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Houston, TX Child Support Enforcement

If you are the non-primary conservator of your child then, until that child turns 18 or graduates from high school, you have the responsibility of paying child support under your family court order. It doesn't matter if you went through a divorce or a child custody case. In either situation, you are very likely to have the obligation to pay support to your co-parent for the care and maintenance of your children. The extent to which you must pay and the circumstances surrounding your payments may be specific to your family. However, that you must pay child support is the norm among parents who do not have primary custody of their children after a family law case. 

The best interests of your child are intended to be protected by a family court judge during a case. The best interest standard requires that you, your co-parent, and the judge consider not just the child's immediate circumstances when making decisions regarding their well-being. Rather, a host of circumstances, factors, and situations must be considered. On top of that, it is not only your child's physical well-being and best interests that must be considered. Rather, it is their emotional, familial, and developmental best interests that need to be considered by all of you. This is the universal standard that a court will consider when making decisions for a child. 

Child support exists to level the playing field between you and your co-parent. She has your children in her possession more than you do. As a result, it makes sense that she would pay for more “things” related to your children than you would. Those things can be inexpensive items like milk and cereal, or they can be expensive things like new shoes, money for a school trip, or anything in between. Since these are costs that would normally be split between parents, child support seeks to help you and your co-parent share the financial burdens of raising a child more equally. 

The obligation to pay child support typically ends when your child turns 18 or graduates from high school- whichever happens later. However, if your child has a disability and is unable to work and leave the home then your obligation to pay child support may be extended beyond this date. You should refer to your child support orders to learn what your obligation is. The order as signed off on by the judge is what you are obligated to do. For that reason, it is a good idea to be very familiar with your court orders and to have a copy somewhere convenient for you to look to when that is necessary. 

Make sure to review your court order before the end of your case. Preferably, you and your attorney looked through the mediated settlement agreement that you may have agreed to and are confident that what is contained in that document reflects the actual agreements that you and your co-parent had agreed to. Note that you are responsible for pointing out any errors, mistakes, or oversights to your attorney before signing any document. A court can sign off an order without your signature, but this is not ideal. 

A prove-up hearing will be scheduled for you and your co-parent if you all agree to the language contained in the order. At that point, the two of you would have signed the order along with your attorneys. It is mostly a formality to go before the judge, answer a few questions, and then have the judge sign the document. This can be scheduled to occur in person at the courthouse and many courts allow this to occur over the phone or even via video. 

On the other hand, if the two of you do not agree on the final language for your final orders, then you would need to set the case for a motion to enter that order. This is a contested hearing where the two of you can bring forth arguments as to why the order should say what you think it should say. Sometimes parties have disagreements about how to word obligations or anything that is out of the ordinary. The judge will hear arguments and then decide how the order should be read. In that event, your case will be over once the order is entered. 

What happens if you fail to abide by the child support orders?

As you may have imagined, sometimes circumstances arise where a parent is unable to fulfill their obligation to pay child support. With budgets being tight around the country, carving out the required funds for child support can be a challenge from month to month. If you happen to find yourself in a position where you have not paid child support for an extended period, then it may be important for you to learn about what an enforcement case is and importantly how to defend yourself from allegations made against you in an enforcement case as filed by your co-parent. 

A court can order that half of your pay be withheld to pay for any child support that is owed. In an enforcement hearing the judge can consider how much you earn, and how much child support you owe and then take into effect any other obligations that you may have from a financial perspective and then order you to pay a certain amount of money each month to get current on the Child Support that you owe. This can be a major financial undertaking and one that you need to be prepared for. It is much easier to stay current with child support than to fall behind and have to pay back any amounts that are owed over time.

Next, a family court can suspend your driver’s license, professional license fishing, and hunting licenses. Not only can this be cumbersome to you in terms of trying to earn a living, but it can also be impossible for you to travel, move about locally or engage in recreation without one of these licenses. Keep in mind that once you get caught up on your back payments of child support you will still need to petition the judge to have these licenses reinstated. Not the most straightforward thing to do. It is better to avoid having these licenses suspended for any period rather than to have to worry about having them reinstated at any point. 

There is also a risk that you may not be able to obtain loans, and grants or be awarded government contracts if you owe child support. Child support arrearages are something that shows up on your record when someone tries to learn more about you to lend your money or issue you credit. Keep this in mind if you are applying for a home mortgage, for example. You could have everything else in your life set up perfectly only to find out that you were denied a home loan because of problems with child support being owed.

