If you are in a position where your ex-spouse or the other parent to your child has repeatedly violated a prior court order, you may be asking yourself how to handle the situation. The easiest thing to do, 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 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 most significant amount of frequency. If you are in a position like this, I can’t 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 ruling. It takes time and energy to enforce a court’s order. Sure, maybe you’re owed a little child support, and possibly 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 will discuss with you the utility of filing an Enforcement action in a family law case. Even if you don’t believe that enforcement will do much to curb the wrong activities of your ex-spouse, I can tell you from experience that you are mistaken. Not only is it worth your while in all likelihood to file enforcement, but the penalties that can be assessed against the other party to your order can be far-reaching and highly impactful. Let’s get into the subject matter now.
Enforcement is what, exactly?
I danced around what specifically an enforcement action is in my opening, so here is a legal definition for you- enforcement is a lawsuit filed against a person for violating a court order. There is a relatively 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 evil acts of the other parent. In Texas, a Family Court 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
The Texas Attorney General becomes involved in the process for child support specifically. 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 they were under the impression that the OAG would help them get some back child support. While the result may be that just that, the OAG is out to represent our State and not you as an individual.
The Attorney General is so concerned about child support payments being made on time and in total 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. For example, if your child is on Medicaid, 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 adjust child support levels based on the guidelines outlined in the Texas Family Code and can file 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. Negotiation may be fruitless while settling these issues out of court is possible. In that event, you will need to have a judge address your petition in a hearing. If you request a contempt penalty be assessed against the other party, you will need to serve them personally. Ten days’ notice before a hearing is necessary for this situation.
As I stated a moment ago, it is possible to settle your enforcement case. Before 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 to discuss 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, PLLC. One of our licensed family law attorneys is available six days a week to meet with you in free of charge consultations. We can answer your questions and discuss our office’s services to clients we represent.
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