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Modify  Child Support, Visitation

(Court Order)

Changing a Custody, Visitation, or Child Support Order

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Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support Order 

Note: The modification instructions are written for uncontested cases (agreed or default). If your case is contested, it’s best to hire a lawyer or apply for help from Texas Attorney General Child Support Division or from the appropriate authority in your home state.


Under Texas law, there are only limited circumstances in which a parent can modify a child custody or visitation order. Such a change will be made only if it is in the best interests of the child, and:

  • the child is at least 12 years old and has told the court in chambers that the child wants a change, or
  • the custodial parent has voluntarily given the child's care and custody to another person
  • the circumstances of the child or parent have materially and substantially changed since the original child custody order or agreement.

Material and Substantial Change

Texas family courts have recognized several situations that would qualify as a material and substantial change in the circumstances of a child or parent affected by a custody or visitation order. Examples include a parent's remarriage, a medical condition that adversely affects a parent's ability to function and work on a regular basis, a parent's criminal acts and convictions, or a parent's changes in a residence that make visitation a hardship for the other parent. 


Child's Preference

In any proceeding to determine parental rights, the court will interview children who are at least 12 years old, in chambers (the judge's private office, rather than in the courtroom). Younger children may also be interviewed.

An older child who expresses a desire to live with the other parent doesn't have the last word, however. Even if a child asks the court to modify a child custody or visitation order, the court may do so only if that change is in the child's best interests. 

Relinquishment of Custody

The court may also modify a custody order if the custodial parent has voluntarily given up the care and custody of the child to another person for at least six months. However, this provision doesn't apply if the custodial parent has only temporarily relinquished the care of the child during a period of military deployment, mobilization, or duty. 

Timing of the Motion

A parent who files a motion to modify a child custody order within one year after that order was made must also submit an affidavit to the court. The affidavit must include at least one of the following allegations, along with the facts that support the parent's contention:

  • that the child's current environment may endanger the child's physical health or significantly impair the child's emotional development
  • that the custodial parent is seeking the modification, and the modification would be in the child's best interests, or
  • that the custodial parent has voluntarily relinquished the custody and care of the child, and the modification would be in the child's best interests.

Getting Legal Help

Unless the other parent fully agrees with your request to modify a child custody or visitation order, you should seek help from an experienced Texas family lawyer. Often, these cases arise when the family's situation has changed considerably (for example, when a parent wants to move out of state with the child or a parent falls on hard times).


The outcome of the case could significantly affect your child's development -- and your right to remain close to your child -- for years to come. Given the high stakes, it makes sense to get some help to ensure the best possible outcome.


Ask a lawyer to help you determine if the Texas court that made your order still has jurisdiction to change your order.


When you purchase our "LegalShield Protection Plan," you get access to professional consultation, letters and phone calls, contract and document review, 24/7 emergency access, trial defense services, court representation, and other benefits.


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Frequently Asked Questions- FAQ'S

How do I change an existing custody, visitation, child support or medical support order?

You can ask a judge to change a custody, visitation, child support or medical support order by filing a modification case. 


Can a court order be changed without going to court?

No. Only a judge can change a court order.


Are there do-it-yourself forms I can use to file a modification case?

Yes. Get instructions and do-it-yourself modification forms here: IF YOU are attempting to change a custody, visitation, or support order. Ask a lawyer to help you determine if the Texas court that made your order still has jurisdiction to change your order. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can contact us toll-free at 817-745-4626 and pay an additional fee of $49.99 for one of our agents to search for a lawyer, legal office, or self-help center in your area. In addition, you may seek attorney assistance using our 'Pay as You Go," feature. Call for more details.


Who can file a modification case?

  • Either parent can file a modification case.
  • If you are not the child’s parent, you can file a modification case if:
  • You are listed as a party in the current order. - or -
  • You have had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least 6 months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the modification case with the court and you are not a foster parent. - or -
  • You have lived with the child and the child’s parent, guardian or conservator for at least 6 months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the modification case, and the child’s parent, guardian or conservator has died. - or -
  • You are the child’s grandparent, great-grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew and:
  • Both parents are dead. - or -
  • Both parents, the surviving parent or managing conservator agree. - or -
  • The child’s present circumstances will significantly harm the child’s physical health or emotional development.

Can I hire a lawyer just to give me advice?

Yes! You can hire a family law lawyer just to give you advice, review your forms, draft a document or help you prepare for a hearing. Zariah A'londra Legal Services has a program in which you pay as you go for the legal services you need from an attorney. You may then be able to handle the other parts of your case yourself. Hiring a lawyer for a limited purpose is called “limited scope representation.”


