When a parent is ordered, whether in a divorce or child custody case, to pay child support that parent’s natural inclination may be to want to pay the other parent the support directly.
I recently had a client who was adamant about paying child support in this manner not because he didn’t trust his soon to be ex-spouse for some reason but because he wanted his child to have the money he needed as soon as it could be provided to him.
While this is an admirable instinct to possess, the attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan would in most cases recommend a parent pay their child support through the Texas Attorney General’s State Disbursement Unit.
What does the Family Code Say Regarding Paying Child Support?
For starters, the Family Code of Texas in most cases mandates under Section 154.004 that payments go through the Attorney General’s office.
The majority of divorce decrees (the final orders of a divorce case) contain language that specify that child support payments are to be made in this way.
Income Withholding Order
A Wage Withholding Order will also be signed in most cases by the judge along with the final orders of a child custody or divorce case.
This Wage Withholding Order is then sent to the parent’s employer and makes them aware that child support is to be deducted from their paychecks and sent to the Disbursement Unit.
The State of Texas has an interest in doing whatever they can to ensure the parents provide for a child since that responsibility will likely fall to the State and its taxpayers if the parents are not fulfilling their obligation to support and provide for their child.
Ensuring that child support payments proceed through the Attorney General, rather than from direct payment to the other parent, goes a long way towards achieving this goal.
Prevents Child Support Being Used as a Bargaining Chip
Another positive aspect of the payments going through the Attorney General is that neither parent is able to use the child support as a bargaining chip. The parent who is ordered to pay child support cannot attempt to gain something from the other parent by threatening to withhold support.
Creates a Paper Trail
By the same token, the parent who receives the support cannot claim to have not received support when they really have or threaten to withhold visitation because of it.
There is a clean, straightforward record of payments that both parents are entitled to through the State Disbursement Unit. This means that there is little question of when a payment was made and the dollar value of the payment.
Paying a Parent Directly Can Cause Future Problems
The scenario when child support payments are made directly to the other parent and not through the State Disbursement Unit can cause problems for the paying parent due to the Attorney General’s records not showing that any payments have been made towards the child support obligation.
As I tell many clients, the government isn’t so quick to act when they owe you money, but when you owe the government money they suddenly get very alert. By the same token, the parent to whom the support is owed may contact the State if payments actually do become late or missed altogether.
Future Litigation and Money
If the Attorney General initiates what is called an enforcement action against a parent for failure to pay child support, the parent that pays support can produce evidence to show that they have been paying but this means most likely hiring an attorney, collecting evidence and going to Court. The simple way to avoid doing this is to go through the State Disbursement Unit.
Payments Through the Disbursement Unit Vs. Payments Directly to a Parent
As far as child support enforcement cases are concerned, whether it is a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office or a lawyer hired by the other parent, going to Court and proving that a person has missed child support payments and that money is owed is one of the simpler, more straightforward cases to make to a Court if payments had been going through the State Disbursement Unit.
If payments have been made in this manner on a consistent basis then there will be:
- a record of the payments and
- the date that the payments were received
All an attorney has to do in an enforcement hearing is present this log to the judge and the judge can do the math from there.
On the other hand, if payments were being made directly to the other parent, especially if payments were made in cash, there is likely to be no record of any kind and nothing as straightforward as an Attorney General payment log will be available to use as evidence against the parent who owes the support.
In the event that the parent to whom support is paid needs to enforce a Court’s Order, it is to their detriment to have been receiving payments directly as the above scenario illustrates.
Real World Example
Last year, I had a client who had been paid child support through the State Disbursement Unit for almost a decade until the time that she and her ex-husband had become friendly and more cordial.
At this time our former client agreed to receive child support directly from her ex-spouse rather than through the Attorney General. These folks liked the idea of doing things directly and not involving the State.
Our former client’s ex-husband also liked this arrangement because his income fluctuated from month to month and he could better explain the reason for the occasionally diminished child support payment to our former client’s face upon dropping the check off.
This was all well and good- the other parent always managed to get caught up on payments within fairly short order- until the other parent misread their divorce decree and stopped paying child support once their daughter turned eighteen.
I say misread because the divorce decree stated the support was to stop upon the child turning eighteen or when she graduated from high school whichever occurred later.
Fortunately for our former client her ex-husband decided to pay the back support off with an agreed to payment plan but she had to file an enforcement lawsuit to get to that point.
The bottom line is that child support is best paid through the State Disbursement Unit in order so that parents can have peace of mind- whether it is their responsibility to pay the support or to receive the support.
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are experienced in handling child support matters for clients and offer no obligation, free of charge consultations. Please contact us today with any questions regarding child support or any other family law matter that you may have.
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- What do I do if I have overpaid child support in Texas?
- Child Custody Basics in Texas
- Texas Child Support Appeals
- In Texas are Child Support and Visitation Connected?
- Why Ignoring Child Support Obligations is a Bad Idea in Texas
- Texas Child Support – Trust and Annuities
- Special Needs Children in Texas Child Support Cases
- How to get above guideline child support.
Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Spring Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Spring, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.