The omnipresent element in SAPCR cases is the child support calculation. Change is coming September 1, 2013. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has fulfilled its obligation (set 6 long years ago when the statutory guidelines net resource 'cap' increased to $7,500) by determining that the percentage change in the last six years CPI will increase the net resources 'cap' to $8,550.
For child support calculations, attorneys' and courts' utilized buzz words are:
1) net resources — the income numbers of the obligors (TEX. FAM. CODE § 154.062);
2) guideline percentages — depends on the number of children (§ 154.129);
3) application of guideline percentage to net resources (§ 154,125); and
4) any additional factors the court may consider which may increase or decrease the ultimate child support amount (§ 154.123.)
These 'cap' guideline child support numbers have increased slowly over the years. Prior to 1993, support for one child was 20 percent of $4,000 or $800 per month. Until 2007, the 'cap' net resource amount was $6,000 equaling $1,200 child support. Then the max number increased in 2007 to $7,500 creating a 'cap' child support of $1,500. The new presumptive 'cap' guideline support is 20 percent of $8,550 or $1,710 per month for one child.
The statute clearly applies the percentage to the obligor's net resources up to $8,550. Then the court may order additional child support as the court deems appropriate. At that juncture, the total proven needs of the children are considered and subtracted from the guideline support. Any additional needs shall then be allocated in consideration of the parties' income and additional proven needs of the children.
When the presumed net resource 'cap' was increased to $7,500 in 2007 via statute, the increase only applied to a SAPCR filed on or after September 1, 2007. The 2013 increase, also via the 2007 statute, only identifies that it is "to take effect beginning September 1 of the year of the adjustment." An argument could be advanced that it only applies to SAPCRs filed after September 1, 2013. I offer another rationale to make it applicable immediately to pending cases.
We recall law school and the prohibition against ex post facto laws and one could argue that this is the case. But I think that is in error. Recall that the prohibition against ex post facto laws is a greater or higher punishment for conduct imposed after that conduct was completed. Any change in the laws regarding procedural issues (i.e. extension of a statute of limitation or method of calculating child support) is not an ex post facto application.
One could argue on behalf of the obligor that child support is a punishment. But of course it is not. The child support calculations procedures have stayed the same. The courts continue their ability to order above or below guidelines support. Only the presumptive maximum net resource number has increased — equating to $210 increase for a single child per month.
If you are arguing on behalf of an obligee, then urge that the child support should automatically go up starting September 1, 2013. If your client is getting guideline support on the $7,500 on a current case, why is it unfair to the obligor for an increase? The "child's best interest" supports an increase of $210.
On a practical level, we lawyers generally ask the legal assistants to initially calculate child support on our client's behalf. I rely on my legal assistants to inform clients of the necessary steps to set up account and transfers via the SDU. Nonetheless, a brief reminder for all is advisable pursuant to the new rules within this article. (Always inform your client of the OAG's address and phone number. Their child support website is https://childsupport.oag.state.tx.us.) In the letter to your client, tell them their registration will be matched with the information from the OAG once it is entered by the OAG. If your client is 'Johnnie on the Spot,' that information will not be recognized until the OAG inputs the data. Remind your client that it could be days or weeks after entry of the order. At this juncture, you are safely protected with your client that you have done all you can to start the OAG working their magic.
The Wage Withholding Order entered by the court via the clerk's office is transmitted to the OAG which then enters it into the SDU system. The larger counties have dedicated staff to continuously input the data, and the smaller counties put it on their to-do list and implement it in groupings. Although I have regularly been pleased with the efficiency of both the clerk's office as well as the local Attorney General's offices, my inclination is that it is easier to protect your client by adding another letter of instructions.
I recommend you obtain another copy of the Wage Withholding Order as well as the final order containing the child support language (e.g. Divorce Decree) and forward them both to the OAG in San Antonio. Within the cover letter, indicate the parties' identification information; point out the pages of the order on which the child support is indicated; and identify any unique aspects such as when the child support begins or if there is an automatic increase or step-down that is unique to your case.
Maximizing support child amounts and ensuring the OAG bureaucracy does what it can for your client's smooth transition of paying or receiving child support will go a long way with the client having a nice memory of the last interaction with your office.