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Child Support and COVID-19

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This article, written by TexasLawHelp, explains child support during the COVID-19 crisis.

Am I still responsible for making child support payments even if I lost my job due to the coronavirus crisis?

Yes, you are still responsible for making such payments. According to the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division, “Even if you are having trouble making your full payment, it is important to pay as much as you can toward your obligation every month.”

 

If I owe child support, could this impact the amount of any federal stimulus rebate check for which I am eligible under the CARES Act?

Yes, it could. Talk to a lawyer about how the very recently passed federal CARES Act may apply to your situation with regards to child support arrears or delinquency and the federal stimulus check for which some households are eligible.  Also, for additional information, see Your Child Sup­port And The Fed­er­al Stim­u­lus Payment at the web site of the Office of the Attorney General of Texas.

 

If in-person child support negotiations and court hearings are not being held due to the coronavirus crisis, does this mean such negotiations and court hearings will not be held until after the crisis ends?

No, not necessarily. It is possible that such negotiations or court hearings will now be held by telephone or video conference. The website of the Child Support Division of the Attorney General says “For customers who had in office negotiation or court hearing scheduled we will be contacting you soon to schedule a virtual negotiation.”

You can ask for a virtual negotiation. If you log on to your child support account, there should be a link where you can request a virtual negotiation. Visit Child Support and COVID-19 to learn more. You can also chat with Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division customer support service specialists if you log on to your child support account and click the chat icon for help.

If the case goes to court, it may be done by videoconference. See Virtual Court.

Can I try to modify the amount of child support I have to pay if I lose my job due to the coronavirus crisis?

Yes. You can file a petition to modify the parent-child relationship. See Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support Order. You will find instructions and do-it-yourself forms there. The Harris County Law Library also offers a Guide to Family Law Research that you can use to help you in researching whether you can modify the amount of your child support obligation, in addition to the forms and instructions on our TexasLawHelp.org website.

 

How much does it cost to file a modification case?

When you file a court case, you must usually pay a “filing fee.” If you need to have the other party served (they will not agree to sign a waiver of service), you must also pay an “issuance of citation fee” and a “service fee.” These fees vary by county. Contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you plan to file your case to learn the fees. If you do not have enough money to pay the fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees by completing and filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs at the time you file your petition to modify. Read this short article to learn more: Court Fees and Fee Waivers.

 

Can a court order regarding child support be changed without going to court?

No, only a judge can change a court order. You can see if you can reach an agreement with the other party about reducing your child support obligation. If you can, then you can file an Agreed Petition to Modify and submit an Agreed Order Modifying Child Support for the Judge to sign at an uncontested hearing. See (Modification) I need to change a custody, visitation, or support order. This could be a wise course of action given that you might only get a contested hearing before the court at this time if you can show that your situation is an emergency as many courts are not hearing nonemergency matters during the coronavirus crisis.

 

How long does a modification case take? I need to modify my orders right now because of COVID.

That depends. If everyone agrees to the changes and is willing to sign the necessary documents, then a modification case can be finished in a matter of days.

If everyone does not agree, your case is contested and could take much longer. As mentioned in the answer to the immediately preceding question, this is particularly the case during the coronavirus crisis where many courts are only hearing emergency matters.

Some courts may not be hearing modification cases during the coronavirus crisis, so you should talk to a lawyer who practices in the county where the legal matter is.

 

Can I stop following the existing order as soon as I file a modification case?

No. You must follow the existing order until a new order is signed by the judge. Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about this.

 

Do I need to hire a lawyer to modify my support obligation?

You do not have to have a lawyer to file such a modification case, but it is recommended to hire a lawyer if possible, particularly if the other side is going to have a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you in court, at least talk to a lawyer about your situation before filing your case.

Before having such a conversation, however, it could be helpful to read about limited scope representation. Hiring a lawyer under limited scope representation could save you some attorney fees. It could also provide guidance on hiring a lawyer for limited purposes such as giving you advice, reviewing your forms, helping you prepare for a hearing, etc.