What many people don’t know is that within a Texas family law case the participants can agree to include a wide variety of things in their court orders. Among those orders can agree for one spouse or the other to pay for expenses such as private school tuition. Private school tuition can be at the center of a child custody or divorce case if your children have been accustomed to attending a certain school for many years and you and your Co-parent are serious about your child continuing at that school after the family law case has come to an end. As a result, you may want to include provisions within the court orders so that your child can attend that’s cool without interruption.

However, sometimes the circumstances involved in your case may change where it becomes difficult for you or your Co-parent to pay those tuition bills each month. When this happens the obvious question that parents like you may want to know is whether you two can change the court orders that mandate the payment of these tuition expenses each month. Or are you stuck having to pay private school tuition even if you can no longer afford to do so? This is a very relevant question to ask and is something that cuts to the core of your ability to provide not only for your child but for your household, as well.

In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss this topic. We will begin by discussing how to modify family court orders and the standards that a court would utilize if you attempted to do so. Next, we will share our thoughts on the specific subject of modifying to pay private school tuition. If you have any questions about the material that we share in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact our office today. We can arrange for one of our experienced family law attorneys to answer any questions that you might have and to provide you with information more specific to your circumstances. Free of charge consultations are available in person, over the phone, and via video.

Modifying a family court order

Life changes. Sometimes, life changes quickly. In those situations, you may find yourself asking to what extent the changes in your life main acetate or justify changing, amending, or modifying a prior family court order. You and your Co-parent may have done your best to negotiate through the issues of your family law case whenever your case was held. However, if your divorce case was from seven years ago it is probably fair to say a lot has changed in your life and that of your children during the seven years. In between the case and today’s date. The more children you have, the more influx your lifestyle is and that of your Co-parent the greater the likelihood that a significant change has occurred during that time.

What options do you have to change any court orders that no longer fit with your lifestyle? The first thing that you can do when you begin to identify a change in the circumstances of your family as the result of a family law case is to contact your Co-parent. This means that you were Co-parent should be made aware of your thoughts and your perceptions of any given situation regarding any kind of change of circumstances. You may find that your Co-parent agrees with you completely that a change has occurred and that the two of you need to work through some sort of modification between the two of you. 

On the other hand, after reaching out to your Co-parent, you may find out that he or she disagrees with you completely about the circumstances at hand. Their assessment may be that there is no significant change in circumstances that has occurred and that the court orders need to remain in place as they are. What can you do about those court orders depending upon the perspective of your Co-parent? Do you need to hold on for dear life and do the best you can with the orders as they are? Or can you still proceed and attempt to modify those court orders?

Informal modifications of family court orders

If you and your Co-parent agree that a change has occurred in your lives which necessitates updating the family court orders you all can choose to proceed accordingly. In some instances, it just makes sense for the two of you to take matters into your own hands and modify the court orders yourself. In a practical sense, this looks like you and your Co-parent getting together to work on an informal modification to the court orders. An informal modification to court orders is not something honored by a family court and is not legally do anything to the obligations either of you has under the prior order. What an informal modification does is create an understanding between the two of you where you can make changes as the circumstances merit.

Informal modifications to child custody or divorce court orders are risky. As I stated a moment ago modifying a court order does not have any legal significance unless you were to go through the family court. When you go through a family court to modify a court order any changes made can be signed off on by the family court judge and will create a whole new set of responsibilities that both you and your Co-parent must follow moving forward. This is as opposed to informally modifying a court order which does nothing but create a tentative agreement between you and your Co-parent to honor your word regarding a certain subject that may need to be changed under those court orders. 

Let’s take the example of private school tuition. Private school tuition can be something that the two of you had agreed to include in your court orders previously when you were in court for a divorce. If we assume that seven years have passed since the time that you went to court previously it may be that your child no longer wants to be in private school, the original school closed your child now attends a school across town, or you simply no longer have the income that allows you to pay for child school and pay child support as well as your bills. In this case, you may be facing significant financial hardships if you Continue to pay for private school tuition.

