In some Texas custody cases, parents may agree to a support order that differs from the child-support guidelines. A Texas appeals court recently considered what evidence was necessary to support a modification when the father’s income had increased significantly since the agreed order.
The trial court issued an agreed order in 2013 following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties. The parties agreed the father’s child support would be $1,000 per month, because he would pay all of the travel costs when the mother moved to Virginia (which she did shortly after the agreement).
In 2017, the mother sought an increase in child support by filing a modification suit. Since the original agreed order, the father’s income had increased dramatically. The trial court ordered an increased monthly payment, but the appeals court reversed the order and remanded for a new trial, finding insufficient evidence supporting the amount ordered.
New Trial Proceeds After Appeal
At the new trial, the father stipulated there was a material-and-substantial change because of his income increase. He argued, however, that the change did not warrant a modification.
The stepfather (the mother’s new husband) prepared expense spreadsheets and testified they included three-fifths of most of his and the mother’s household expenses, because “the children make up three-fifths of the household. . . “ Based on his calculations, the expenses attributable to the children were more than $13,000 per month.
The mother testified about the children’s needs, including cell phones, a vehicle, food, clothing, medical and dental care, entertainment, and extracurricular activities. She also wanted to hire tutors for the children, but had not discussed that with the father. She said she wanted the father to pay for cell phones for each child, a rental car when they traveled to meet with a coach, certain purchases, and part of the expenses related to pest control and the family dog. She also testified that she did not want to have to consult with the father regarding such purchases and expenses, but simply wanted him to pay for them.
The father testified his income increased from about $85,000 to $110,000 per year to over $100,000 per month. He testified the mother’s income had also increased about 150% to around $250,000 per year. The father testified he paid the travel expenses related to his time with the children and the children’s health insurance.
The father asked the court to keep his child support at $1,000 per month.
Trial Court Denies Requested Child-Support Modification
The trial court found the parents had entered an agreement in 2013 and that change in income was foreseeable. The court orally stated that it found no material change in circumstances, but did not subsequently include such a finding in its written findings of fact. The trial court denied the modification and ordered the father to pay $1,000 in monthly child support.
The mother appealed, arguing the father stipulated there was a material and substantial change and there was not sufficient evidence supporting the court’s finding.
In her appeal, the mother pointed to the court’s comment that there was not a material change in circumstances. An appeals court cannot, however, consider the court’s oral comments at the end of a trial as a substitute for written findings of fact and conclusions of law. None of the findings or conclusions was related to the issue of a material-and-substantial change. Neither party requested amended or additional findings or conclusions, resulting in a waiver of the right to complain about any omissions in the court’s findings or conclusions. The mother could not, therefore, complain about a lack of finding related to a material and substantial substantial change in circumstances.
The mother also argued that there was not legally and factually sufficient evidence supporting the trial court’s best-interest finding.
A court has discretion to modify the amount of child support if it finds there has been a material and substantial change. A court may not order child support in an amount greater than 100% of the child’s proven needs.
The mother argued that the father made more than $1 million per year and a reasonable person could not conclude that $1,000 per month for three children was in their best interests. The father argued the parties had an agreement and that he paid health insurance expenses, travel expenses, certain other expenses directly. He also argued the mother wanted him to pay the expenses without consulting with him regarding them.
Appeals Court Affirms Trial Court’s Ruling
In its findings, the trial court stated the 2013 agreement was the reason the child support varied from the guidelines. The court also found the father had continued to operate under that agreement and that revoking the agreement was not in the children’s best interest. The trial court found it was in the children’s best interest for the father to keep paying $1,000 monthly and maintain their health insurance. The reason the father paid less than the guideline amount had not changed; he continued to pay the travel costs.
The appeals court noted presented similar evidence to what she presented in the first trial. She basically asked for three-fifths of the household expenses. The appeals court pointed out that expenses are not the same thing as proven needs. The mother’s conclusory testimony that restated the spreadsheet’s contents was not sufficient to prove the children’s needs in support of increased child support. Both the trial court and appeals court noted many of the increased expenses were related to the changes in the mother’s lifestyle after her marriage.
The appeals court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the denial of the mother’s requested modification.
Call the Child-Support Attorneys at McClure Law Group Today
This case shows that an increase in income, even when significant, is not necessarily enough to justify a child-support increase. A request for an increase in child support should include clear evidence of the children’s proven needs. How that evidence is presented can also influence the court. If you are seeking a Texas child-support modification, the skilled Texas child-support attorneys at McClure Law Group have the experience and knowledge to help you present the best possible case. Call 214.692.8200 to set up your consultation.