The Changed Circumstances Standard
When a court renders a final judgment of divorce at the end of legal proceedings, it also issues specific orders regarding the rights and responsibilities of the parties concerning issues like spousal maintenance, property division, conservatorship, and child support.
Generally, these orders govern the specific duties and obligations of the parties regarding those issues. Many of these orders may be in effect for years after the conclusion of the divorce. For example, a child support order is typically in effect from the time the party gets divorced until the minor child reaches the age of 18.
Courts consider the specific circumstances attendant to each case when crafting such orders. However, if the circumstances relevant to an order materially and substantially changed after a divorce is finalized, the terms and conditions of the order may be modified.
Generally, the party seeking a modification of a divorce order has the burden of proving that a substantial change in circumstances justifies changing the terms of the order after the divorce. In particular, the court issues orders concerning things like child conservatorship and child support after accounting for the specific circumstances of each case.
Child Custody (Conservatorship) & Support
When the parents of a minor child get divorced, they must decide how to allocate their respective rights and responsibilities regarding the care, control, and possession of their child. Under Texas law, courts must resolve suits affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) according to the child’s best interests.
Ultimately, determining what arrangement for child conservatorship upon divorce is in the child’s best interest requires courts to take several factors into consideration.
The Texas Family Code recognizes many factors regarding issues about what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests, including:
- The child’s desires
- The child’s emotional and physical needs
- Risks to the child’s physical and emotional safety
- The parties’ parenting abilities
- Programs to assist the parties in advancing their child’s best interests
- Each party’s plans for custody
- The stability of the home
- The party’s conduct
A parent who wants to change the terms of a SAPCR order is tasked with convincing the court that the circumstances pertinent to such an order have substantially and materially changed since being issued.
For example, if a Texas court crafted an order regarding the parents’ conservatorship rights and responsibilities under the assumption that their child’s physical health continued to be normal, a parent could modify the order’s terms in light of the child subsequently suffering a permanently disabling injury. The child would likely require additional medical care and attention due to their recent disability, necessitating an increase in the overall amount of child support needed to cover the cost of such care.
The changed circumstances standard also applies to modifying child conservatorship orders. The rationale for this is that the court that issued the initial conservatorship order already determined what arrangement would be in the child’s best interests. A subsequent change in circumstances can reshape the child’s interests, compelling a court to refashion its original order given the child’s current interests.
Spousal Maintenance Order
Generally, Texas law does not recognize a legal basis for what other states call “spousal support” or “alimony” on an indefinite basis. Instead, the law recognizes a spouse’s temporary obligation to support their former spouse in specific situations financially. The terms of a spousal maintenance order specify the amount and duration of the support obligation.
Texas Family Code § 8.052 governs how the court determines the terms of a spousal maintenance order, requiring courts to consider several factors. Like modifying child conservatorship, the changed circumstances principle similarly applies in modification cases.
Texas Family Code § 8.057(c) states that “the court may modify an original or modified order or portion of a decree providing for maintenance on a proper showing of a material and substantial change in circumstances.”
The part seeking modification offers evidence of changed circumstances regarding factors such as:
- “each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs independently, considering that spouse’s financial resources on dissolution of the marriage;
- the education and employment skills of the spouses, the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the spouse seeking maintenance to earn sufficient income, and the availability and feasibility of that education or training;
- the effect on each spouse’s ability to provide for that spouse’s minimum reasonable needs while providing periodic child support payments or maintenance, if applicable;”
When confronted with a request to modify maintenance, Texas courts have the power to make the following changes, among others:
- Deny the request due to a lack of evidence showing a material and substantial change in circumstances
- Reduce the maintenance order
- Terminate the order altogether
Seeking Family Law Advice? O’Neil Wysocki P.C. Is at Your Service
Texas Family Law is comprised of a set of rules of procedures unique to other state family law policies. For in-depth legal advice and effective legal representation in legal disputes, including the modification of divorce orders, we at O’Neil Wysocki P.C. are posed to serve as your trusty advocate. You can benefit from the professional legal counsel our legal team offers for family law cases.
For an initial consultation about your legal options, please call O’Neil Wysocki P.C. at (972) 852-8000 or contact our office online today.