How much does it cost to file a modification case?

When you file a court case, you must usually pay a “filing fee.” If you need to have the other parent (or other conservators) served, you must also pay an “issuance fee” and a “service fee.” These fees vary by county. Contact the district clerk’s office in the county where you plan to file your case to learn the fees. If you don’t have enough money to pay the fees, you can ask a judge to waive the fees by completing and filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. These documents will be provided to you upon request and no additional cost.


How long does a modification case take?

That depends. If everyone agrees to the changes and is willing to sign the necessary forms, a modification case can be finished in a matter of days. If everyone does not agree, your case is contested. Contested modifications will take much longer.


Where do I file a modification case?

You must file a modification case in the Texas county where the current order was made. If the child has lived in another Texas county for the last 6 months, you must still file the modification case in the county where the current order was made. However, you have the option of asking the court to transfer the case to the child’s new home county. You must file a Motion to Transfer at the same time you file your Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. Talk to a lawyer about whether this makes sense for your case.


Will I use the same cause number in a modification case?

Yes. The modification case is filed using the same cause number as the current order. The cause number and court number should be at the top of the first page of the current order.


What if my order is from another state?

Ask a lawyer to help you determine if Texas has jurisdiction to change your out-of-state order. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can contact us toll-free at 877.440.0874 and pay an additional fee of $49.99 for one of our agents to search for a lawyer, legal office, or self-help center in your area. In addition, you may seek attorney assistance using our 'Pay as You Go," feature. Call for more details.


What if my order is from Texas but the child, the other parent, or I now live in another state?

Ask a lawyer to help you determine if the Texas court that made your order still has jurisdiction to change your order.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can contact us toll-free at 877.440.0874 and pay an additional fee of $49.99 for one of our agents to search for a lawyer, legal office or self-help center in your area. In addition, you may seek attorney assistance using our 'Pay as You Go," feature. Call for more details.


Who is the “petitioner” in a modification case?

The person asking for the current order to be changed is the “petitioner.” This is true even if that person is listed as a “respondent” in the existing order.


Who must be listed as a “respondent” in a modification case?

Anyone else listed as a party in the current order must be listed as a “respondent.”

If the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division is listed as a party in the current order you must also list it as a “respondent.”


What is the legal standard to change child support or medical support?

To change child support or medical support you must prove that:

  • The circumstances of the child, a conservator or other person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed. -or-
  • It has been at least three years since the last child support order, and a new support order, based on child support guidelines, would differ from the last support order by at least 20% or $100.

The legal standards for modifying child support changed effective September 1, 2018. See below and read Texas Family Code chapter 156.401. 


If, however, you and the other parent made an agreement about the amount of child support in the orders, then the legal standard might be different. If you and the other parent agreed to a current child support amount that is different than what the percentage guidelines in the Texas Family Code would have required, then you will not be able to modify the child support amount simply because it has been three years since the last orders were signed and the monthly child support obligation differs by 20% or $100 from the order. 


In this situation, you can only modify the child support order if you can show that the “circumstances of the child, a conservator or other person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed.”


The Family Code does not define “material and substantial change,” and proving this depends on the facts of each case. Usually, in order to determine if the circumstances have materially and substantially changed, the court will look at the circumstances at the time the agreement on child support was made and ordered and compare them to the circumstances at the time of the modification seeking to change that child support agreement.


Also, if your order is an order in a Title IV-D (Attorney General) case and does not include orders for medical support or dental support for the child, then a court may modify the orders without anyone having to show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the last orders were entered.


What are the “material and substantial change in circumstances” for changing child support or medical support?

  • Generally, this means that at least one of these things has happened:
  • The income of the parent ordered to pay child support has either increased or decreased, or
  • The parent ordered to pay child support is legally responsible for additional children, or
  • The child's medical insurance coverage has changed, or
  • The child's living arrangements have changed.


Warning: Do not file a frivolous modification suit. You can be assessed attorney’s fees if the court finds that the modification suit was filed frivolously or to harass the other side. See Texas Family Code chapter 156.005.


Are my new baby material and substantial change in circumstances to change child support?

If you are the person paying child support (the Obligor), your new baby is a material and substantial change in circumstances. The court may consider making a new child support order that takes into account your responsibility to support the new baby.


If you are the person receiving child support (the Obligee) and your new baby has the same father as your other children, the baby is a material and substantial change in circumstances. You’ll need to file a Paternity suit or Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) combined with a Suit to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. File the case about your new baby in the same cause number as the order about your other children. The Attorney General’s Office may be able to help you with this.


