Texas Court Denies Child-Support Modification upon Finding of Underemployment

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.

The husband testified he earned $102,648 annually at the time of the divorce, but had since changed jobs multiple times.  Until 2019, his salary ranged from $108,000 to $202,000.  He had lost his job as a human resources director in October 2019 and took a new position paying just $42,000 in base salary after a period of unemployment.

Trial Court Denies Both Requests – Father Appeals

The trial court denied both parties’ requested modifications, finding, in relevant part, that the father had not proven there had been a material and substantial change in circumstances since the prior order.  The court also found he was intentionally underemployed and that he had sufficient assets to pay the child support. The court further found the father had not shown a reduction was in the children’s best interest and that it was actually in their best interest for him to continue paying $1,600 per month.

The father appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in finding he had not proven a material and substantial change in circumstances to support the modification. He argued the evidence showed his salary had significantly decreased and the current support obligation exceeded 50% of his net resources.

Appellate Court Upholds Finding of Intentional Underemployment

The appeals court found there was sufficient evidence to support the denial of the father’s request for modification.  The evidence of the father’s education showed he had a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and half the credits needed for a doctorate.  He had been employed in a senior role in human resources from 2014-2019 and had earned between $108,000 and $202,000 during that time. After termination from his human-resources-director position in 2019 and several months of unemployment, he took a position with Charles Schwab with a $42,000 salary in April 2020. His start date for that job was not until August, but he testified that he did not look for other jobs during that period.  He also stated he considered that position to have potential for promotion and “growth.” The appeals court found this evidence supported the trial court’s finding the husband was intentionally underemployed.

There was evidence the mother averaged $516 per month for after-school care expenses during the school year, $448 per month for summer camps during the summer, $500 per month for extra-curricular activities, and $352 per month for tutoring.  She testified she would not be able to continue paying for these expenses in addition to the children’s basic needs with a reduction in child support.  The appeals court found this evidence was sufficient to support the court’s finding a reduction was not in the children’s best interest.

The appeals court found it was reasonable for the trial court to conclude the father had not met the burden of showing a material and substantial change in circumstances in light of the evidence. Finding the trial court had not erred in finding a modification was not warranted, the appeals court affirmed the order.

Are You Seeking a Reduction in Child Support? Call McClure Law Group Today

The issue of child support modification can be very fact-specific.  Whether you are seeking or opposing a modification, you need an experienced Texas child support modification attorney working on your behalf.  Schedule your consultation with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.

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