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Once you have signed the final divorce papers and the custody arrangements have been set, you may think that everything has been done. However, when children are involved, nothing can be set in stone. The needs of children and parents change over time, and a support agreement that worked when your children were in grade school may not be ideal for kids in their teens.

When you need to modify a child support order, you cannot just contact your ex-spouse and ask if it’s okay to change the amount or date of the payment. The courts only recognize changes made via hearing or via an order through the Child Support Review Process (CSRP). For this process to run smoothly, you need a child support modification attorney.

At Evans & Herlihy Law Firm, we are here to help you through the CSRP and make sure you and your family are protected throughout the entire procedure.

Reasons to Modify Child Support

When you first filed for divorce and child support, the support amount was based on several factors:

  • The statutory requirements, which uses a formula based on the parental incomes and the percentage of time the child spends with each parent.
  • The specific needs of the child. For instance, a child with health issues or who participates in sports may have greater financial needs.
  • The parents’ ability to support the child. The court considers the ability of both parents in this equation.
  • Other support available for the child.

In order to modify your support obligations, either the support order must be more than three years old, and the amount of the order must be more than 20% different from the amount that would be ordered, or a material change in circumstances must have occurred since the support order was set.

The material change in circumstances can affect you, your former spouse, or even the child. The changes must affect the financial status of the child and the “best interests of the child.” Merely because you may have to reduce your personal expenses to provide for your child is not a sufficient change in circumstances.

Material Changes in Circumstances

The court considers these types of changes when determining if a parent has had a substantial change of circumstances:

  • A change in income, either a dramatic increase or decrease
  • Unemployment, especially sudden termination
  • Health changes affecting employment or income
  • New marriage of either parent
  • Changes in the child’s life or health.

The initial support order is appropriate for your child’s age and amount of visitation at the time of the divorce. Of course, as your child gets older and their interests change, they may want to spend more time with one or the other parent or at different times in different locations. They may participate in sports or other activities. The courts will consider these when making support modifications.

Child support modification lawyers, like those at Evans & Herlihy, will help you present these factors to the judge who made the support order. We can show the court what a reasonable support order would be so that everyone will receive a legally sufficient amount of support.

What Happens if You Cannot Pay Child Support

One thing you should never do is stop paying child support. Even if you cannot pay, and even if your former spouse has said it is okay. Texas child support enforcement does not recognize informal agreements between parents for support modifications. The Texas state attorney general advises parents to go through the courts for all modifications and changes in custody.

If you stop paying support, your wages can be garnished, and your support obligations can be taken from your unemployment benefits if you are unemployed. You should try to pay something as long as possible and contact an attorney immediately if you cannot make full payment.

If You Lose Your Job

In today’s turbulent economy, you can be fired or have your hours cut without notice. Unfortunately, you cannot stop paying child support because you don’t have a job. The court considers your child your responsibility now as much as when you and your spouse were married.

You can request a hearing based on the loss of your job and income. The courts will work with you to keep your support payments reasonable while you look for work. You need to contact the Office of the Attorney General as soon as possible, and you should have representation.

Evans & Herlihy will contact the OAG on your behalf and arrange the hearing necessary to have your support temporarily reduced if you have no income.

If Your Income Decreases

If you’re working but your hours have been cut, or you got a new job that pays less than the old one, you may still be eligible for a modification hearing. Your support obligation is based on your income and ability to pay.

Remarriage or New Children

If you or your former spouse remarries, you should check with your attorney right away to see if you qualify for a support modification, particularly if the non-custodial parent is legally responsible for additional children.

A typical example might be a father who learns that he has another child he was unaware of. He is legally responsible for the child’s support, but he is already paying support for two other children. The court will modify his support order, rather than putting a new order on top of the existing order, so he can equitably support all three children.

Agreed-Upon Changes

Perhaps you and your former spouse have agreed upon child support payment during these turbulent economic times. Even if both of you agree to lower or suspend payments for a while, that does not mean it’s okay.

The courts only recognize support modifications made through hearing or petition, even if those modifications are intended to be temporary. You and your former spouse may make any changes you want in where and how the payments are to be made, but if you change the amount in any way, you must go through the court.

The Modification Process

The Office of the Texas State Attorney General provides the forms and a step-by-step guide for child support modification that makes it seem much easier than it is. A parent or parents looking at the site might think they could handle it themselves.

