Many Texans who have completed a divorce case expect their lives to become calmer and less tumultuous. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable, and unexpected life changes often occur without warning. In cases that involve minor children, one or both ex-spouses often wonder if the previous court orders regarding child support can be modified to reflect these changes. The answer is “maybe” if certain conditions are satisfied by the parent seeking the change.
The most frequent reason an ex-spouse may ask to have an order modified is to reflect changes in the financial situation of the other spouse. Child support is usually based on the income and financial situation of the non-custodial spouse. If that person receives a financial windfall, such as an unexpectedly large bonus or increase in pay, the custodial spouse may wish to increase the amount of child support. Conversely, an illness or job loss can have a significant adverse effect on the ability of the non-custodial spouse to pay child support, and person may wish to seek a reduction in child support.
If the parents can agree, the matter is settled, but in the case of an unresolved disagreement, the court may need to intervene. In such cases, the party that is seeking to alter the amount of child support must file a motion for modification. Either parent can file a modification case; a person who is not the child’s parent can file a modification case if that person has had actual care and possession of the child for at least 6 months or that person has lived with the child and the child’s parent, guardian or conservator for 6 months.
To change a previous order for child support, the moving party must prove that the “circumstances of the child, its conservator or other person affected by the change” have “materially and substantially changed.” The Texas statutes governing child support do not define “materially and substantially changed.” The outcome in each case depends upon the facts of the case. The court will compare the family’s circumstances at the time that the original order was granted and compare them with the circumstances at the time that the motion is filed.
Orders to modify child support can be quite complex. The assistance of an experienced divorce lawyer can be very helpful, especially in analyzing the evidence and preparing the presentation to the court.