Child Custody & Support
Under Texas law, what people generally think of as “child custody” is actually a combination of legal concepts: conservatorship and possession and access, which are very closely related. The best interest of the child is the governing standard for decisions of conservatorship, possession, and access. Child custody orders may be later modified by the court upon a showing of a significant change in circumstances by either parent.
Texas family law includes managing conservators and possessory conservators. Managing conservators can make important financial, schooling, and medical decisions, while possessory conservators have little authority to make such decisions but do have the right of possession and access.
Remember that there does not have to be one managing conservator and one possessory conservator for each child. Both parents could be managing conservators, and Texas judges will often order this arrangement (called joint managing conservatorship) unless there are reasons not to, particularly if it is not in the child’s best interest. But it is important to know that even if the court awards names both parents as joint managing conservators, there will still be one parent that has the power to determine where the child resides.
Possession and Access
Possession and access are closely-related issues that are often referred to jointly as “visitation” by the general public. Visitation schedules are ordered by the judge either according to the standard possession schedule set by law, by agreement of both parents, or by considering certain factors including: how close the parents live to each other; what the child’s schooling and extra-curricular schedules are; the work schedules of each parent; what religious holidays each parent observes; when spring break occurs; etc.
In some cases, when it is in the best interest of the child to do so, the court may limit one parent’s possession and access or even require supervised visitation. This may occur, for example, if one parent has been charged with family violence or has serious drug and alcohol addiction problems.
It is important to understand that child custody and child support are two separate issues. For this reason, one parent may not refuse to allow the other parent to see the child even if that parent is behind on child support payments. Similarly, a non-custodial may not withhold support payments because of the custodial parent’s blocking access to the child.
Child support is an obligatory monthly payment made by the parent without custody of the child. Child support payments are handled through the Texas Attorney General’s office. Any unofficial, undocumented, or informal payments not made through the AG’s office do not count towards the child support obligor’s payments.
The amount of monthly child support payments is usually determined by applying a formula outlined in the Texas Family Code. The judge may also take other factors into account to increase or decrease the child support award from the statutory amount. These factors include a comparison of each parent’s income and each parent’s obligations; whether the non-custodial parent is also supporting other children; whether either parent is deliberately unemployed or underemployed; whether the non-custodial parent is incurring a lot of travel time and expenses; whether the custodial parent has significant personal resources, etc.
The obligation to pay child support continues until the child turns eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Furthermore, the non-custodial parent may be required to continue making monthly child support payments for longer if the child is disabled. There is no requirement that the child’s parents have been married in order for one parent to owe child support to the other. For this reason, it is possible to have a SAPCR (suit affecting the parent-child relationship) lawsuit regarding child support (or child custody) without having a divorce case.
Child Support Modification
The family law court has the power to modify the amount of child support payments on the motion of either parent. For example, if the non-custodial parent is unable to afford the support payments as ordered, that parent may request that the support obligation be modified downward. The parent must prove a significant change in circumstances in order to justify the modification. Another example would be if the custodial parent wanted to request a modification. This might happen if the child has increased expenses, such as for extracurricular activities or if the child develops a disability that requires more care.
Remember, if you are the obligor of child support and you cannot afford your payments, you should seek a modification as soon as possible because unpaid support arrearages will continue to accrue and are subject to interest.
Enforcement of Child Support
If you are supposed to be receiving child support from your child’s other parent, and that parent is not paying or not paying the entire amount, you will need to ask the court to enforce the child support order. Child support may be enforced by reducing the arrearages to a money judgment and/or by holding the obligor in contempt of court.
Furthermore, failure to pay child support could result in the court-ordered garnishment of the wages and/or checking account(s) of the obligor. An obligor who fails to pay child support as ordered may also face the suspension of his or her driver’s license or even his or her professional license.
Other Family Law
This firm also handles additional family law matters, such as:
- Domestic Violence
- Family Violence
- Grandparent Access/Visitation
- Modification of Child Custody
- Protective Orders
- Stepparent Adoption
- Supervised Visitation
- Termination of Parental Rights