If you find yourself in a position where you have been unable to pay the child support you have been ordered to pay, there are defenses that you can offer in an enforcement hearing.
The fact of the matter is that one of these defenses will hopefully apply to your situation because, if not, child support enforcement cases can be very cut and dry. Did you make the full payment on time to your child's other parent in the manner stated in your prior order? If not, you will likely be held in contempt of court. Let's get into those defenses without further delay.
If you, as the possessory conservator of your child and the custodial parent, allowed your child to reside with you for any period, then you are not on the hook for paying support for those periods.
This stands to reason. The reason why noncustodial parents are on the hook for paying child support in the first place is that they must support their children at all times. Child support payments are supposed to substitute for your care and support when you cannot own your child.
Voluntarily relinquishment of your child to you.
Voluntarily relinquishment to you by your child's other parent is a defense to your having to pay child support.
If you have actual care, control, and possession of your child over and above what you are ordered to have in your prior order, then you should not have to pay "double" support.
If you did pay child support for these periods that your child was in your possession when they were not necessarily ordered to be, you could earn credits for payments made. You must show that your child was living with you on a day in, day out the basis for whatever period you are offering this defense.
Being unable to pay the child support obligation
An inability to pay the child support you had been ordered to is another defense you can offer at an enforcement hearing. To do so, you must prove that you had no options in terms of your ability to provide the support that you were ordered to. This means that you could not have had the property that could have been sold to get the money you needed to pay the support as requested.
Do you have a wealthy parent, friend, or another relative that you could have borrowed the money from to pay your child support?
If you did and did not inquire about a loan, the court may find your defense lacking and order you to pay any back support you may owe. I realize that asking a relative or friend for a loan is uncomfortable. Still, courts have been swayed by evidence of relatives with deep pockets who were not contacted for a loan to meet a child support obligation.
Direct Payments to the other parent that are not reflected in the Attorney General's ledger of payments
The Office of the Attorney General has a ledger that details the date payments for child support are due, along with the amount paid (if any) and the arrearage in place for any partial payments received. It is relatively standard for costs to go through the State Disbursement Unit and then to the bank account of your child's other parent. In this way, there is typically no issue proving payments were either made or were not made.
In some scenarios, you and your child's other parent may have spoken or worked out an arrangement where you pay them directly rather than going through the Disbursement Unit. For instance, you may have switched jobs and not had a new Wage Withholding Order submitted to the court with your new employer's information. Or, perhaps you and the other parent are on friendlier terms where they feel comfortable accepting money for child support directly from you.
From my experience, while this sounds like an excellent idea, in practice, it almost always blows up in the obligor parent's face the first time a payment is missing, late, or made only partially. You have no protection other than offering this defense at an enforcement hearing if the other parent decides to file an enforcement suit against you for failure to pay child support. You must prove that you were not given credit for all payments made.
How can you prove to a judge that you made the payments directly to the other parent? Check copies, money order receipts, or cashier's checks are examples of documents that could save you if you find yourself needing to offer defenses to a child support enforcement case.
The bottom line is that some judges will not give you any credit for direct payments made to the other parent for child support purposes. If your prior order does not allow for immediate child support, my advice would be to never indulge in that practice.
No matter how much easier it may seem or how friendly the other parent is, it is terrible to make direct child support payments. Pay through the State Disbursement Unit. Have the money taken out of your check and take it out of your hands.
Past Behavior as an indicator of compliance
In criminal law, there is the idea that a person's "prior bad acts" cannot be used to indicate that they committed a present crime. Your past should not influence the legal system in charging you with a crime, in other words.
However, in a child support enforcement case, a judge can consider your past Behavior as compliance with paying support when determining punishment for you. Once all of the evidence has been put forth by both sides, the judge will consider evidence related to discipline.
Suppose you and your attorney can be sure to provide evidence to the judge showing that previously you had never missed a child support payment, etc. This can be utilized when considering what punishment is appropriate, considering your circumstances.
Defenses to the failure to pay spousal maintenance
Like child support, spousal maintenance payments need to be made according to the orders outlined in your prior court order.
An inability to pay spousal support is also a defense, as seen in the above sections on child support payment defenses. Essentially you must be able to show a judge that you had no property that could be sold to pay the spousal support and that you knew of no source that you could have borrowed the money from either.
The alternative to that defense would be to offer evidence that your ex-spouse has been involved in a romantic relationship and has been cohabitating with that person. This is another valid defense against the failure to pay spousal maintenance. If successful, you may be absolved of any future responsibility to pay spousal maintenance as well.
Punishments for the failure to pay child support- tomorrow's blog topic
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, appreciate your time and attention as we go through some of the different aspects of child support enforcement cases. This is an important subject and one that we have found people just like you have questions about with great frequency. Check back in tomorrow as we go over the punishment phase of a child support enforcement case.
If you have questions on this or any other topic in the field of family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. One of our licensed family law attorneys will be available to meet with you six days a week to answer questions and help you problem-solve through your situation. Consultations with our office are free of charge.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Family Law Enforcement Hearings: Agreements to Settle and Trial
- Reviewing your case history is crucial to success in an enforcement case
- Texas Family Law Court: Enforcement Actions
- How much will your child support enforcement case cost?
- The Steps of an Enforcement Case in Texas family law court
- Preparing for an Enforcement case in Texas
- Defending against an Enforcement Action in Texas
- Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Five
- Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Four
- Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Three
- Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Two
- Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law: An Overview
- Child Support Enforcement Defense - Act Sooner Rather than Later
- Can my Texas Driver's License Be Suspended for Not paying Child Support?
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Enforcement Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding order enforcement, it's essential to speak with one of our Houston, TX EnforcementLawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our enforcement lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, handles enforcement cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, 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.