The anxiety that comes from losing a job is enhanced exponentially when you are paying child support. Child support is a court-ordered obligation that carries some very harsh penalties and enforcement mechanisms if you fall behind. You can’t simply quit paying it, nor can you simply decide to pay less.
Child Support is a Court-Ordered Obligation
Child support is created by a court order and, therefore, it can only be changed by a new court order. This is because the Texas Attorney General’s Office (“the OAG”) keeps a record of all payments and will show your payments as delinquent. The OAG can and will enforce child support in the amount set out in the current child support order regardless of any informal agreement you may have with your spouse. And, the agreement you have with your spouse is not something the OAG will consider or enforce. The OAG can only go by orders issued by the Court.
Modifying a Child Support Order by Agreement
The procedure to formally modify support can be simple and inexpensive, especially if both parents work together to get through the crisis. First, a petition to modify child support must be filed with the Court, because the Court must have an active matter before it in order to consider, approve, and sign an order. Second, if the parties agree on the new child support, then the agreement must be reduced to an order which is then submitted to the Court for consideration, approval and signing. Once the Court signs the new order, the OAG will receive it and the new child support amount will be binding and effective going forward.
What if I Don’t Know How Long I Will be Unemployed?
If it is uncertain how long the spouse paying support will be out of work, it may be appropriate to do two orders. The first order would be a temporary order filed at the beginning of the modification proceeding. A temporary order is an order entered by the Court which remains in effect while the modification action is pending. So, the spouses could agree to reduce support temporarily while the modification action is pending. Then, when you find new employment the parties could set a final hearing in the modification action for the Court to render a final order based upon your new income.
What if My Former Spouse Wont Agree to the Child Support Change?
Unfortunately, you can’t always count on an agreement with your former spouse to change or reduce the support. So then what? You will still need to modify the child support order using the same process outlined above, but it will probably take a little longer.
First, file a petition for modification. You can file this petition yourself through an attorney you select, or you can apply for OAG child support services based up on changed circumstances. There is no income qualification to receive help from the Attorney General’s office. It’s a good free service for Texans if you are not in a hurry and if you have the time and patience to stay in touch with their office. Being proactive is key to working with the OAG.
The Attorney General’s office has also created a program to assist unemployed parents find employment – called Noncustodial Parent Choices. In order to participate in this program you must have a court order, so get in touch with the OAG to find out more and apply for consideration. The Handbook for Noncustodial Parents explains more about the modification process and Attorney General programs which can help you.
The Key Factor is to Act Quickly
No matter which path you take, it is vitally important to undertake these actions as quickly as possible after a job loss or other serious reduction in income. The change to your financial situation can be taken into account as soon as the modification is filed. Until that time, though, you continue to owe the full amount of child support at the present amount. Therefore, the sooner you file for a child support modification, the faster you avoid serious child support arrearage problems.
If you suffer a job loss, other serious income reduction, or change of employment, contact our firm or the Attorney General’s office as soon as you can to discuss these and other important issues.