Texas Court Denies Decrease in Child Support After Mother’s Remarriage

It can be difficult to modify a child support order to decrease the child support obligation.  A father recently appealed the denial of his request for a decrease in his above-guideline child support obligation without step-downs.  Generally, a child support order for multiple children will provide for a decrease in the child support obligation as support ends for each child. In this case, however, the parties signed an agreement for additional child support.

Original Order

The children were 17, 15, and 12 when the parents divorced in 2019.  The parents were named joint managing conservators.  The father’s gross yearly income was about $500,000. Pursuant to the decree, he was required to pay the mother $4,000 per month until all of the children graduated high school or were emancipated.  He was also required to pay all of their uninsured medical, vision, and dental expenses until they reached the applicable deductible, and half after the deductible was met.  The parties signed a separate “Agreement Regarding Additional Agreed-Upon Child Support” that required the father to pay an additional $2,000 per month if his gross income was more than $500,000 in a calendar year.  Neither the decree nor the agreement had any provisions for step-downs.

The father testified he agreed to the extra provisions so the children and mother could stay in the area and in their current schools.  The mother claimed she would not be able to stay in central Austin without the above-guideline support and the children would be required to go to different schools.

After the sale of the family home, the mother and children moved into a rental home.  Her housing and living expenses were more than $6,540, without including medical, clothing, food, or entertainment.

Modification Petition

The mother remarried in July 2020 and moved to a different neighborhood.  After the marriage, she was no longer responsible for housing and certain other living expenses.  Before the marriage, she and her new husband entered into a marital property agreement, each agreeing to be responsible for the expenses for their own children.  She testified her new husband point $15,000 per month in a joint account for her to use for any “household expenses,” but not for the children’s expenses.  The mother also received $2,177 each month from investments.

The father petitioned to reduce the child support to the guideline amount, including statutory step-downs.  He argued there had been a material and substantial change in the mother’s financial situation.  He also argued that reduction would be in the children’s best interest because he could use the money to fund their education.

Following a bench trial, the trial court found there was insufficient evidence of a material or substantial change, the new husband’s resources could not be factored into a determination for modification, and a child support modification was not in the children’s best interest.  The court denied the modification and the father appealed.

The Father’s Appeal

The appeals court noted the father needed to show that there was a material and substantial change in circumstances and that the modification would be in the children’s best interest.

The father argued there was undisputed evidence the mother had been single and unemployed at the time of the decree, with more than $6,450 in monthly living expenses.  He further argued she had since remarried and was not responsible for housing or living expenses.

Child support up to the guideline amount is based only on the obligor’s net resources.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.125.  Support above the guidelines, however, requires a showing that the children have excess support needs. Tex. Fam. Code § 154.126.

The appeals court did not consider the father’s argument regarding a material and substantial change in circumstances because it found the issue of whether the modification was in the children’s best interest to be dispositive.

The mother argued the father had not challenged the finding that the modification and child-support step-downs would not be in the best interest of the children.  The father had argued that a finding that modification is in the children’s best interest is not a required element for a child support modification.  Although there is not any requirement for a finding of best interest in Tex. Fam. Code § 156.401, the appeals court rejected this position, noting that a trial court must always consider the children’s best interest in modifying child support, based on previous case law.  The appeals court then considered whether there was any evidence supporting the finding of the trial court or if the opposite finding was established as a matter of law.

The appeals court concluded the father had not presented evidence that a decrease in child support or step-down provisions would be in the best interest of the children.  He testified that decreasing the obligation would let him add extra funds to use for the children’s college, but he did not cite any case law supporting a decreased child support obligation for that reason.

The appeals court noted that decreases have been affirmed in circumstances where the obligor had other financial obligations and the children’s needs had decreased or stayed the same, citing cases where the father would be accumulating debt and where the father’s resources had decreased and he had incurred significant expenses to travel to see the children.

In this case, the father’s resources had not changed and he did not have financial difficulties.  There was no evidence the children’s needs had decreased or that the father had incurred expenses to visit them.  There was evidence that the funds the mother received from the new husband each month were reserved to be spent on the mother and the household.  The mother presented evidence of her own monthly expenses that were separate from the children’s.  She presented evidence that the children’s monthly expenses were around $11,000 each month, including clothes, food, childcare, extracurricular activities, and tutoring and college preparation courses.  The father did not present any contradictory evidence regarding the amount of their expenses.  There was no evidence that the funds the new husband deposited in the joint account were used toward the children’s expenses.  The mother had entered a premarital agreement that each spouse would be responsible for their own children’s expenses.  The trial court may have found that, although those funds could have incidentally benefited the children, it was not income the mother could rely on to support the children in lieu of child support. The appeals court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its best interest finding and did not err in denying the request for modification.

Call an Experienced Texas Child Support Modification Attorney

This case shows that remarriage may not be sufficient to support a decrease in child support.  It is therefore important to consider what may occur in the future when agreeing to child support in excess of the guideline amount.  Whether you are facing a divorce or a potential modification of child support, an experienced Dallas child support lawyer can help.  Set up a consultation with McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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