Marriage to a person who has children from another relationship often involves making compromises to ensure the needs of both the previous and current families are met. If your spouse is responsible for paying child support, however, Texas' change in child support laws could cause you to be hit with a big bill when your husband or wife dies that may wipe out his or her entire estate. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself and your family.
About Senate Bill 617
In most states, parents' obligation to pay child support ends the day they die. That used to be the case in Texas prior to 2007. Before the law changed, the only time a custodial parent could put a claim on the deceased parent's estate for child support was if the person was in arrears at the time of his or her death. They could collect the balanced owed, but had no right to lay claim to any future payments. After all, the decedent wouldn't exactly be around to make them.
However, lawmakers in Texas became concerned about the reduction in income custodial parents suffer when child support is cut off in this manner. From this concern, Senate Bill 617 was born which made deceased non-custodial parents' estates responsible for continuing to pay child support in the form of lump sum payments for the remaining months due.
For example, if the non-custodial parent is required to pay support until the child is 18 and he or she dies when the child is 10, the person's estate would have to pay the remaining 96 months (8 years x 12 months) worth of support payments all at once. If the parent was paying $500 per month for one child, the custodial parent could submit a claim against the estate for $48,000.
What This Means for Surviving Family Members
The child support claim must be paid before the disbursement of money and assets to other parties but only after funeral expenses, secured claims (e.g. tax liens), and expenses related to the administration of the estate have been paid. This means that if the estate doesn't have enough cash to pay the support obligation, then any assets that may have been given to you or your children may be sold to pay the claim. The only exception to this confiscation is insurance policies that pay money directly to you or your kids. Policies that pay money to the decedent's estate may also be used to pay the child support bill.
One positive aspect of this bill is that the payments are calculated based on their current value. The courts generally will not make any adjustments to the monthly payment amount to account for inflation or increases in the cost of living.
Additionally, the courts will also consider other money and assets the custodial parent or child may receive when calculating the amount due. For instance, if the decedent had a $10,000 policy that named the custodial parent and/or the child as beneficiaries, the court will typically subtract that amount from the total due. If the custodial parent receives money in excess of the lump sum payment due, he or she will be required to return the excess amount to the estate.
Protecting Your Family
Possibly the best way to protect yourself and your family from being denied any inheritance you may receive if your spouse passes away is to take out a life insurance policy that covers the support balance due. The amount of the policy can be reduced each year as the obligation is paid.
If your spouse's death is expected (e.g. the result of a long illness) and you know the estate won't be able to pay the remaining child support, you may be able to petition the court to either reduce the monthly amount owed or eliminate it altogether based on financial hardship. It's best to consult with a family law attorney for more info and assistance with modifying an existing support order or for more information about handling post-mortem support obligations.
Going through a divorce? I know how you might feel – alone, stressed out, and probably even a little sad due to the loss of the life you have always known. Whether you have children or not, you might even feel a little guilty about the break down of your relationship. But I'm here to tell you that a divorce is not the end of the world. In fact, once you get used to the idea and start to move on with your life, you may find just as much, if not more, happiness than you ever had while you were married! Getting through the proceedings of your divorce in a dignified manner is the first step, and hopefully this website will give you the insight, support, and motivation you need to get through the process as painlessly as possible.