the child custody arrangements and the parents’ ability to pay. There are online calculators designed to help you estimate how much you should pay, and there are state guidelines, but many parents negotiate amounts in excess of the legal minimums.
After you’ve gone through those calculations and negotiations and started making your child support payments regularly, you are probably hoping you won’t have to take any legal actions again for a long time. Of course, life has a way of throwing a wrench in our plans.
After a job loss, an injury or illness or some other major setback, you may find that it’s impossible for you to comply with your much-labored-over child support order. If this happens, you may need to request a modification as soon as possible.
If you fall behind in your payments, you can face many consequences, You could have your wages garnished, you could have your driver’s license and professional licenses suspended and be found in contempt of court.
Requesting a modification
You may be able to establish a modification through agreement or default.
Agreement means that you and the other parent agree to the modification. Both of you will have to sign forms consenting to the change and submit them to the court.
Default means that you file forms to request the modification, serve those forms to the other parent, and the other parent does not respond.
If the other parent does not consent to the change, you must request a hearing with the court. You must also give notice to the other parent of your request at least 45 days in advance of the hearing.
Acceptable reasons for a modification
If your case goes to a hearing, the court must decide whether to allow the modification.
Under Texas law, a modification is allowable if the order is at least three years old and the monthly amount differs from the child support guidelines by either 20% or $100. Alternatively, a court may allow a modification if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the order was last established or modified.
The changes in circumstances can include developments that happen to either parent or to the child. So, if you are paying child support and you lose your job, you may argue that your job loss amounts to a substantial change in circumstances. Likewise, if your child becomes ill and needs more money for medical expenses, you may be ordered to pay more.
The process of requesting a modification can get complicated quickly, especially if it requires a hearing. It’s wise to seek out professional advice if you are in this situation.