In the months and years after a final divorce decree, it’s not uncommon in many Texas families for some changes to the parenting agreement to be needed. This is especially true when young children are involved, since modifications may become necessary as they age. Or take this as an example: If your income has been significantly reduced due to losing your job, you may want to have to pay less child support — at least until you get back on your feet.

Don’t make this mistake

When both you and your ex-spouse agree on the changes needed, it’s tempting to avoid the court system and simply make a handshake deal. But these kinds of informal modifications might have some serious consequences if things take another downturn. Modifications made informally to the divorce decree — i.e. are not officially stated in the court orders — do not legitimately change the rights and responsibilities of the parents.

So, if you cut back on paying child support and your ex later contests this, since the reduction is not stated in the court order, you would still be on the hook to have to pay the entire original amount, and you could possibly be held in contempt of court and sent to jail. This is also true for other modifications, including about visitation, paying for health insurance and other court orders concerning your children. Even if you and your ex write down your handshake changes, unless the document is approved by court, the modifications aren’t official.

The good news is that the court process doesn’t have to involve hearings and trials if both parents are on the same page about the modifications. The changes to the parenting agreement can be put in a court order, signed by both of you and shown to a judge for the court’s approval. However, if you don’t agree about the modifications, then the decision would have to go before a judge and possibly a jury to determine if the changes are necessary.

Help with the details

But no matter what the court process looks like, it’s probably a good idea to avoid the risks inherent in making informal divorce modifications. These issues are complex, and having an experienced attorney assist you through the changes can help protect your rights under Texas law.