Articles Posted in Child Support

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gavelIn some Texas child support cases, attorney’s fees may be awarded.  When a party fails to make child support payments, the court is to order that party to pay the other party’s reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in pursuing the child support.  The court may waive the requirement for attorney’s fees, however, if it finds good cause to do so and states its reasons.

In a recent case, a father challenged an award of attorney’s fees to the child’s mother.   The father was ordered to pay child support in the divorce decree.  He subsequently sued to recover child support payments that he claimed were in excess of his obligation.  The mother denied the claims and asserted a counterclaim for back child support, unpaid medical support, and attorney’s fees.  The trial court denied the father’s request for overpayments, determined the amount of arrearages that was owed, and awarded the mother that amount.  The trial court also found each party was responsible for their own attorney’s fees.

The mother appealed, arguing the trial court should not have credited the father for payments that were made directly to her rather than through the registry of state disbursement.  The appeals court affirmed that portion of the order but found the trial court abused its discretion in failing to award the mother attorney’s fees.  The appeals court ordered the trial court to award the mother reasonable attorney’s fees or find good cause for denying such an award.  The trial court held a hearing and awarded the mother more than $17,000 in attorney’s fees.  The father appealed.

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building blocksSometimes a change in circumstances causes a parent to want to change the amount of child support they are paying or receiving.  There are limitations on when a Texas child support order may be modified, however.  When the parties had previously agreed to a child support order that is different from what would have been awarded under the child support guidelines, the court may only modify it if there have been material and substantial changes to the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order.  The trial court must look at the circumstances at the time of the order and compare them to the current circumstances.  There must be relevant financial information for both periods in the record, as seen in a recent Texas appeal.

The parents had previously entered into a mediated settlement agreement (MSA).  The trial court signed an agreed order naming them joint managing conservators and setting forth visitation schedules and child support obligations.  The father was required to pay $490 per month until the child turned 18.  The father’s occupation and income were not identified in the MSA or the agreed order.  The MSA stated the mother was self-employed but did not provide details.

The mother petitioned for a modification of the child support about five years later.  The father did not file an answer or appear at the trial.  At the trial, the mother submitted documents from the child’s doctors detailing his diagnoses. She attested that the child saw a psychiatrist every two weeks.  She testified the child’s schedule on school days needed to be almost exactly the same each day.  She stated he needed “a very high level of care.”  She said she thought his disability would keep her from full-time employment.

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businessmanIn a Texas child support decision, a father’s attorney told the trial court the couple had reached an agreement about everything but the father’s child support obligation. His attorney told the court what the terms of their agreement were. These included that the mother would decide the kids’ primary residence, and the father would have standard possession with certain modifications. After deciding the amount of the child support payment, the lower court announced it approved their agreement.

The lower court entered a divorce decree, including the terms that had been announced on the record. The decree had a place for the father to sign indicating consent, but he didn’t sign. He asked for a new trial without an attorney, and when that motion was denied, he appealed without an attorney. He presented five issues.

He argued that the mother had instituted a malicious criminal prosecution against him that adversely affected his negotiations during divorce. He claimed there was newly discovered evidence in the form of his cell phone, which had been in the district attorney’s custody previously as proof in an ongoing criminal investigation.

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father and daughterIn a Texas child custody decision, the appellate court considered child custody and a petition to modify the parent-child relationship. The couple had married in 2010 and had their first child the next year. They separated and got back together multiple times, but they finally separated a last time in 2012, after police were called to stop a domestic fight.

The wife sought and received a two-year protective order against the husband that stopped him from going within 200 yards of her home, her workplace, or the child’s school, except when it was necessary for visitation. The divorce was finalized in 2013. The wife was named the child’s sole managing conservator, and the father was named possessory conservator with visitation rights.

The wife filed a motion for enforcement and a petition to modify a year later. She claimed her ex had violated the divorce decree by not paying child support, not attending an orientation at the neutral exchange location, and not going to therapy. She asked the court to hold her ex-husband in contempt and confine him. The ex-husband sued to reduce his child support obligation. She then asked for another protective order because the ex-husband had violated the original protective order by harassing her with texts in which he labeled her with derogatory names. A new protective order was granted.

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boysIn a recent Texas appellate decision, a woman appealed the amount of the lower court’s award of monthly child support. She argued that it had been erroneously calculated. The case arose when a couple married in 1992 and had two kids. The mother sued for divorce. The court named her and the father as joint managing conservators with standard visitation. The father was ordered to pay $1,460.91 per month in child support, as well as provide health insurance for the kids. This amount was to be paid until their oldest kid either turned 18 or graduated from high school, and then it would be reduced to $1,168.73. The father was also ordered to provide health insurance for both children.

The mother asked for factual findings. The court found that the father had testified he made $174,000.00 in 2013. The court found that the presumptive amount established by the Guidelines was to be applied to his first $8,550.00 of net resources. Any amount beyond that required the court to look at the parties’ income and the child’s proven needs. The lower court calculated the amount based on the Guidelines for both kids.

The mother appealed, arguing that the lower court had conflated the father’s net monthly income with his gross monthly wages to decide child support. The appellate court found that the only issue was whether the lower court had calculated the amount of child support correctly. It noted that the lower court had broad discretion to determine child support, and it would review its decision under an abuse of discretion standard. There is an abuse of discretion if the lower court’s decision is arbitrary, unreasonable, or made without referring to guiding principles.

