For over 20 years, Texas law has been clear: Moms and Dads are not allowed to modify their own child support orders without court approval.
Up until now, however, the cases have all dealt with situations where child-support payors have attempted to privately agree with the custodial parent to reduce or eliminate the child support owed.
In those situations, the law is clear that the court cannot enforce a private agreement, or rely on it to reduce the amount obligation.
Recently, a case was decided by the Texas Supreme Court with a distinctly different set of facts — the payor paid even more than he owed, he just didn’t pay it the way that the order directed him to.
The Texas Supreme Court noted that it has never said that courts cannot consider evidence of direct payments that are made in a manner that is different than what is ordered in the support order.
Now, in the case of Ochsner v. Ochsner, the Texas Supreme Court has determined that where the payor has made payments that satisfy an obligation incurred by the custodial parent, the court is permitted to consider direct payments when deciding whether the payor has met his or her obligation to pay support.
In Ochsner, the dad paid tuition to his child’s school. The mom had enrolled the child in the school and incurred the obligation. The dad not only paid everything he owed, but he also paid more than $20,000.00 more than he owed.
The mom sued him anyway, planning to not only keep the benefit of everything the dad had paid but get even more money.
The Texas Supreme Court, told the mom, “No.”
While this may be good news for some payers of child support, the court warned:
“Our decision today should be confined to the facts presented. It should not be read to hold that tuition payments always qualify as child support. Further, it should not be read to encourage spouses to make direct payments and thereby bypass the registry or other payment mechanisms set forth in the divorce decree. At a minimum such behavior may needlessly complicate proceedings. It carries risks regarding matters of proof, and under different circumstances a trial court might well be within its discretion in refusing to consider such payments.”