Articles Tagged with modification

iStock-483613578A geographic restriction in a Texas custody order helps ensure the parent without physical custody has access to the child, but it can also impose severe limitations on the mobility of the parent with physical custody of the child.  In a recent case, a mother challenged the imposition of a geographic restriction on the child’s primary residence by the trial court after a jury found she should be the child’s sole managing conservator.

Modification Suit Filed After Prior Order

The final divorce decree named the parents joint managing conservators and gave the mother the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence within a specific county.  The father later petitioned for modification, seeking the right to designate the child’s primary residence. The mother asked the court to remove the father as a joint managing conservator and name her sole managing conservator with the exclusive rights set forth in Tex. Fam. Code § 153.132, including the right to designate the primary residence.  She also asked for an additional $100 per month in child support.

The jury found the mother should be appointed the sole managing conservator.  No other issues were presented to the jury. The judge’s letter ruling indicated she wanted to place a geographical restriction on the mother’s right to designate the child’s primary residence, but was uncertain of the court’s authority to do so under the circumstances.  The letter ruling stated the court imposed the geographic restriction if both parties’ counsel agreed it could, but not if counsel agreed it could not.  If counsel disagreed as to whether the court could impose the restriction, the court requested they provide authorities on the issue. The trial court denied the modification of the child-support obligation.

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iStock-531351317When a court determines the amount of Texas child support a parent is obligated to pay, it must consider that parent’s net resources.  The statute sets forth certain items to be included in the parent’s net resources and other items that are not to be included.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062.  An appeals court recently had to determine if a trial court could consider an item that is not specifically included in the statute.

The divorce decree required the father to pay child support, provide health insurance, and reimburse the mother for 50% of non-covered health-care expenses.

Mother Moves for Modification

The mother subsequently moved to modify the decree to change the father’s possession and access and to increase his child-support obligation.  She also moved to enforce the decree, claiming the father failed to reimburse her for health-care expenses.

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iStock-1132277483In determining the Texas child-support obligation of a parent, the court may consider whether that parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed.  If the court finds the parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed, it may apply the support guidelines to that parent’s earning potential, rather than to their actual earnings.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.066.  The court does not have to find the parent was attempting to avoid child support to find intentional unemployment or underemployment.

In a recent case, a father challenged the denial of his request for modification of his child-support obligation following a change in jobs that resulted in a significant salary reduction.  When the parties divorced in 2015, the trial court appointed the parents joint managing conservators and gave the mother the exclusive right to determine the children’s primary residence. The father was ordered to pay $1,600 in monthly child support and to maintain insurance for the children.

Mother and Father File Competing Modification Suits

The mother petitioned to modify the medical-support provision to give her the obligation to maintain medical insurance in 2019.  The father counter-petitioned to reduce his monthly child support based on a change in his salary.

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iStock-1147846829A court may generally only modify a Texas custody order if the modification is in the best interest of the child and there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the previous order was rendered or the parties signed the settlement agreement. The court may also modify an order if the modification is in the child’s best interest and an older child has told the court his or her preference or if the parent with the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence voluntarily gave up primary care or possession of the child for six months or more. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 156.101.

In some cases, when one parent seeks a modification, the trial court may instead grant a modification requested by the other parent.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a modification giving the father the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence after she had initially moved for a modification to expand the geographic restriction on the child’s primary residence.

Mother Files Modification Suit

Following the parties’ divorce, the mother had the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence in one of two counties.  She petitioned for modification eight years later, seeking increased child support and the right to designate the child’s primary residence in one of the counties or any contiguous county.  The father requested the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence within that designated county.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_headerA court should consider a number of factors in deciding a Texas custody case.  Even when the court determines the parents should be joint managing conservators, the court does not have to award equal periods of possession and access to the child to each parent. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.135.  Under Texas law, there is a rebuttable presumption that the standard possession order serves the child’s best interests.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.252.  A father recently challenged the divorce decree giving the mother the right to designate the child’s primary residence and awarding him the standard possession order.

Trial Court Initially Awards Father Primary Custody

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties’ child was born about three months after they married in 2014.  The parties separated in 2016 and the mother petitioned for divorce in March 2017. The court signed temporary order giving the father the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence in Travis County.

At the custody hearing, there was evidence the mother had sustained a serious brain injury the previous year.  There was significant testimony about her mental health before and after the separation and about how her injury affected her ability to take care of the child.

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iStock-1163040189A Texas custody order may only be modified in certain circumstances.  The parents may agree to change the order.  The court may order modification if the child is at least twelve years old and wants to change which parent has primary custody. Otherwise, the parent seeking the modification must generally show that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the child or a parent since the current order was rendered.  The court must consider the facts and circumstances of the specific case to determine if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.  Common situations that may lead to a material and substantial change in circumstances include marriage, a change in employment, or relocation of a parent’s primary residence.  Courts have also recognized changes related to the relationship between the parent and child, including abuse, mistreatment, or “poisoning the child’s mind.”  In all cases, the modification must be in the child’s best interest.

Mother and Father Agree to Custody Modification

In a recent case, a father challenged a modification sought by the mother. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parents divorced in 2012 and entered into an agreed order to modify custody in 2016.  Pursuant to the 2016 modification, the mother was given the right to determine the children’s residence within a specified geographic restriction.  The father was awarded custody beyond the standard order.  The agreed order did not require either parent to pay child support.

After one of the children broke an arm, the mother moved to modify that order and the court entered the modification in 2018.  The new order required the father to pay child support and changed his custody schedule.  He appealed.

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iStock-1139699594When a court considers Texas child custody and visitation, the child’s best interest is the primary concern.  The court considers certain factors, including what the child wants, the child’s current and future needs, any danger to the child, the parents’ respective abilities, programs available, the parents’ plans for the child, stability, any acts or omissions indicating the relationship between the parent and child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification and grant of the mother’s counterpetition.  At the time of the divorce, the trial court ordered the parties not to move from a specific area without a modification order or written agreement filed with the court.  Neither parent was given the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  Nonetheless, both parents moved outside of the geographical boundary after the divorce.

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In Texas custody cases, a court may only issue an order denying possession of a child or imposing restrictions or limitations on a parent’s right to possession to the extent necessary to protect the child’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.193. Thus, a court may only order that a parent’s visitation with a child be supervised if doing so is in the child’s best interest.

A father recently challenged a court’s denial of his request for supervised visitation and drug testing of the mother.

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iStock-483611874If a parent in a Texas child-support case is intentionally unemployed or underemployed resulting in an income significantly less than what they could earn, the court may calculate child support based on their earning potential. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.066(a).  The other parent has the burden of showing that the parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed.

A father recently challenged a trial court’s finding that he was intentionally unemployed or underemployed and the child-support obligation based upon that finding.

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iStock-848796670Generally, there must be a material and substantial change in circumstances to justify a modification of a Texas custody order. An appeals court recently considered whether a father judicially admitted the existence of a material and substantial change when he objected to the modification sought by the mother, but petitioned, in the alternative, for different modifications.

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