More and more of our past and present clients have been contacting us and asking what they should do about their child support payment if they are laid off, or otherwise unable to work, due to the current COVID-19 Crisis.
Losing a job is never an easy thing. In the current environment, this is further complicated by the fact that you may have difficulty even searching for a new job. Many may be in a position of needing to pay a reduced amount of child support due to income limitations caused by mandated closings. With daily and, at times, differing changes across our counties and states, many people have no idea what they should do if they find themselves unable to pay their child support.
This blog post will provide some information regarding what you should consider during this time.
Are the county courts open?
Our clients are asking, “Is help even available if the Courts are closed?”
First, the Courts are not closed. Currently, the Denton County, Collin County, Tarrant County, and Dallas County Courts (along with counties across Texas) are only hearing urgent, emergency cases. The District Clerk’s offices are still accepting all types of filings, which, in the case of reducing child support, is one of the most important points.
Second, we are open and our lawyers at Coker, Robb & Cannon are still working on behalf of our clients and assisting clients with all types of child support issues.
What help is available now?
While a parent always has the duty to support their child, the duty imposed by a Court Order is different in that you are not able, on your own, to change or reduce the obligation during financially difficult times. Parents without court-ordered obligations can just tighten their belts a bit, however, when you are ordered to pay a specific amount of support, you must pay that amount or you could face civil and criminal penalties—from fines, loss of state mandated licenses, and even jail time—for failing to do so.
In Texas, if your income drops significantly, and you are unable to quickly replace or supplement it, you are likely entitled to a temporary or permanent modification or decrease of your support obligation.
However, and this is probably the MOST IMPORTANT part of this post, the Court can only reduce your support obligation after you file a Petition for Modification and only back to the date that you serve the Petition for Modification of Child Support on the receiving party or the date they appear in the lawsuit.
Texas family Code 156.401 (b) provides:
- A support order may be modified with regard to the amount of support ordered only as to obligations accruing after the earlier of:
- the date of service of citation; or
- an appearance in the suit to modify.
Because of this, if you lose your job, or your income is otherwise significantly reduced, and you expect that to continue for a while (or have no idea how long it will continue), it’s very important to get your Petition for Modification filed and served right away.
Every month that you wait is one more month that the Court has no power to reduce the obligation. While, if you don’t file a Petition for Modification, a good family lawyer may be able to work with you to assert defenses for failing to pay the support if you were unable to do so, the fact of the matter is that you will, in almost all circumstances, still owe that back support. The only way to reduce the obligation is to get a Petition filed and served.
Further, if you’ve been Ordered to provide health insurance for your child, and, because you’ve lost your job, you no longer have insurance available, this should be addressed in a Petition for Modification IMMEDIATELY. Most orders related to children provide that, if you’ve been ordered to provide support, and you fail to do so, you become responsible for 100% of the uninsured expenses. This is another provision that you should ask to be modified immediately if you are unable to provide insurance.
After filing and serving the Petition, even if it is several months before you can get into Court, and even if you are unable to make some or all of the payments during that time period, you are at least giving the Court the ability to go back, retroactively, and reduce or eliminate those obligations during that time period.
Have Questions About Child Support Obligations during the COVID-19 crisis? Call Coker, Robb & Cannon Family Lawyers
We at Coker, Robb & Cannon understand that these are difficult times. If you find yourself in this situation, we are willing to work with you to at least get a Petition filed and served on your behalf and to temporarily reduce our standard retainers to make that happen for you as soon as possible. Further, our practice is up and running and we are doing consultations and client meetings daily via video conferencing and phone. We are also appearing on behalf of our clients in Court, for urgent matters that the Courts are allowing to be heard, by video and phone.
Call our office at (940) 293-2313 or complete our online request form to talk with one of our Consult Coordinators to schedule a consultation to confidentially discuss the details of your case.