By: E.A. Putman
The first week in September presented Texans with the beginning of Fall, the Labor Day holiday, premature Pumpkin Spice Lattes and changes in child support law. While September is typically synonymous with the end of summer marked by Labor Day and no one can ever fault the conglomerate Starbucks for pushing the Fall drinks when it is still 85 degrees outside, it was the modifications to the Texas Family Code that quietly crept into the lives of the residents.
For lawsuits filed or modified on or after September 1, 2018, the amount of the child support package may* increase. Under the “old way,” the obligor was only required to pay child support and provide health insurance. As of September 1st, parents who pay child support in the Lone Star State will also have to provide dental insurance. Like health insurance, an obligor may provide dental insurance by:
- providing dental insurance coverage for the child directly through employment or union, etc. or
- paying the other parent for the reasonable cost of dental insurance coverage (“cash medical support”), or
- paying cash medical support if the child receives Medicaid.
The new law comes from Senate Bill 550 which was passed during the 2015 legislative session. As stated in Senator Uresti’s statement of intent, “Currently, children subject to child support orders only receive dental support if ordered by the court or specified by the parties involved. The purpose of S.B. 550 is to provide dental support for children who are subject to a child support order if it can be obtained at a reasonable cost.” Texas Family Code Section 154.1815(a) defines “reasonable cost” as the cost of a dental insurance premium that does not exceed 1.5 percent of the obligor’s annual resources. For example, if the obligor’s annual resources are $50,000, then the annual dental insurance premium cannot exceed $750 or $62.50/ month.
Remember, dental support is in addition to regular child support and the medical support, so it can be withheld from paychecks and subject to an enforcement lawsuit.
Child Support Agreements
After September 1, 2018, it may be more difficult to modify child support if you and the other parent reached an agreement in the past and the agreement differed from the guidelines. Under the child support guidelines, a parent is ordered to pay a percentage of their net resources based on the number of children. The Texas Child Support Guidelines are generally not favored by either parent. The obligor believes they are paying too much and the obligee believes the support they receive is too little. So, agreements are good–or at least they can be. It usually indicates the parties have found a middle ground.
Under the “old way,” a prior order (one where the child support amount was an agreement or the Court’s finding based on income) could be modified if (1) the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order to be modified have materially and substantially changed or if (2) it has been three years since the order was rendered or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support award under the order differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the child support guidelines.
After September 1, 2018, if the parties agreed to an order under which the amount of child support differs from the amount that would be awarded under the child support guidelines, the court may modify the order only if the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed since the order was rendered. While the original intent of the old law was to prevent vexatious litigation of child support, in practice it provided a three year alarm clock to return to court to determine if child support should be increased and (less often) decreased.
In sum, while the new law has eliminated the “wait 3 years and let’s see if the paycheck has increased” strategy, there are still numerous reasons a court will modify child support. Some examples of material and substantial change in circumstances include:
- Change in parent-child relationship (“flipping custody”)
- Change in child’s needs (child now participates in extracurricular activities, etc.)
- Change in parent’s financial circumstances (birth of another child)
- Change in amount of possession (parent moves out of state)
- Change in cost to exercise possession of and access to child (out of state parent paying cost of travel)
- Change in parent’s employment (parent is laid off)
- Change to intentional unemployment or underemployment (parent takes a lower paying position than qualified)
The above list is only illustrative. If you have questions regarding your current child support order or need to modify your order to include dental insurance, contact my office. I am Your Family Law Attorney with a legislative background. Stay tuned as we bring you news about proposed laws during the upcoming 86th Legislative Session in January 2019.
The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse. If you or someone you know is facing a challenging family matter, contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033.