If you are the person receiving child support and your new baby has a different father, the baby is not a material and substantial change. You’ll need to ask for child support from your new baby’s father in a different case. The Attorney General’s Office may be able to help you with this.


What is guideline child support?

Texas law sets the following general guidelines for calculating child support. Child support based on these guidelines is called “guideline child support.”

1 child = 20% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources

2 children = 25% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources

3 children = 30% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources

4 children = 35% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources

5 children = 40% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources

6 or more children = not less than 40% of the non-custodial parent’s average monthly net resources: See Texas Family Code Section 154.125.


You can use the Texas Attorney General Child Support Calculator to calculate guideline child support. **Note**: Guideline child support is slightly different if the non-custodial parent has other children.


What if the existing order was not based on the child support guidelines?

If your agreed child support order differed from the guidelines at the time it was made, the court may change the order only if: 

  • you and your ex agree to the change, or
  • the court finds that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances.

What if it costs more for me to see the kids because they have moved?

The court may change your orders to divide the increased costs fairly. Usually, the court orders the person who moved to pay the extra expenses. The court must believe any changes to the orders are best for the children.


What if I find out that I’m not the child’s genetic father, can I stop paying child support?

Not unless the court orders that you can stop paying child support. You may have the option of asking the court to terminate the parent-child relationship between you and the child if you find out you’re not the genetic father and you meet certain other requirements. This would end your obligation to pay future child support, but not your obligation to pay child support you already owe.


What is the legal standard to change custody or visitation?

To change custody or visitation you must prove that the change is in your child’s best interest and that at least one of the following is true:

  • The circumstances of the child, a conservator or other person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed. or
  • The child is at least 12-years-old and tells the judge (in the judge’s chambers), who the child wants to live with. or
  • The person with primary custody has allowed someone else to have primary care and possession of the child for at least 6 months. (This does not apply if the person with primary custody is on active duty military deployment.)


Is family violence a material and substantial change in circumstances?

The law specifically says that a conviction or order of deferred adjudication for family violence is a material and substantial change in circumstances that will justify a modification of custody or visitation.


Family violence may also be a material and substantial change in circumstances even if the other parent has never been arrested or convicted. If family violence has occurred, you can ask a judge to make a new order for custody and/or visitation that protects the safety and well-being of you and your children.


If you need help, call one of the organizations listed below for more information:

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) - or -

Advocates for Victims of Crime (AVOICE) at 1-888-343-4414 - or -

Family Violence Legal Line at 1-800-374-HOPE (4673)


Is child abuse material and substantial change in circumstances?

The law specifically says that a conviction or order of deferred adjudication for an offense involving abuse of a child is a material and substantial change in circumstances that will justify a modification. Child abuse can also be a material and substantial change in circumstances even if the Respondent has never been arrested or convicted. If child abuse has occurred, you can ask a judge to make a new order for custody and/or visitation that protects the safety and well-being of your child.


If you need help, call one of the organizations listed below for more information:

National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453) - or -

Advocates for Victims of Crime (AVOICE) at 1-888-343-4414 - or -

Family Violence Legal Line at 1-800-374-HOPE (4673)


What else qualifies as a material and substantial change in circumstances?

The law does not specifically say what else qualifies as a “material and substantial change in circumstance.” However, there are many court decisions that talk about this.

An experienced family law lawyer can help you determine whether or not a judge is likely to find that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances in your particular situation. 


The lawyer can also help you determine what type of evidence you will need to prove your allegations. It’s possible to hire a lawyer just to give you legal advice, this is called limited scope representation. You can use the Legal Help Finder tool to search for a lawyer, free legal aid program, or self-help center in your area.


Can I ask that custody be changed within one year of the current order?

Unless you meet certain legal requirements, you must wait at least a year before going back to court to change the primary custody of a child. Learn more here: Child Custody Modification within a Year of Current Order.


What if the parent with primary custody is active in the military and is deployed?

  • Unless the parents (and anyone else named as a conservator) agree, the court can’t permanently change custody just because a military parent has been deployed. However, either parent can ask the court for temporary orders that temporarily change custody during the deployment.
  • In this case, the court’s first choice for temporary custody must be the other parent. If living with the other parent would not be in the child’s best interest, the court’s second choice must be a person designated by the military parent. The court’s third choice would be a person chosen by the court.
  • The court may also make temporary changes to child support and visitation. For example, the court may temporarily change who pays child support. Or the military parent may ask the court to allow a designated person, such as a grandparent or step-parent, to visit the child while the military parent is deployed.
  • When the military deployment ends, the temporary orders end. Custody returns to the military parent and the original child support and visitation orders resume.


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This website only contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Zariah A'londra Tax and Legal Services is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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