Child support in Texas is based on a set calculation process that doesn't allow for much negotiation. The financial values plugged into this equation come from evidence submitted by both parents. A recent court finding clearly demonstrates exactly how damaging failing to show up for court and to present the necessary evidence can be to a parent’s child support case.
If you have questions or concerns about child support in your divorce, need a child support modification, or seek child support outside of marriage and divorce, an experienced Killeen child support attorney is standing by to help.
When One Parent Doesn’t Participate
When one parent fails to show up for a child support proceeding, their opportunity to present their own evidence or to contest the evidence of the other parent is lost. The court is very likely to render its judgment based on the evidence at hand.
This is what happened in a recent case in which the mother’s evidence regarding the father’s income prevailed when the father did not show up for a modification proceeding.
The Court of Appeals Lays out the Case
According to the court of appeals, the parents entered into a mutually acceptable agreement in June 2017. The parents were named joint managing conservators of their two minor children, and the father had a $620 child support obligation each month.
In early 2020, the father petitioned the court to modify conservatorship and terminate child support payments based on a material change in circumstances. The mother counterpetitioned and requested a recalculation of the father’s child support amount, modification of conservatorship, making her sole managing conservator, and confirmation of child support arrears.
Texas courts refer to child custody as conservatorship. Possessory conservatorship is the term used for physical custody. Managing conservatorship is the term used for legal custody – or determining who will make the primary parenting decisions on behalf of the children. Managing conservatorship addresses all of the following kinds of decisions:
Decisions about where the children make their primary home
Decisions about the health care the children receive
Decisions about the extracurricular activities and travel the children participate in
Decisions about the religious upbringing the children receive
Each of the parents in this case sought a modification to their joint managing conservatorship – in which they both participated in the decision-making process – each requesting sole conservatorship.
Conservatorship and child support can be difficult to modify, especially if you and your spouse do not agree. If you need a modification, contact a skilled child support lawyer to discuss your case.
The case went to trial in 2021, but the father failed to appear. At the hearing’s conclusion, the court announced that it was denying each parent’s request for modification to conservatorship, possession, and the overall rights and duties of the parents.
However, the court did confirm that the father owed back child support in the amount of $24,000. The court also increased the amount of monthly child support owed by the father to $1,700.
The Mother Seeks Answers
While the father did not object to the trial court’s findings, the mother requested that the court make findings of fact and conclusions of law in relation to the case. Among these findings and conclusions, all the following opinions were included:
The parties did experience a material and substantial change in circumstances.
The mother presented the court with allowable and uncontroverted testimony about the father’s income and overall resources.
The Texas Family Code’s basic child support calculation methodology, which is 25 percent of the payor’s net monthly resources, is presumed to be in the best interests of the children.
The court calculated 25 percent of the father’s net monthly resources to be $2,300.
The trial court only has the authority to deviate from the guidelines when there is evidence to rebut that doing so is in the best interests of the children.
This best-interest presumption was not rebutted.
When the amount of child support ordered by the court varies from the guidelines, the court must make findings that include the specific reason for not applying the guidelines.
In this case, the court made no such findings but, nevertheless, failed to increase the father’s child support to the appropriate amount.
After July 16, 2020, the father dropped out of both the litigation and his children’s lives.
The father was properly cited regarding the hearing, but he failed to show up.
When the trial commenced, the father had not seen his children in nine months.
Finally, the father not only refused to participate in the custody evaluation but also failed to present any evidence supporting any of his requests being in the best interests of the children. His requests included a residency restriction within the county in which he lived.
The Mother Appeals the Court’s Order
The mother appealed the court’s order on several primary issues.
The mother’s first issue with the court’s decision was regarding child support, which had been increased to $1,700 per month. She maintained that this amount was not supported by the evidence she presented at trial or by the court’s findings of fact, which neither party had challenged. The facts, therefore, were binding.
When Texas courts make child support determinations, their judgments must conform to the facts, and when they do not, the court is called upon to provide a reason for the variance, which it failed to do in this case.
Texas child support guidelines carve out 25 percent of the paying parent’s net monthly income for child support, which is considered to be in the best interest of the involved children. In the case at hand, this amount was $2,300, which is considerably less than the $1,700 ordered by the court.
