Many employers in Dallas and Plano have recently laid off employees, reduced hours, or shut down business due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you are ordered to pay child support and are facing a sudden change in income due to COVID-19 business closures or another reason (you were laid off, fired, out of work, are ill, are incarcerated,  or have taken a pay decrease), your court-ordered child support obligation does not automatically decrease or terminate. The child support obligation continues until such time as either parent has filed a petition to modify child support and a judge has ruled on the issue. GoransonBain Ausley attorney Lindsey Obenhaus explores questions you may have regarding child support and financial hardship during the time of COVID-19.

1. WHAT ARE THE GROUNDS TO CHANGE OR SUSPEND MY CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION?

If your income has been affected by the COVID-19 restrictions or another reason, a court may modify the amount of your prior child support obligation if (1) it has been three years since your child support order was rendered and the new monthly guideline amount differs by either 20% or $100; or (2) if there has been a material and substantial change to a party affected by the order (examples: a change in the paying parent’s financial circumstances, the birth of a new child, incarceration of a parent, etc.)

It is very rare for a Court to suspend a child support obligation altogether. If a parent is unemployed and earning no income, a Texas court will at least apply a presumption basing its child support amount on the assumption that the parent is still capable of working 40-hours per week at minimum wage or at a similar job as the parent held previously.

2. WHEN SHOULD I FILE A CASE TO MODIFY MY CHILD SUPPORT?

It is important to file a suit to modify child support as soon as possible after facing a job loss or change in income. The date that a modification suit is filed is the date that a court may consider to retroactively change the amount of support. The child support obligation will continue to accrue each month after the filing until a court makes its ruling. If courts and/or the Office of the Attorney General are still under emergency restrictions relating to coronavirus, you could wait a long time from the time of the initial filing. As such, it is best to speak to an attorney right away who can discuss your options about how to proceed in the most efficient manner as possible. For example, in Dallas and Collin counties, some courts will allow prompt temporary child support hearings to occur virtually without having to appear in person.

3. DO ANY PAYMENTS I RECEIVE FROM THE GOVERNMENT COUNT TOWARDS MY CHILD SUPPORT?

If a parent is collecting unemployment benefits, then those benefits will be factored into the obligor’s current net resources to calculate the new, modified child support amount.

If a parent receives a stimulus check from the federal government pursuant to the CARES Act, child support will likely not be affected. These checks are structured as advance refunds of a future tax credit. Therefore, they do not factor into an obligor’s “net resources” to calculate child support.  It is important to note, however, that if you are behind on past-child support payments and this has been reported to the federal government, your check may be reduced under the new law.  Please access the IRS and Treasury website for more information.

4. DO I HAVE TO NOTIFY THE OTHER PARENT IF I LOST MY JOB?

If you have lost or changed jobs, you should first check your unique child custody order and read the “Notice” requirements.  Most orders require any person who is ordered to pay child support to notify the other parent of any change of address and of any termination of employment within seven days of such change. It also requires him or her to provide the new address or employment information as soon as that information becomes available.

In addition, most Texas custody orders require both parties to notify the other parent, the Court, and the Office of the Attorney General via registered or certified mail of any change to that person’s residence address, mailing address, home telephone number, employer name and address, driver’s license number, and work telephone number.  This notice must be provided within 60 days of the intended change. If a parent is unable to provide that much notice, then party experiencing the change is ordered to give notice within five days of learning about the change.

While you are navigating uncertain economic times, it is important to stay calm and continue to support your child as much as possible. It is also vital to communicate with an experienced family lawyer about your options.

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Lindsey Obenhaus excels in cases involving complex financial issues such as business or stock portfolio valuations and discovery, contested custody disputes, and domestic abuse. With a background as a former prosecutor, Lindsey’s extensive courtroom experience and strategic thinking helps clients to make informed decisions to achieve the best outcomes possible.

Lindsey’s counsel is not only strategic but practical as well. Serving professionals and stay-at-home parents alike, Lindsey recognizes that divorce can present an opportunity for clients to reinvent themselves. She assists them in the pragmatic tasks of starting over, while also working to secure their financial futures and empowering them to take the right next steps.