Coming soon to Texas: Important changes to child support law

This article looks at how changes to the Texas Family Code will soon make child support modifications harder.

Child support is often a contentious issue in divorce law. Simply put, many of those who pay child support feel as though they are paying too much, while the custodial parent who receives the child support often feels as though the other parent is paying too little. As a result, it is common for parents to petition courts to modify child support agreements, either by getting the payments lowered or increased. However, later this year important changes to the Texas Family Code (TFC) will go into effect which will make it much harder to modify many child support orders.

When a child support order can be modified

Under current law, a child support order that deviates from recommendations laid down in the TFC can be modified for any of three reasons:

1. The circumstances of the child or person affected by the order have changed materially and substantially since the order was originally agreed to.

2. The parents have reached their own child support agreement through mediation or collaborative law.

3. The monthly child support payments end up deviating by more than either 20 percent or $100 per month within three years of the order than what would have been awarded under TFC guidelines.

Because many parents come to child support agreements on their own, it is quite common for those agreements to deviate in some ways from TFC guidelines. As a result, the above three reasons for pursuing modifications are routinely used by many in Texas. The third reason is especially popular since the payor’s monthly income will often increase by well over 20 percent or $100 within two years of a child support order going into effect.

Modifications will soon be harder

However, on September 1, 2018, making modifications to child support orders that don’t comply with TFC guidelines will become much harder. That’s because on that day the only reason a parent can apply to modify a child support order that deviates from the TFC is if the circumstances of the child or other person affected by the payments changes materially and substantially. With few exceptions, parents will no longer be able to petition the courts for a child support modification for reasons 2 and 3 described above.

Furthermore, on that date another amendment to the TFC will also go into effect requiring the noncustodial parent to pay for dental insurance or dental expenses up to a reasonable amount for any child affected by a child support order. Currently, the noncustodial parent is only obliged to pay for the child’s health insurance.

Family law assistance

With child support law changing in Texas, it is important for parents who are either going through a divorce or who have concerns about an existing child support order understand how the changes may affect them. A family law attorney can show clients what their best options are when negotiating any family law agreement, including by helping with modifications to child support orders.