Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many people losing jobs or seeing a reduction in pay. For someone who is court-ordered to pay child support, this can trigger the need to modify. First and foremost, losing your job or having a decrease in pay does not mean that your child support obligation automatically changes or goes away. It is critical to act quickly to modify your child support obligation unless you are in a financial position to continue paying the same amount.
In order to modify your child support obligation, you must obtain an order from the court. If the other parent will agree to the change, you can get an agreed modification done very quickly through an attorney. If the other parent will not agree, you will need to prove that your job loss or reduction in pay constitutes a “material and substantial change” sufficient to modify child support. Determining what is a “material and substantial” change is a fact-intensive inquiry and decided on a case-by-case basis. In general, any change in income caused by a lost job or decrease in pay that would change the child support calculation by more than $100 is considered to be a material and substantial change for purposes of a child support modification.
What should I do if I have lost my job or had my pay reduced?
If you have lost your job or had your pay reduced, you have two options for pursuing a modification of your child support payments. You can either hire a private attorney or you can request a modification through the Texas Attorney General. A private attorney will charge you but is generally much quicker. The Attorney General is free, but the process can take several months once a request is made. If your child support obligation will be reduced significantly, it is usually worth the cost of a private attorney to make that change happen quickly. You should start the process as soon as possible because job loss or a reduction in pay will not stop or “pause” payments. You will not be able to retroactively reduce your child support obligation, so you want to initiate the modification as soon as possible. Do not stop making payments if at all possible. If you do, arrearages will begin to accrue and you will not be able to reduce those arrearages with a modification. You will be responsible for paying the full amount owed plus interest, as you can only modify going forward.
What does the process look like?
If the other parent will agree, the quickest way to have your child support modified is to have an attorney file a petition to modify and an agreed order modifying child support. If the other parent will not agree, your lawyer will file a petition to modify child support or the Office of the Attorney General will conduct a review of the child support order. It is your responsibility to show the material and substantial change in circumstances. The court will consider your past employment, ability to work and earn an income, and current federal minimum wage when considering whether to grant a modification and in what amount. After a hearing, the court will determine if a modification is appropriate and, if so, how much the new child support obligation should be.
Are courts operating right now?
Yes. COVID-19 has changed the way courts are functioning, but the courts are still functioning and cases continue to move forward. Only “essential” matters are being heard in person, but non-essential hearings are taking place virtually via Zoom. This means that your attorney can still file a suit for modification and request a hearing to have the order modified during this crisis.
(Blog post by Samantha Mori and Holly Draper)