Texas Appeals Court Upholds Child Support Modification

Texas family law matters are often complex.  A father recently challenged a modification order changing his child support obligation after a lengthy and somewhat complicated litigation involving the child.

The mother petitioned for enforcement of child support and medical support in September 2022, asking the father be held in contempt and ordered to pay arrearages for child support and medical support, as well as attorney’s fees.

Enforcement and Modification Hearing

According to the appeals court, the parties and court treated the matter as a modification action as well as an enforcement action during the bench trial. The father had previously been ordered to pay $592 in child support and $92 in medical support monthly. It was established at trial that the mother had been receiving $834 in monthly Veterans Administration payments on behalf of the child since January 2021 because the father was a veteran.  The mother also testified the father received social security disability benefits and income from business ventures.  The father was not present, but was represented by counsel at trial.

In a memorandum ruling, the court found there had been a substantial change in circumstances that warranted a modification.  The court ordered the father to pay $834 in monthly child support, confirmed arrearages of $22,156.88 for child support and $3,043.82 for medical support, and ordered him to pay $200 per month toward the arrearages starting in November 2022.  The court also awarded the mother nearly $18,000 in attorneys fees.

The court signed an order according to the memorandum ruling and adopted the findings of fact and conclusions of law proposed by the mother.  The court made finding that the mother had moved, the father had not been actively involved with the child, and the needs of the child had changed. The court also found the father received more than $4,223.57 in monthly benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and had other business interests.  The court concluded applying the child support guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate and that the current amount of child support was in the child’s best interest.  The court further found that the father had not paid support or provided necessities to the mother on the child’s behalf before the suit was filed.

The father appealed.

Rule 8.02

The father argued the case should have been dismissed.  The memorandum ruling stated if an order was not presented for signature by November 18, 2022, the case would be dismissed.  The court did not sign its order until November 21.

The appeals court considered Rule 8.02 of the Dallas County Family District Court local rules. The rule provides that the court must enter an order of dismissal upon failure to furnish the court clerk or administrator with a judgment or order finally disposing of a case or request an extension. Rule 8.01 lists “failure to comply with Rule 8.02” as a reason for dismissal for want of prosecution.

The order stated it was “judicially PRONOUNCED AND RENDERED . . . on October 26, 2022 . . ., but signed on November 21, 2022.”

The appeals court pointed out the record did not show when the order had been presented to the court.  The October 26 ruling required an order by November 18, which fell on Friday.  The order was signed the following Monday. The appeals court noted nothing in the record indicated it had not been timely “presented.” The appeals court rejected the father’s argument that the order was untimely.

The father also argued the proposed order did not include the signatures of all of the attorneys. Pursuant to Rule 8.02, the court may not sign an order that does not have the signatures of all attorneys or proof of notice that the order was presented to all attorneys of record with an opportunity to object within ten days. The appeals court acknowledged that the order did not have all of the attorneys’ signatures, but pointed out that the rule provided for a notice alternative.  The father did not allege he had not received proof of notice.  The court also rejected the father’s argument regarding the absence of attorneys’ signatures.

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

The father also argued the trial court failed to make findings of fact and conclusions of law.  He had filed a request for findings and conclusions on October 27 and followed up with a reminder request on November 16.  The appeals court noted the court had issued findings of fact and conclusions of law on November 21.

Insufficient Evidence

Finally, the father argued there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of a material and substantial change in circumstances. He argued the court could not have made a determination there was a material and substantial change when he could not attend the trial.  The father was represented by counsel at the trial, but he was not present himself.  He also argued the court abused its discretion in not using the statutory guidelines for child support.

Generally, a court may only modify a child support order if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the prior order was rendered.  Tex. Fam. Code § 156.401(a)(1)(A). The court must compare the circumstances of the parents and the child at the time of the prior order with their circumstances at the time of the trial for modification.

The record showed there had been documentary evidence admitted at trial.  An appellant is required to request the reporter’s record, designating the requested exhibits.  Tex. R. App. P. 34.6(b)(1).  According to the appeals court, the husband requested the reporter’s record but had not requested the documentary exhibits.

When the evidence is not provided to the appeals court, there is a presumption that the omitted evidence is relevant and supports the order of the trial court. The appeals court therefore presumed the evidence supported a finding of a material and substantial change in circumstances.  The appeals court also declined to consider the fathers argument regarding application of child support guidelines because it could not make a determination without a complete record.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order.

Contact a Knowledgeable Family Law Attorney

The issues in this case were primarily procedural.  If you are involved in a custody or child support dispute, the experienced Texas child support attorneys at McClure Law Group can help you navigate the procedural requirements and fight for a positive outcome.  Contact our offices at 214.692.8200 to arrange a consultation.


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