When a court determines the amount of Texas child support a parent is obligated to pay, it must consider that parent’s net resources.  The statute sets forth certain items to be included in the parent’s net resources and other items that are not to be included.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062.  An appeals court recently had to determine if a trial court could consider an item that is not specifically included in the statute.

The divorce decree required the father to pay child support, provide health insurance, and reimburse the mother for 50% of non-covered health-care expenses.

Mother Moves for Modification

The mother subsequently moved to modify the decree to change the father’s possession and access and to increase his child-support obligation.  She also moved to enforce the decree, claiming the father failed to reimburse her for health-care expenses.

The mother obtained tax documents that reflected retirement assets that were not disclosed or divided in the divorce.  She asked the trial court to find the father had committed a fraud on the community and divide those assets.

Following a trial, the court increased the father’s child support, awarded the mother attorney’s fees to be paid as child support, and granted a judgment to the mother after finding the father falsely represented his assets and failed to disclose the retirement assets. The father appealed.

Father Presents His Case on Appeal

On appeal, the father argued the court should not have considered insurance premiums paid by his employer as part of his net resources when calculating his child-support obligation.  The mother had submitted a proposed calculation for child support that included insurance premiums paid by the father’s employer in his net resources. The father argued that the employer-paid premiums could not be considered as net resources under the Texas Family Code. The trial court overruled his objection and used the mother’s proposal for its judgment.

The appeals court considered the statutory text of Tex. Fam. Code § 154.062(b) and found it did not include a provision for employer-paid insurance premiums.  The appeals court noted the omission was “significant” because the Legislature addressed similar resources.  The same subsection requires the court to deduct expenses for the children’s health insurance from the parent’s net resources.  Another statute provides that the court may consider “other benefits furnished by [the parent’s] employer” in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines.  Tex. Fam. Code § 154.123(b)(10).

Appeals Court Finds Error in Trial Court’s Net-Resources Calculation

The appeals court found the omission of employer-paid insurance premiums was deliberate and the premiums should therefore not be included in the father’s net resources.

The mother argued the premiums were “compensation” under the statute, but the appeals court rejected that argument.  The appeals court found the trial court erred in including the premiums in the father’s net resources.  The judgment stated the calculation was in accordance with the guidelines so the appeals court found the error likely resulted in an improper judgment.

The appeals court did not find an abuse of discretion in the order for the father to pay the mother’s attorney’s fees as additional child support.

The appeals court also rejected the father’s argument that the mother had failed to show he made a false representation of material fact to support her fraud claim.  The trial court had found he committed fraud by non-disclosure in addition to making a false statement. The appeals court noted he would have to successfully challenge both theories. For the non-disclosure theory, he only argued that there was no evidence of the amount of the distribution that accrued before the mediated settlement agreement.  Tax documents indicated he had not made retirement contributions the year of the divorce or the following year. The appeals court found this evidence supported a reasonable inference that the entire balance accrued before the divorce.  The inference then supported the finding the father had committed fraud by non-disclosure.

The appeals court reversed the child support obligation and remanded to the trial court, but affirmed the rest of the judgment.

Child-Support Calculations are Often Difficult and Have Tangible Consequences; Call McClure Law Group Today

As this case shows, the inclusion of improper items in the child support calculation can result in an incorrect support obligation.  If you are involved in a child support dispute, you need an experienced Texas child support attorney working for you. Call 214.692.8200 to schedule your consultation with McClure Law Group.