Under the Texas Family Code, a party can modify child support in three situations: (1) the parties have agreed to modify child support; (2) when the parties meet the three-year modification rule; and (3) when there has been a material and substantial change to justify a modification. Parties can accomplish child support modifications either through a private attorney (generally much quicker but attorney’s fees are involved) or through the Attorney General (free but the process can take 6-9 months to even get started once a request is made.)
If the parties agree to modify child support and the court finds the modification to be in the best interests of the child, it is quick and easy to get child support modified with an attorney.
The three-year modification rule provides that the court can modify a child support order without a material and substantial change if it has been three years since the prior child support order and the new amount would differ from the prior amount by either 20% or $100 under the current child support guidelines. Even if the 20% / $100 difference is not met, the Court could still modify child support if it feels it is in the best interest of the child. If the prior order was based on the agreement of the parties and was not based on the child support guidelines at the time, the Court cannot use the three-year modification rule to modify child support. In that situation, child support can only be modified by agreement or by proving a material and substantial change.
Finally, the Court can modify the amount of child support if the circumstances of either a parent or the child have materially and substantially changed since the prior order (or since the date of the mediated settlement agreement or collaborative law agreement on which the prior order was based). The person requesting the modification has the burden of proving a material and substantial change. If the change was anticipated at the time of the prior order, it does not justify a modification. The court will look at a variety of factors such as changes in jobs, increases or decreases in pay, changes in financial circumstances, the birth of another child, etc. to determine if a material and substantial change has occurred. The party requesting the change must show what the conditions were at the time of the order as compared to the conditions at the time modification is sought.