Changing a Child Support Order
Child Support & Medical Support
Here, learn about changing an order for child support or medical support in Texas. Find out what counts as changed circumstances. Find out how to calculate child support based on the guidelines and what to do if you cannot pay. For general information about changing an order, see Changing a Custody, Visitation, or Child Support Order. For information about legal standards for child custody and visitation, see Changing a Custody or Visitation Order.
What is the legal standard to change child support or medical support?
The person who must pay child support (the “obligor”) can ask the court to reduce the amount they must pay. The person who receives support payments (the “obligee”) can also ask the court to increase the amount. Texas allows a court to change child support or medical support in two situations.
Change in Circumstances
A court can change the amount of child support based on a “material and substantial change” in circumstances for the child, a parent, or someone else who is part of the court order. The person asking to change the child support amount must show this change in circumstances.
State law does not define “material and substantial change.” It depends on the facts of each individual case. A section of this page further below discusses material and substantial changes in more detail.
A change in the amount of child support is often possible based on economic factors. The Texas child support guidelines provide a fairly easy way to calculate how much someone should pay per month. A court can change child support in the following situation:
The existing child support order is at least three years old.
The amount that the obligor would have to pay under a new order based on the guidelines would differ from the current amount by at least 20% or $100.
For example, suppose an obligor must pay $400 per month under the current order. The amount followed the child support guidelines at the time the court made the order. After three years, though, the obligor’s income has gone up enough that the guideline amount would be $500. The court could change the child support amount based on this. It could also change the amount if the obligor’s income has decreased a certain amount.
This method of changing child support is not available to everyone. If two parents agreed on a child support amount that is different from what the guidelines say, they cannot change the amount based on the three-year rule. They will have to show that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred.
What is a “material and substantial change in circumstances”?
Texas law does not define “material and substantial change in circumstances.” Courts determine whether something is material and substantial in the context of the individual case. A change in circumstances will probably meet the legal standard if at least one of the following events has happened:
- The obligor’s income has increased or decreased.
- The obligor is responsible for a new child or children.
- The child’s medical insurance coverage or medical needs have changed.
- The child’s living situation has changed.
- The obligor is incarcerated.
The obligor’s income has increased or decreased.
A decrease in the obligor’s salary could lead to a motion to reduce the amount of child support. If their pay increases, the obligee could seek to increase the amount of support.
The obligor is responsible for a new child or children.
A common scenario in a motion to modify involves an obligor who has a child with a new partner. It is a material and substantial change in circumstances because it affects the amount of child support they must pay according to the guidelines.
The child’s medical insurance coverage or medical needs have changed.
Medical issues are also a common reason for changes in child support and medical support. The loss of insurance coverage could make it necessary to change the order. If the child develops an illness or suffers an injury, they might need more support.
The child’s living situation has changed.
A court might be willing to lower the child support amount if the obligee moves away with the child. If it costs more for the obligor to see the kids because of the move, a court will not expect the obligor to bear that entire cost. The situation could be different, however, if the obligor caused the increased expense by moving further away. In that case, a court might conclude that the extra expense is the obligor’s responsibility.
The obligor is incarcerated.
A new amendment to the Texas Family Code that affects obligors who go to jail or prison took effect in September 2021. It is a material and substantial change in circumstances if an obligor is incarcerated for at least 180 days. The obligor can have their child support obligation reduced or suspended in that situation. Their release from jail or prison, however, is also a material and substantial change that can result in resumed payments.
What is guideline child support?
The child support guidelines provide an easy way to determine how much a person should pay in child support. The amount of support depends on three factors:
The number of children who are part of the child support order;
The number of other children whom the obligor must support; and
The obligor’s net monthly resources.
“Net resources” include wages, salary, and various other forms of income. The “net” comes from deducting taxes and certain other expenses. You can use the Texas Attorney General Child Support Calculator to calculate support based on the guidelines.
The guidelines set child support at a percentage of net resources based on the number of children:
1 child: 20%
2 children: 25%
3 children: 30%
4 children: 35%
5 children: 40%
6 or more children: At least 40%
The guidelines go down by 5% for obligors whose monthly net resources are no greater than $1,000. An obligor can receive a reduction in the amount they must pay if they have a legal duty to support additional children.
See also Child Support and Lower Incomes.
What if the existing order was not based on the child support guidelines?
Parents can agree on a child support amount that is different from the guideline amount. A judge will approve an agreement as long as it is in a child’s best interests. The agreement will affect the parents’ ability to change the amount of child support later.
As discussed above, a court can modify child support every three years if the amount of guideline support is significantly different from the guideline amount. The court cannot do this, though, if the parents did not base the child support amount on the guidelines. In that case, they have two ways of changing the amount:
By agreement; or
Based on a material and substantial change in circumstances.
Can I stop paying child support if I learn I’m not the child’s genetic father?
No. You must follow the court’s order until a judge signs a new order. You might be able to ask the court to terminate the parent-child relationship, which would get rid of your obligation to pay child support. It would not, however, eliminate child support payments that you already owe.
I need to change a custody, visitation, or support order (Modification).
Child Custody & Visitation
I need to respond to a modification case.
Child Custody & Visitation
Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support OrderThis article answers frequently asked questions about changing an existing custody, visitation, child support, medical support, or dental support o...
Requirements for Changing a Texas Custody or Visitation OrderThis article addresses the specific requirements for changing an order for child custody or visitation.
Material and Substantial Changes in Circumstances for Custody Modification SuitsThis article discusses material and substantial changes in custody modifications suits.
Low-Income Child Support Guidelines Handout
KIT: Agreed Modification Instructions & Forms (for modification suits filed before Sept. 1, 2018)