At Evans & Herlihy, we encourage parents who can discuss financial matters amicably to do so. It is always better to talk between yourselves than to involve the courts. Even if you can, however, you should always have an attorney review your paperwork before filing it with the Attorney General’s office or any other legal agency.

Review Request and Verification

Either party may request a review for modification. Only one party needs to request the review. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will contact both parties within 30 days of the request. The OAG will verify both parties’ basic information such as income, residence, and insurance status.

The OAG will send documents to you, your former spouse, and possibly your employers, landlords, and other parties, to obtain this information. The faster and more thoroughly you respond to the OAG’s request, the sooner the OAG can proceed with its review of the case.

If you want to have an attorney review this step to ensure you have fully complied with the requests and have not left anything out that the OAG will need, this is where we can help you during the process.

OAG Review

Once they have all the information, the OAG support specialist will review the request for modification and determine if there are grounds for the requested modification. They will consider the factors listed above.

Parties should note that a support modification could go up, down, or stay the same, depending on the OAG’s case review. It is possible to request a reduction in support payments and see the order go up based on factors you had not considered.

Appointment for Modification Negotiation

If the OAG determines there are sufficient grounds for a modification, they will schedule a date for the Child Support Review Process appointment. Both parties should attend to negotiate the new agreement. Whether the parties agree, a court date will be set for the judge to sign the new order.

Court Hearing

If the parties are in agreement, the OAG will present the order to a judge for signing. If the parties cannot agree on a modification, or if there are reasons the parties must testify in court, the final step is a court hearing before a judge. Some reasons parties might need to appear are:

  • Complex cases (those that involve complicated financial arrangements)
  • Domestic violence cases
  • Lack of agreement at the negotiation appointment
  • Other case history concerns.

This process may take time if all parties cannot or will not appear at the same hearing. Once everyone has been informed of and agrees to the new support order, the judge will sign the modification.

If you want to know how to modify a child support agreement in Texas, call Evans & Herlihy at (512) 732-2727 or fill out our intake form for an appointment to meet with us.

That Was Complicated. Isn’t there Another Way?

Yes. At Evans & Herlihy, we can cut this process short for you by going directly to the court. The benefit of the OAG method is that it does not cost anything. The downside is that it can take a long time.

You can cut to the chase by filing a Motion for Modification. To do this, you must go to the court where the original order was entered. For instance, if your divorce and support order was entered in Travis County, you’ll need to return to Travis County to have your support order modified.

A Motion for Modification puts all the information the OAG requests into the Motion itself and asks the judge to make the determination. As with the OAG review, the judge needs to see all the evidence supporting your request for modification. You will need to provide proof of a change in income, a substantial change in circumstances, health issues, and so on.

The judge will order a hearing on your motion, and you and your former spouse will have to appear and testify about the modification. There will be a negotiation period similar to that done by the OAG, and when it is over, the judge will issue a support order.

We highly recommend that you consult an attorney before going this route. The court process is filled with pitfalls, and a missed deadline or hearing date can end your case before it begins. Even going to the wrong courtroom can set you back weeks. Contact a knowledgeable child support attorney before you jump into court by yourself.

If You Live Out of State

If you or the child have left the state, you can still file a motion for modification, but there are a few extra steps you will need to take. If you have left the state, or the child has lived outside the county or state for more than six months since the date the original order was signed, you must contact an attorney before proceeding with the support modification.

Why You Need Evans & Herlihy

There are many reasons why you may need to modify your child support. We know you want to do the right thing, but sometimes life gets complicated. The family law attorneys at Evans & Herlihy are experienced at handling all types of cases, from simple uncontested divorce to complex out-of-state custody disputes.

We are here to help you keep up your responsibility to your child and your duty to the court without putting you through the stress of repeated court hearings and endless returns to the office. Our legal team will handle the hard work of gathering documentation and getting it to the court, so you can focus on family and life.

If you need a support modification due to a change in circumstances or have any other support or custody concerns, you need the experienced attorneys at Evans & Herlihy. Call us at (512) 732-2727, or complete our intake form, and we’ll be in touch immediately.

Attorney Scott Herlihy

Attorney Scott HerlihyScott handles a wide range of family law matters, both contested and uncontested, including divorces involving both large and complex estates as well as more modest asset and property divisions, modifications of Texas and out-of-state orders, custody disputes, establishment and enforcement of child support, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, paternity cases, and grandparents’ rights matters. [ Attorney Bio ]