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Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Child Support in Texas

Contributors: Zachary Wilson, Hee Jin Chang, Katelynn Armijo and Bret Bosker

The worldwide spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (otherwise known as COVID-19) has disrupted the normal day-to-day life for just about everyone. With the number of cases rapidly rising in the U.S., Texans are being forced to adjust to a “new normal.” Directives from President Trump, orders from Governor Abbott, and orders from countless local jurisdictions in Texas have forced many businesses and employers to temporarily shut down, decrease employees’ hours, and even lay off workers. The number of people filing for unemployment in Texas, as of March 23, 2020, jumped to a staggering 155,657 individuals—representing an 860% increase from the previous week. To get an idea about just how high that number is, last year an average of about 13,600 Texans filed for unemployment benefits each week. Unfortunately, it appears that those numbers are going to continue to increase.

I lost my job because of Coronavirus (COVID-19), can I decrease my child support?

With tens of thousands of Texans out of work or experiencing a decrease in hours and pay, many are left wondering how they are going to be able to continue paying their court-ordered child support. The Texas Family Code provides, if “the circumstances of [a] child or a person affected by the order [to pay child support] have materially and substantially changed” since the order was entered, then the court may modify a child support order. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 156.401(a)(1). The amount of child support may also be modified if it has been more than three years since the child support order was entered or if the “monthly amount of the child support award under the order differs by either twenty percent (20%) or $100 from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the child support guidelines.” Id. § 156.401(a)(2).

Both job loss and a significant decrease in pay are considered a “material and substantial” change in circumstances that would allow a court to modify a child support order. If you have experienced either of these situations as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19), you may petition the court to modify your monthly child support obligation. Modifications or adjustments of child support do not occur automatically—one party must file a petition with the court in order to effect the change.

A modification of a current order resulting from the loss of employment or furlough can be obtained through the Attorney General’s office, or through the use of a private attorney. See “How can I reduce my child support?” for more information.

How is child support calculated?

Child support is calculated based on a percentage of an obligor’s (the person paying child support) “net resources,” as defined by the Texas Family Code. Included in this calculation is all wages, salary, tips, bonuses, and self-employment income. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.062(b). Importantly, also included in calculating child support is any severance pay and any unemployment benefits received. Id. § 154.062(b)(5). A certain amount of state and federal income taxes, as well as expenses for the cost of health insurance and dental insurance, is deducted from the calculated income to determine the obligor’s “net resources.”

Then, depending on how many children the obligor has, the child support guidelines mandate a percentage that is applied to the obligor’s net resources, resulting in that person’s monthly child support obligation. Id. § 154.125. There are caps on the maximum amount of child support payable under the guidelines; however, those maximums can be exceeded in certain uncommon situations, depending on the proven needs of the child.

When you are attempting to modify your child support payments, be prepared to supply your attorney, or the Attorney General, with proof of any unemployment benefits you receive, severance you received, and information relating to the salary you made prior to unemployment.

How can I reduce my child support to address the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Following job loss or a significant reduction in hours and pay, it is important to act quickly in order to reduce your monthly child support obligation. One way to get this process started is to submit a Request for Review to the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General. A much quicker way to accomplish this is to meet with a private attorney to discuss filing a Petition to Modify. It is important to bring your most recent earnings information, as well as a copy of your current child support order, to your meeting with an attorney. Most recent earnings information includes a copy of your latest W-2 or 1099, your most recent tax return, and your last several paychecks. If you receive a notice from your employer regarding your lay off or reduction in hours and/or wages, you should bring a copy of that document to your meeting with an attorney as well.

It is important to note that an informal agreement between parents to modify child support will not effectively change the monthly child support obligation. In order to properly modify your child support obligation, you must obtain an order from the court.

How soon will a child support modification go into effect?

There is no set timeline for how soon a child support modification will go into effect, but the sooner that you act, the quicker that the change can happen. A modification of child support can be made retroactive, but not all the way back to the day of the job loss or reduction in pay. The modification can be retroactive back to the time that the other party is served with the lawsuit. The Texas Family Code states, “A support order may be modified with regard to the amount of support ordered only as to obligations accruing after the earlier of: (1) the date of service of citation; or (2) an appearance in the suit to modify.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 156.401(b). Therefore, it is very important to meet with an attorney and take the necessary steps to file a Petition to Modify as soon as possible. This will allow the modification of child support to be retroactively applied to the earliest date possible. Even with the courts currently only hearing limited proceedings, you can ask that the change be made effective retroactively.

If you have experienced job loss or a reduction in pay due to the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), or if you are ready to have an attorney evaluate your current child support obligation, the lawyers at Holmes, Diggs & Sadler are standing by ready to guide you through the process. Our office can be reached at (713) 802-1777. You may schedule a consultation, immediately, to meet with an attorney by telephone, Skype, FaceTime, or other remote means during this time.

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