As I suggested a moment ago, it would make a lot of sense for you to go to your Co-parent and speak to him or her about the realities of your situation. Even if your Co-parent has not displayed much of a willingness to work with you on major issues like this you may be surprised to learn that he or she is more understanding if you simply tell him or her the truth. When you are upfront with someone and honest about the limitations that you have financially this is a much better wave 4 you two achieve a result that is fair for all parties involved. Do not beat around the bush or attempt to hide the reality in every situation from your Co-parent. That may result in a situation where your Co-parent is much less sympathetic in less willing to work with you.

if you all agree to no longer abide by the terms of your divorce decree which mandates that you pay your Co-parent private school tuition each month then that is something that you should be clear about. While this has no legal significance it could make a lot of sense for the two of you to put down your agreement in writing. If you are agreeing to put the private school tuition mandate on hold for one year, then you should be clear about that. If you agree to no longer require you to pay private school tuition at all then you should also be clear about that. The clearer you are about what’s your plan is the less likely either of you will be 2 have an issue with the other person when it comes to misunderstandings under the court order.

Once you and your Co-parent have discussed the issues surrounding the amending of the court order you can proceed as normal in your relationship. Remember that nothing will have changed under the court order and that you are still legally obligated to pay private school tuition. This is despite the informal agreement to stop those payments that were just made. Realistically, this means that if your Co-parent wants to go back on their word he or she may do so at any time. At which point you will still be obligated to pay the private school tuition. This is the risk that you encounter when agreeing to informal modifications of a prior court order. Your Co-parent may choose to change their mind and simply go against their word at any point in time. You would then continue to still owe the money contained in the order and any prior handshake agreements that the two of you made would no longer there be of importance for the two of you. 

Going to court to modify a court order

On the other hand, if the two of you cannot agree on a temporary or informal modification of your court order then the option would be for you to pursue a formal modification of the court order depending upon Whatever circumstances you all choose to bring before the judge. In Texas, a child custody or divorce court order can be amended or modified if the requesting party can prove that a material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred that justify the modification. Additionally, the family judge would need to determine that the proposed modification is in the best interest of your child.

A material and substantial change is a high bar to clear in terms of a family case. Judges are not overly eager in most cases to change the terms of a child custody order or divorce decree. As such, you need to be very sure about your chances for success when you proceed with a modification case. On top of all that the best interests of your child need to be furthered weird the modification goes into effect. Within the case itself, you and your Co-parent can present evidence to a judge during a hearing. That hearing allows the judge to consider the best interests of your child as well as the evidence. After the hearing, the judge would decide whether you as the petitioner met your burden as far as they request to modify the court orders. 

An experienced family law attorney can help you a great deal in a modification case. Walking into a modification case with no experience and no knowledge is a little like walking blind down the stairs. While you may be able to take your time and get down the stairs safely the greater likelihood is that someone falls or hurts themselves. With an attorney, you can sleep a little bit easier knowing that the lawyer can use their expertise and experience to help you avoid potential missteps that could harm both you and your children. A lot of times these sorts of modification cases are won and lost as a result of deficiencies and evidence. If you want to make sure that you submit your evidence correctly and argued the case to the best of your abilities, you must have an attorney.

What about private school tuition specifically?

As we have already discussed parents can agree to pay private school tuition because of a custody or divorce case. As a result of a child custody divorce case, you and your Co-parent cannot agree that child support could never be modified in the future. This means that you all cannot agree to a certain child support figure that will be always paid in the future. You all could gain new employment, lose a job, have a child graduate high school and no longer be eligible to receive child support or you could have a new baby with a different woman and therefore see the obligation to pay child support as being diminished.

And your family court judge would likely see child support and private school tuition is being one of the same. This is true even if the section detailing private school tuition payments is in a separate area than child support. These would still be funds used to pay for the monthly expenses of your child and are appropriately classified as child support. Pad you and your Co-parent intended to place educational issues like private school tuition beyond the trial courts reach by structuring the agreement to avoid classifying the tuition obligation like child support that agreement would be unenforceable. You could not contract your way out of a court being able to decide that is in the best interest of your children.

What this means is that you can modify and obligation to pay private school tuition because of a prior family law case. The obligation to pay support does not necessarily end just because you have lost your job. The court order would still be in place, and you will be obligated to follow it just as you always had. If you do lose your job and need to modify the court order it would make sense to do so formally through a family court judge. Minor aspects of court orders can be discussed with your Co-parent and modified informally for a short period. There is not a lot of downsides to doing so. 

On the other hand, when you’re talking about a large financial commitment like private school tuition it doesn’t make as much sense to simply trust your Co-parent that he or she will honor their word and not take you to court if you do not pay child support or private school tuition. Rather, it would make a lot of sense to talk to a family court judge about modifying the court order if you’re financial circumstances change over time. That way there is no misunderstanding between you and your Co-parent. Additionally, you do not want to place your child in a situation where he or she is caught in the middle of a dispute regarding their education.

Questions about the material presented in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.