Texas parents often ask if a court has the power to change its earlier order for child custody. The court has this power, but it must be properly invoked. The state of Texas provides a number of do-it-yourself options for use by persons who do not want or cannot afford another attorney. However, the complexity many requests for the modification of a previous court order for child custody or child support will require an attorney’s assistance at some point.
A request for an amendment to a previous order for child custody must be started by filing a motion in the same court that granted the divorce, assuming that both parents still reside in the same county. If one or both has moved, a lawyer will be necessary to straighten out problems with jurisdiction. The person seeking the change – called the “petitioner” – must file a written request – called a “motion” – for action by the judge. The motion must specify the action that the petitioner wants the judge to take.
Supporting the motion with evidence
The petitioner bears the burden of proving that the motion for a changed order is warranted by “substantially changed circumstances.” Two essential grounds exist for establishing substantially changed circumstances:
- Three years have passed since the last support order in the case, and a new support order based on the state’s legislatively established guidelines would differ the last order by at least 20% or $100; or
- The life circumstances of the child, a conservator, either of the parents, or any other person who may be affected by the order have materially and substantially changed.
A petitioner can prove substantially changed circumvents by introducing evidence of one of the following:
- The income of the parent ordered to pay child support has either significantly increased or decreased, or
- The parent ordered to pay child support is legally responsible for additional children,
- The child’s medical insurance coverage has changed, or
- The child’s living arrangements have changed.
Other examples of changed circumstances may include a serious injury or illness suffered by the child.
Proof in such cases can be complex, and an experienced divorce attorney may be needed to present a persuasive case.