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Texas Appeals Court Reverses Child Support in Excess of Statutory Guidelines

After a court issues a Texas child support order based on an agreement of the parties, the trial court may only modify the order if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.  If there has been such a change, the court has the discretion to modify the order.  The court’s analysis depends on the resources of the obligor.  If the parent paying child support has net monthly resources equal to or less than an identified amount, currently $8,550, the court must base the presumptive award on a percentage of the net resources and the number of children.  If the net monthly resources are greater than this amount, then the court has the discretion to order amounts greater than the presumptive award, depending on the parties’ income and the “proven needs” of the children.  Thus, the court must determine the proven needs of the children before awarding an amount greater than that set by the guidelines.  If the children’s needs exceed the presumptive award, the court allocates the difference between the parties.  No party can be required to pay more than 100% of the proven needs of the children.  Unfortunately, neither the legislature nor the courts have clearly defined “needs,” but the Texas Supreme Court has stated that needs are not determined by the family’s lifestyle or the parents’ ability to pay.

In a recent case, a father challenged a modification that ordered him to pay an amount greater than the monthly guidelines.

The father also challenged whether there was a material and substantial change in circumstances, but the appeals court readily found that a significant increase in the father’s income since the Agreed Order was sufficient to support a modification.

The father challenged the amount of the monthly obligation, which was greater than the statutory guidelines.  At the time of agreed order, the mother planned to move to Virginia with the children.  The parents agreed that the father would be responsible for all travel costs and would have a monthly child support obligation of $1,000.

The mother testified that her monthly income had been $8,510.06 per month, the father’s monthly income was about $10,000, and the children’s monthly expenses were $5,351.25 at the time of the Agreed Order.  The mother stated her own earnings had decreased because she was working fewer hours in a city that required a 2.5 hour commute.  Her monthly mortgage was now $6,000, and the children’s reasonable and necessary monthly expenses were $9,250.  She testified that she did not want the father to have any say in the expenses, but wanted him to pay 100% of them.

The father testified that his net annual income was about $350,000 and that the children had monthly expenses of $5,792.  He further testified that his travel expenses had increased.  He also argued the mother’s requested child support was not reasonable.

The parties agreed that the guidelines would require the father to pay $2,565 per month.

The court ultimately ordered the father to pay $4,865 per month, with retroactive support.  The court issued findings, including a finding that the proven needs of the children were $9,150.

The appeals court found that the only evidence supporting the trial court’s finding regarding the children’s proven needs were a spreadsheet of expenses and the mother’s conclusory testimony.  The appeals court noted that monthly expenses are not the same as proven needs.  The mother’s testimony was insufficient to establish that the amounts were true needs of the children.  Furthermore, the mother did not show that the children’s needs increased since the Agreed Order.  The appeals court found no link between the increase in expenses and the needs of the children.  The appeals court also noted that the testimony had focused more on the father’s increased income than the children’s needs.  Child support exceeding the statutory guidelines must be based on the children’s needs and not the parent’s ability to pay.  The appeals court also noted that it appeared the increase in expenses was related to the mother’s lifestyle change, new marriage, and large house.

The appeals court found the evidence was insufficient to support the finding on the proven needs of the children.  The trial court abused its discretion in ordering the father to pay more than the guidelines.  The appeals court reversed the trial court and remanded for a new trial.

This case illustrates the concept that child support is based on the children’s needs, not the parent’s ability to pay.  It also shows that the parent seeking support cannot unilaterally set the children’s needs based on expenses.  Instead, they must show prove that the expenses they identify are actually needs, and not simply based on their lifestyle.

If you are facing a child support issue, a skilled Texas child support attorney can help protect your rights and your children’s needs.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Texas Child Support Modification

Erroneous Calculation of Texas Child Support Award