The recent COVID-19 outbreak has proven to be a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions. The rapid rate of its spread has forced the governments throughout all parts of the world to implement incredible measures to preserve public health.
People have been told to stay indoors, minimizing as much social human contact—known as social distancing—as possible. Consequently, day-to-day interactions that many people took for granted have disappeared. Many businesses have been forced to cease and/or drastically change operations, leading to a record-breaking number of unemployment claims as people were laid off and furloughed.
Without a job or other income stream, many people have been deprived of adequate funds to cover their financial obligations, including child support payments. However, there may be a legal solution to help those suffering the economic hardships brought on by this historic crisis.
Modifying Child Support Orders
Texas courts may modify the terms of a child support order if the circumstances surrounding it have materially and substantially changed since the court rendered it. Either the circumstances affecting the child or the parent must have changed materially.
Texas courts determine issues of child support according to specific guidelines under the Texas Family Code. The child support guidelines provide that the amount of support payments will be based on a percentage of the parent’s monthly net resources. That payment increases as the number of children increase. For example, one child might require an obligation equivalent to 20% of their parents’ resources, while two children might require an obligation equivalent to 25%.
Under Texas Family Code § 156.401, a court may modify a child support order if:
- Three years passed since the order was rendered;
- The amount of support deviates by 20% or $100 from the amount under the child support guidelines; and
- The order was not the result of an agreement between the parties.
However, courts have also held a child support order may be modified even if the criteria under § 156.401 has not been satisfied.
Importantly, courts have recognized that modification of a child support order may be warranted if the obligor-parent experiences a decrease in income such that honoring their support obligation in addition to their necessary living expenses would not be feasible.
Importantly, the parent’s reduced income must have been involuntary. For example, if a doctor earned a monthly salary of $10,000, but voluntarily changed careers to a retail sales manager making $7,000 per month—despite having the ability to continue working as a physician making $10,000—their decrease in salary might not qualify as a material change in circumstances justifying modification of their support obligations.
In contrast, if the doctor accidentally suffered a disability that rendered them incapable of performing the duties of their profession, the resulting loss in pay may be sufficient cause to reduce their payment obligation.
Therefore, in cases where an individual is laid off due to the imposition of COVID-19 precautions, they have a good argument for the court to reduce their child support payments accordingly. A drop in their income—especially to the degree that would make paying child support while covering their necessary living expenses—would constitute a material change in circumstances.
Similarly, if someone were furloughed because of the public health precautions implemented to combat the Coronavirus outbreak—their reduced income may qualify as a material change in circumstances, especially if the number of payments would exceed their obligation.
Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers Will Support Your Legal Needs in Times of Crisis
The repercussions of the recent COVID-19 outbreak may continue to resonate through the health and personal lives of everyone in the country. The impact of the pandemic already has a demonstrable impact on the economy. To better understand the legal implications of this crisis, and its relevance to family law issues such as child support—you should consult an experienced attorney from Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers
Contact Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers today at (940) 293-2313 or contact the firm online for a consultation with a member of our legal team regarding your legal interests and options.