It would be wonderful if a divorce could deal with all the resulting issues until the children reach adulthood. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Lives evolve after people go their separate ways. Often what the court ordered at the time of the divorce or SAPCR is no longer a practical arrangement. Long after your Fort Worth divorce lawyer finished the divorce you may find the need to modify the current orders. The Texas Family Code provides opportunities to modify the terms of the court order to rearrange custody and child support. (And the property division in certain situations.) Modification suits can be complex; sometimes they are even more complex than the original divorce or SAPCR.
Child Support Modification in Fort Worth and Dallas
Under the Texas Family Code, child support is set by a formula tied to the earnings of the parent paying support. (The obligor.) Over time the obligor’s earning potential typically increases; in turn that should result in an increase in child support. However, the Texas Family Code does not establish a mechanism to automatically increase child support as earnings increase. The court order establishing child support fixes it at that amount until the court modifies the order.
In many cases the increase in earnings can be proven by review of the obligor’s paychecks. In some cases, particularly where the obligor is self-employed, proving a change in income can be difficult. Child support can also reduce in a modification where the obligor has seen a reduction in income. This can help an obligor ease the financial pressure of mandatory child support and all of the penalties for non-payment.
Custody Modification in Tarrant County and Dallas County
Modifications of conservatorship rights and possession schedules are common forms of custody modification in Texas. These modifications generally occur due to changing circumstances that cause the existing arrangement to become unworkable. This can be caused by:
- A new marriage
- Employment changes
- Drug or alcohol addictions
- Changes in the child’s extracurricular activities or relationship with the parents
- And sometimes just a number of small factors come together to sour the parenting relationship.
Sometimes the parents can work out a new agreement without depending upon a judge for a new custody arrangement. However, if the parents cannot come to an agreement then they must accept the present situation or file a modification suit to change the court orders establishing custody.
Challenges modifying custody orders in Texas
Modifications of custody issues tend to be difficult. In a modification the situation has often become emotionally charged and that can complicate bringing the parents together to reach an agreement. In addition to the emotional conflict, the legal standards in a modification are different from the divorce or SAPCR and that creates complications. Most divorces and SAPCRs end in an agreement or mediation between the parents and the court has little involvement in defining the custodial relationship. When the judge is involved in shaping the custodial relationship in a divorce or SAPCR the judge has a lot of help streamlining the process from the Texas Family Code.
Key factors in modifying child custody orders under the Texas Family Code
When parents seek modification of child custody orders in Texas the courts commonly look at several key factors:
- Best interests of the children
- Past parental involvement with the children
- Parental cooperation
- Home stability
- Criminal activity around or affecting the children
- Child’s wishes
The best interests of the children are often determined in Texas by the Holly factors described by the Texas Supreme Court in Holly v. Adams. These include:
- the desires of the child
- the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future
- the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future
- the parenting abilities of the individuals seeking custody
- the programs available to assist those individuals to promote the best interest of the child
- the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody
- the stability of the home or proposed placement
- the acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a proper one
- any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent
Hiring a custody modification lawyer in Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas
A custody modification lawyer can be an important resource in a custody modification for a number of reasons. An attorney can be a filter of reason and focus through the process to keep the emotional frustration from prolonging the process. An attorney can also use his expertise with the law and the local family courts in both the legal proceedings and with helping to shape a resolution that the courts will accept and may be a compromising fit for both parents. If you have to take your modification to trial then you definitely need representation to present the court the strongest case for your desired modification.
Modifying child support or custody without a modification lawyer in Texas
Modifying custody and child support orders is the wrong time to try your hand at lawyering. Modifications are an area where it is almost always dangerous to go to court alone. In Dallas and Fort Worth divorces many people go to court without a lawyer. The courts generally do what they can to help people move through the divorce. The Texas Family Code establishes several presumptions of facts that make this easy for the family court judge. The parties likely recently lived together and parented together. Their differences about the kids are usually not that great. This allows the family law courts to more easily enter an order in a divorce.
However, many of these helpful tools do not exist in custody and child support modifications. In modifications there are far fewer presumptions. The parties have to do more work to prove their case. The facts are more problematic. The parents are no longer in a situation where they recently lived together and parented together. Now they have separate lives and their own objectives. As a result, the party that prevails in a modification is usually the one that uses the legal system more effectively.