In the Family law context, a common problem is that parents mistakenly believe they can modify their child support order through an informal agreement. Whether the informal agreement is oral or in writing it will not be effective in modifying the parents’ underlying support order. In fact, only the court with continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the case can modify court-ordered child support.
To illustrate this point, consider the following scenario:
Under a court order, a noncustodial parent is ordered to pay custodial parent $400.00 per month for current child support. Subsequently, the noncustodial parent losses his job, or experiences some other financial difficulty, which makes it impossible for him to meet his child support obligation. In response, the custodial parent tells the noncustodial parent to pay her only $100.00 per month in child support. Ten months later the parties get into an argument and their relationship sours. The custodial parent then demands that the noncustodial parent pay her the $3,000.00 in child support he did not pay during the prior ten months. When he refuses, the custodial parent files a motion to enforce.
In this scenario, the agreement that noncustodial parent pay $100.00 per month for child support would not have modified the court-ordered support obligation. Therefore, the noncustodial parent faces several severe consequences. First, the court may hold him in contempt for failing to pay child support as ordered, which could mean time in the county jail and/or being placed on community supervision. Also, the noncustodial parent would have $3,000.00 in arrears, and the court would likely enter a judgment against the noncustodial parent for those arrears and order additional child support be paid until the judgment is paid in full. Even if the custodial parent did not file a motion to enforce, the noncustodial parent could be negatively impacted in several different ways, such as having his arrearages reported to credit agencies and having his income tax return intercepted to pay off the arrears.
The noncustodial parent could have avoided these results if he had filed a motion to modify when he lost his job. Under the Texas Family Code, grounds for modification include: (1) a material and substantial change of circumstances of a child or a person affected by the child support order; or (2) the passage of three years since the last child support order and a difference in monthly payments by either 20% or $100.00 from the child support guidelines.
In short, if you are a party to a child support order, and you want to change the child support amount, do not merely enter into an agreement with the other parent. Instead, you need to file a motion to modify, asking the court to modify the child support obligation under one of the two grounds mentioned above.
For more information about Texas Family and Divorce law contact The Wright Firm, L.L.P. at 972-353-4600 or visit our website at www.thewrightlawyers.com. We have offices in Dallas, Denton, and Lewisville. We also have offices by appointment only in Frisco, Plano, and Ft. Worth. Patrick Wright and Cynthia Palmer are Board Certified in Family Law by The Texas Board of Legal Specialization. All other lawyers are not board certified unless noted.