Meaningful revisions to the Texas Family Code regarding child support and potential child-support modifications became effective Sept. 1 this year.
Tougher Standards for Non-Guideline Support Modifications of Child Support
The Sept. 1 change likely to be most significant to child-support litigation was the amendment to Texas Family Code Section 156.401. Prior to Sept. 1, a court could modify child support, including orders for insurance coverage, based on evidence of a material and substantial change of circumstances of the parties or child(ren) from the date of the prior order, or the signing date of a mediated settlement agreement on which the order was based. Also, previously, courts could make a modification based on proof that three years had passed from the date of the prior order, and the monthly amount of child support in the prior order would differ by either 20 percent or $100 from the current obligation under the Texas Family Code guidelines.
Modification of Support Post-Sept. 1
Now, if a party seeks to modify a prior AGREED order in which the child support obligation differs from “guideline” support (amount is either greater than or less than what would have been required under Texas Family Code guidelines), the ability to modify that award is significantly changed. While modification is still possible upon a showing of material and substantial change of circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order, the Court may no longer modify child support where the parties previously agreed to a child support amount solely upon passage of three years and the $100/20 percent differential.
This is significant for litigants who may have previously agreed to concessions in child support, like agreeing to pay a higher amount than the “guideline” or a lesser amount, in consideration of the other party’s agreements on matters such as child possession, custody or property division.
Often, these concessions (or others) were made in anticipation that, after three years, a requested adjustment to the guideline support could be made. This may no longer be the case and must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
The amendment to Section 156.401 removes this negotiation tool from litigants and their attorneys and could negatively affect the ability to resolve cases amicably. The long-term effect on whether this change will have a material effect on child support modification cases remains to be seen. .We believe that the best interest of the child will remain the court’s primary consideration in determining questions regarding modification of child support. Evidence of changes in the parties’ financial circumstances and those of the child, along with changes in the needs of the parties and child from the time of the prior order, will continue to be essential considerations given the change to the statute.
Dental Insurance Requirement
Child-support orders now must include an order that the obligor party (child-support payer) include dental insurance with the health insurance already required for the child(ren) subject of the order, if dental insurance is available to the obligor through employment, or otherwise at a “reasonable cost” (a figure that doesn’t exceed 1.5 percent of annual resources). Generally, an obligated party is required either to independently maintain coverage for the child(ren) or reimburse the payment recipient for the cost of providing coverage. Because dental insurance is generally provided at a nominal cost under most plans, this modification shouldn’t be too significant for obligor parents.
An experienced attorney can be invaluable in reviewing any family-law issue and providing a range of options and strategies for various cases. The attorneys at Evans Family Law Group are experienced in these and other family law matters. To discuss any family-law or child-support issue, please contact Evans Family Law Group at (512) 628-2550.