Child support is a legal, financial obligation that is clearly outlined by Texas courts. But it’s not uncommon for noncustodial parents to make late payments or completely neglect their child support altogether.
If you’re a custodial parent whose ex-partner isn’t providing support for your child:
- It can be frustrating.
- Put stress on your entire life.
- Impact your ability to provide for your children financially.
It’s important to note the end of a relationship, either through divorce or separation, does not end a parent’s responsibility to provide financial support to their child. If you’re in a situation where an ex-partner isn’t making child support payments, we can help.
Today, we will outline some of the ways the law is set up to help custodial parents receive child support payments.
The very first step is to make sure you have a valid and enforceable child support order in effect. In the context of a divorce, child support will most commonly be established as part of the temporary orders following the filing of the divorce petition.
Child support is also ordered, if appropriate, in the final Divorce Decree. If the parties were never married, then a child support order can be established either by going through the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) or through a private Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) lawsuit.
It’s Important to Note
When a parent fails to make child custody payments, they can face serious repercussions, such as paying attorneys’ fees for enforcing the order and even spending time in jail until the obligations are paid in full.
Other repercussions on non-paying parents include:
- Having their federal tax refunds garnished
- Being unable to renew a passport,
- Suspending their driver’s license
- Having liens filed against their non-exempt property and assets
1. Child Support Does Not Go Away Except by Subsequent Court Order
In Texas, once the child support obligation is established, the obligation to pay child support does not go away except by subsequent court order.
If the obligor quits paying child support, the arrears continue to accrue, and the offending party will owe all past payments, including interest.
It is very difficult to set aside accrued arrears, even if the parties agree. So, if your circumstances have changed, such that you both have agreed that the obligor no longer owes child support, make sure you get an updated court order acknowledging such.
Likewise, if you and the obligor agree to increase the amount of child support, you will need a court order reflecting that modification as well.
Unpaid past-due child support obligations are subject to enforcement, either by the obligee or by the State of Texas.
2. There are Time Limitations When it Comes to Enforcing a Child Support Obligation
In Texas, there are time limitations when it comes to enforcing a child support obligation. Child support orders remain enforceable by contempt (i.e., the obligor can be sent to jail) for two years following the date the obligation terminated (e.g., the child turns 18, or finishes high school).
After the two-year period, the court retains jurisdiction to confirm the total amount of child support arrearages and render a cumulative money judgment for past due to child support, so long as the motion to enforce is filed not later than the 10th anniversary after the child support obligation terminated.
Deciding when to file an enforcement action is a serious step and should be done with legal advice from a qualified attorney.
Enforcing the Child Support Order
Financial planning can be stressful and adding divorce and child custody into the mix can only complicate things. However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer because an ex-partner is negligent.
There are many options available for enforcing child support obligations in Texas, including the following.
1. File an Income Withholding Order
First, make sure that you get a withholding order signed when your original orders establishing the child support order are entered.
The withholding order allows the obligor’s employer to:
- Withhold the child support payments directly from their payroll.
- Submit the payments to the State Disbursement Unit for disbursement to the custodial parent.
Even if the obligor is not employed at the time the original orders are entered, it can be helpful to have the Withholding Order in hand if/when the employment circumstances change.
2. Enforcement through State Assistance
The state General Attorney’s office has a division devoted solely to child support issues. This division, the Child Support Enforcement Division, doesn’t represent you but they can help you collect on past payments or enforce your support order.
There are field offices that cover various areas of Texas—to find yours look here. This is done at no charge to you but can take a long time for resolution due to the backlog of cases.
3. Enforcement Action through an Attorney
You can also hire an attorney to help bring a private enforcement action against the child support obligor.
When done properly, private enforcement actions can be very effective in making sure the obligor fulfills their obligations to your child, as they are quasi-criminal proceedings.
The Court can put the obligor in jail for failing to pay child support.
It is important to find a lawyer with experience in handling enforcement actions to make sure the:
- Pleadings are properly prepared.
- Opposing party is properly notified.
- Necessary evidence is timely put before the court.
These proceedings can be expensive. However, when successful, the obligor should be reimbursing at least a portion of the reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees.
What You Need to Know
We have tips you should keep in mind if you are dealing with a noncustodial parent failing to make payments.
1. Do everything you can to be financially self-sufficient.
If your ex-partner has proven to be unreliable, it’s best to make your financial plan without their child support payments considered.
Hopefully, you can provide enough income yourself to help you avoid a financial crisis if the child support payments stop.
This doesn’t mean you won’t collect the payments, it just makes your dependency on their collections less financially dire.
2. Don’t withhold visitation from the non-paying spouse.
It may be tempting to punish the other parent for not making payments by restricting their visitation,. However, the state views visitation and child support as two separate issues.
You must fulfill your duties regarding visitation. If you don’t, you could be in jeopardy of being found to be in violation of a court order yourself.
3. Keep accurate, up to date records.
Track your child support payments carefully. And periodically check the OAG records to verify they are accurate.
This can be easily done online as often as you like. If you discover an error, contact the OAG to have their records corrected. You will need an accurate accounting to present in court to support your claims of late or missing payments.
We Can Help
With more than a decade of experience in family law in Texas, we can help you find a solution. Hargrave Family Law is equipped to help you recover missing child support payments.
Let us know about your specific situation, and we’ll be in touch to see how Hargrave Family Law can help you find answers and creative solutions to your family law problems.