Texas Family Law Court: Enforcement Actions

If you are in a position either where your ex spouse or the other parent to your child has violated, repeatedly, a prior court order you may be asking yourself how to handle the situation. The easiest thing to do, but that which would probably anger you the most, would be to do nothing. If you don’t take action against the violations of the other party to your order nothing will happen. It’s as simple as that. You cannot simply ask a police officer or constable to go have a talk with your ex husband or wife about listening to the judge.

Quite honestly, it’s my experience that the “do nothing” approach is what people choose to do with the greatest amount of frequency. If you are in a position like this I can’t say that I blame you for taking this position. It is not easy to attempt to enforce a court’s order. It costs money to enforce a court’s order. It takes time and energy to enforce a court’s order. Sure, maybe you’re owed a little child support and maybe your ex spouse returns the kids on Sunday nights a little later than she’s supposed to. What’s the use of going to court?

Today’s blog post is going to discuss with you the utility of filing an Enforcement action in a family law case. Even if you don’t believe that an enforcement will do much to curb the bad actions of your ex spouse I can tell you from experience that you are mistaken. Not only is it worth you while in all likelihood to file an enforcement but the penalties that can be assessed against the other party to your order can be far reaching and extremely impactful. Let’s get into the subject matter now.

An enforcement is what, exactly?

I sort of danced around what specifically an enforcement action is in my opening so here is a legal definition for you- an enforcement is a lawsuit filed against a person for violating a court order. There are a fairly wide range of penalties that a judge can use against someone who has violated a court order. The most common that people have heard about is holding a party in contempt of court. This means that the person has gone against the order of a judge/court and the law provides for remedies in the form of fines and possible jail time.

Other mechanisms used to enforce an order include paying back missed child support and providing additional time with a parent who was denied visitation due to the bad acts of the other parent. A Family Court in Texas can enforce orders regarding child support, possession and access of a child, property division and spousal maintenance.

The role of the Texas Attorney General in a Child Support Enforcement case

For child support specifically, the Texas Attorney General becomes involved in the process in that they are the state agency responsible for collecting, establishing and enforcing child support orders on behalf of the State. You’ll notice that I didn’t say that the OAG represents individual parents. Sometimes potential clients will come into our office and say that he or she was under the impression that the OAG was going to help him or her get some back child support. While the end result may be that just that, the OAG is out to represent our State and not you as an individual.

The reason the Attorney General is so concerned about child support payments being made on time and in full has to do with the frequency with which people who have child support either being paid to them or paid from their income have children on public assistance of some sort. If your child is on Medicaid, for example, the OAG wants to ensure that child support is collected in part to reimburse the State for paying for your child’s health insurance. The OAG can help to adjust child support levels based on the guidelines set forth in the Texas Family Code and can actually file an enforcement for child support owed just as you could on your own.

Getting to court- how do you get in front of a judge?

The goal in an enforcement case is to address the violations, remedy them and then seek additional orders to ensure that the violations do not occur in the future. While it is possible to settle this issues out of court, it is possible that negotiations will be fruitless. In that event you will need to have a judge address your petition in a hearing. If you are requesting a contempt penalty be assessed against the other party then you will need to personally serve him or her. Ten days notice before a hearing is necessary in this situation.

As I stated a moment ago, it is possible to settle your enforcement case. Prior to your hearing it is customary for your attorney and the opposing party’s attorney to chat and see if a settlement can be reached. If so, the parties will go before the judge and put their agreement on the record and the attorneys will go back to their offices to work on drafting an order based on that agreement. If no agreement can be reached the parties will go before the judge to have a formal hearing on the matter.

An enforcement hearing and its possible results- the subject of tomorrow’s blog post

Come on back tomorrow for a discussion on what an enforcement hearing looks like and what can result from one. If in the meantime you have any questions regarding this subject please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. One of our licensed family law attorneys is available six days a week to meet with you in a free of charge consultations. We can answer your questions and discuss the services that our office can provide to clients who we represent.

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