Because it could not reconcile this amount discrepancy, the appeals court modified the child support award to $2,300 per month. The court of appeal’s opinion puts it this way: "The only amount of child support supported by the findings is $2,300 per month."
The mother’s second concern focused on conservatorship and the court’s failure to grant her requested modifications in the face of the father’s absence from his children’s lives and the trial itself. On this matter, the court of appeals shared the following opinion:
"A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily, unreasonably, or without reference to any guiding rules or principles. There is no abuse of discretion if there is some evidence of a substantive and probative character to support the court’s decision."
For her part, the mother contended that the trial court did overstep the boundaries of its discretion by denying her modification request due to the father’s unrefuted absence from his children’s lives.
The court of appeals found that the trial court’s findings neither supported its denial of the mother’s modification request nor unequivocally supported the specific modifications she sought. As such, this element of the case was remanded for a new trial.
Child Support in Texas Courts
While Texas trial courts have considerable discretion in the matter of child support, any deviation from the state’s child support calculation process must be supported by a clear explanation from the court.
In this case, the mother presented evidence that the court accepted as credible. The father failed to present any evidence to refute her findings and, ultimately, failed to attend the hearing. As such, the court was bound to apply the state’s child support equation, and the court of appeals addressed its failure to do so.
This case clearly shows how complicated child support cases can become. As such, you should always move forward with a skilled child support attorney by your side. Contact us today for the legal guidance you need for your case.
The Factors that Affect Child Support
Texas courts take a long list of factors into consideration when calculating child support, and any one of these items can affect the amount of child support paid – depending upon the case’s unique circumstances. These factors include all the following elements:
Each child’s age
Each child’s needs, including any special needs that must be addressed
Each parent’s financial ability to contribute to the children’s support
The amount of parenting time each parent has with the children
The overall cost of caring for the children
The matter of health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical expenses and who covers them
The cost of travel for alternating possession
Any reason the court determines is significant enough to require a deviation from the child support guidelines in order to support the best interests of the children
Locating a Noncustodial Parent
When the parent who owes child support cannot be located or refuses to remain in contact, it becomes more difficult to obtain the child support to which your child is entitled. When this is the case, the Office of the Attorney General can help if you provide specific information.
The most important information you can provide, in addition to your ex’s current or last known address, is the name and location of their current employer. If you do not have this information, the name and location of their last known employer can help. Further, any of the following information regarding your children’s other parent that is known to you should be provided:
Their Social Security number
Their date of birth
The names and addresses of their friends and relatives
The names of their banks and creditors, such as their utility company
The names of clubs, organizations, or unions to which they belong or belonged
Places where they are likely to spend their free time
Modifying Child Support
Like in the case discussed, many parents experience significant changes that necessitate child support modifications. If you believe a child support modification may be appropriate in your situation, there are two important points to keep in mind.
It Is Not Enough to Come to an Agreement with Your Ex
If you and your ex are on the same page regarding a needed child support modification, it will make the process of obtaining a court-ordered modification far more straightforward. You should not, however, simply make the changes between yourselves without obtaining an official modification.
If your ex changes his or her mind later, your original court order remains in effect, and you could be found in contempt of court and face considerable child support arrearages. Further, if your spouse fails to live up to their newly minted child support obligation, you’ll have no legal recourse – because your original orders prevail.
Instead, it's always best to legally modify your child support orders. The court is almost certain to accept your mutually agreed upon child support determination and to convert it into a modification.
The Court Will Consider Substantial Changes
More often than not, parents are not in agreement on the matter of child support modifications, but even when they are, they tend to have divergent goals. If you seek a child support modification from the court, one of the following conditions must apply:
It’s been at least three years since your child support was ordered or modified, and, according to the child support guidelines, the difference in the calculation is at least 20 percent or $100.
There has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of either parent that supports a modification.
When one of these situations applies, you can seek a child support modification through the court. However, because the process is complex, having a seasoned child support attorney in your corner is always in your best interest.
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Child Support Attorney for the Help You Are Looking For
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a trusted child support attorney who recognizes the importance of obtaining fair child support that is in accordance with the law. Mr. Pritchard has a long history of skillfully advocating for his clients’ financial and parental rights, and he has the legal insight and drive to help you. For more information, please do not put off contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.