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wedding ringsIn a recent Texas child support case, a mother appealed after the trial court enforced a mediated settlement agreement. She argued it was an error to enforce it because:  (1) it included a child support provision that violated public policy, (2) the mother took back her consent before it was approved, and (3) she wasn’t allowed to give evidence to bolster her family violence exception argument.

The case arose several years after a divorce. The parents mediated the matter and signed an irrevocable mediated settlement agreement, in which they agreed to different terms related to child support. The mediated settlement agreement included a provision under which there would be a limited standstill period, during which nobody would ask for child support increases.

The couple had signed the agreement and filed it. The agreement stated that it was meant to be a full and final settlement and that the parents had voluntarily signed it.

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childIn a recent Texas appellate case, the lower court’s SAPCR order granting a child support modification for the mother was appealed by the father. The father argued the trial court shouldn’t have set the periodic child support obligation to be more than the statutory child support guidelines provided and found a material and substantial change in circumstances affecting either the parents or the kids that would warrant a modification.

The mother and father got divorced in 2013 after coming to a mediated settlement agreement. They were named joint managing conservators of their kids. The father was allowed to have possession for certain periods, and he had to pay the mother monthly child support until they reached 18 years old. There were two kids.

The father sought relief regarding one of the kids when she turned 18. However, he didn’t pursue it at the time of trial. The mother counter-petitioned, asking to modify the parent-child relationship and asking for child support that exceeded the statutory guideline for the other child.

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classroomIn a recent Texas appeal, a father appealed a judgment that awarded the mother post-majority expenses for their child. The case arose from the parents entering into an agreed final decree of divorce and settlement affecting the parent-child relationship. There was a section titled “college education.” In this provision, the parties agreed that the father would pay 60% of the expenses required for their kids to enroll at and attend a public or private college, university, or graduate school as long as the kid remained enrolled in a course of study leading to a degree. The expenses were to include tuition, room and board, books, and other incidental fees. The father was to pay the school directly or reimburse the mother for any payments she made over her 40% share.

The college education provision wasn’t a part of the sections on property distribution or child support in the agreement. The parents signed the decree, thereby agreeing to all of its provisions.

In 2015, the mother sued to enforce the child support order, asking for reimbursement for health expenses and insurance premiums, in addition to college expenses. She later filed amended motions. The father filed an answer, asserting she wasn’t entitled to post-majority support, since she didn’t ask for contractual relief. He argued that the only relief sought was enforcement, rather than breach of contract.

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Downs syndromeIn a recent Texas appellate decision, a father raised four issues related to a lower court’s provision of child support for his adult disabled child, among other things. The couple was married in 1992 and had two kids, TWG and a minor daughter, EAG. In 2008, the father left the mother to move in with his girlfriend, only to move back in a few months later, claiming the other relationship was over. The mother and father signed a lease with a term of one year, but in another few months, the father left for his girlfriend again, which saddled the mother with $4,000 for the remainder of the lease.

The father had a child with his girlfriend and didn’t pay child support to either of his minor children with the mother until 2011, when the mother asked for child support through the Attorney General’s Office. The father began paying monthly child support but provided no other financial assistance and eventually sued for divorce. The mother counter-petitioned, asking for child support for both kids, a disproportionate share of the community estate, and damages from the father’s girlfriend.

The mother explained to the court that her adult son, TWG, had agenesis of the corpus collosum, a condition in which the fibers linking the right brain to the left brain had never developed. The son lived with his mother and would need support his whole life. He’d never gone to college and wasn’t employed. He saw a doctor every year and spent the night with the father in 2015 2-3 times in total. He required adult care, which cost $500 per month, and got a certain amount in SSI and SNAP benefits.

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Many people ask: Can my children decide where they want to live in a divorce? There are many ways for a court to consider children’s input about where they want to live.

The first way is simply allowing children to talk to the judge. Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code allows a parent to request that a judge interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes regarding certain aspects of custody. If a child is over the age of 12, it is mandatory that the judge interview the child on the request of a parent. A judge may also interview a child under age 12. It is important to know that 12-year old children cannot actually decide where they where they want to live. They will not be providing the “final say.” Instead, the child’s wishes will just be one factor that the Court considers in addition to other important information. Another thing to keep in mind is that this process can be traumatic for children. Sitting in a judge’s chambers can be very intimidating for a child, and a child could be negatively impacted by the pressure of such a weighty decision. However, many times, a child’s input can be very important in a child custody dispute, and so there are other means to obtain the information indirectly.

Another way to get a child’s input in child custody litigation is through a Child Custody Evaluation. In Texas, the only mental health professional that may make recommendations as to possession and conservatorship for children is a child custody evaluator. The Texas Family Code provides very detailed requirements for a child custody evaluation, which includes interviews of each parent and anyone living in a house with the child, interviews of the child, and observations of the home environment and each parent’s interactions with the child. The child custody evaluator will therefore be able to talk to children about where they want to live, and will do so in conjunction with a much broader study into the children’s home environment and what will ultimately be in the best interests of the children.