Are you expecting a tax refund next year? Not so fast. The OAG and the IRS communicate about things like this. If you owe money to your co-parent in child support, then it is likely that any tax refund that you would be expecting for 2023 may be picked off by the OAG and used to satisfy any amount of child support that you owe. Do you play the lottery? Well, if you have any big wins that you plan on cashing in you should not expect all the winnings to wind up in your pocket. If you owe child support, then the winnings will be intercepted by the OAG and used to pay off any amount of child support that you owe. 

Maybe you aren't buying a house right now, but if you are selling a home then you need to keep in mind that the OAG can place a lien(s) on your property that may prevent the house from selling if you owe a child support. If you do owe child support, you should inform your realtor of this early in the process so the title company can run a title search to determine if the OAG has already placed a lien on the home. If not, you and your buyer may want to work something out where a quick close on the sale can occur before a lien is placed on the property. 

To prevent you from skipping out on your obligation to pay child support, you may not be able to obtain or renew your passport until your child support is paid off. This makes sense. To keep people from leaving the country to avoid paying child support the OAG puts a hold on transactions involving passports. In an international city like Houston, there are certainly opportunities for international citizens to be able to come and go as they please where passport usage is not restricted. 

The most compelling reason to stay current on your child support is the consequences in terms of dollar fines and jail time for missed child support. Oh, that's right- jail time. Judges won't hesitate to hand down a jail time punishment for failing to pay child support on time and in full. This happens with regularity especially when the amount of child support that is owed is substantial. Do not underestimate a family court judge and their willingness to send you to jail, potentially, for missed child support. That jail time may be turned into deferred adjudication, but it will turn back into jail time as soon as you again miss child support payments. 

Keep in mind there are a couple of important points that should be made regarding missed child support and visitation. First off, you cannot stop paying child support to your co-parent just because she is denying you time with your children. In a tit-for-tat battle, it may make sense to turn off the money spigot to get your co-parent’s attention. If you attempt to do this then a court will tell you that two wrongs do not make a right and that it is important for you to pay attention to the child support payments that you are making. Do not underestimate how critical it is for you to continue to make child support payments even if you are not able to see your child due to visitation being withheld. 

By the same token, if you are a parent who is the primary conservator of your kids then you are not able to withhold visitation with the kids from a co-parent who is falling behind in child support. Again, the same basic principle that we saw applied regarding the opposite still holds for this situation. If you are a well-meaning primary conservator you cannot attempt to get your co-parent’s attention by telling him that he cannot see your child until child support can be paid to you. 

If nothing else you both have some motivation in a situation like this to work out some agreement together to avoid both of you withholding something important from the other just to make a point. Talk to your co-parent about your inability to pay child support and why you believe that an agreement should be reached to get on track with visitation that may have been withheld or child support payments that may have been missed for any reason. 

The bottom line here is that there is ample opportunity to make a mistake, even a well-meaning mistake when it comes to the subject of child support. The further you fall behind the greater the consequences are. If you owe a substantial amount of child support, then you can and should expect that your co-parent will ask a judge to assess jail time and monetary fines in response to these violations. I’m not telling you this to intimidate you but rather to motivate you to develop a plan that can see you achieve the goals that are most important to you in your case. 

Changing child support orders after already having gone to court

Are there do-overs in a child support order? Yes, potentially. If you are not able to keep up with your child support obligation, then you can ask a court to provide you with a certain amount of relief in the form of a modified court order. We have already talked about how job loss is a primary reason why child support payments are missed. True, if you are in this position, you have the option to have saved money 

Even if you are only to make partial payments of child support then you should do so until you can start making full payments. A motion to modify child support orders can be filed with the court where the material and substantial change in circumstances involves you starting a new job that pays you less money or you are losing a job that now puts you in a position where you cannot afford to make these payments that are ordered. 

The longer you do not pay child support the more money you will owe. This makes sense intuitively given that the hole for you is dug on a consistent and predictable basis each month. You know the date of the month that the money should have been paid. It’s like clockwork how the money adds up over time. Instead of pacing back and forth regarding this subject why not do something about it? File a modification case to have a judge issue decision(s).

Closing thoughts on child support enforcement

No matter what end of the child support enforcement case you stand on you can benefit from having an attorney assist you in the case. For a parent who is owed child support, you are probably suffering a great deal financially by not getting those payments on time and in full each month. There is no reason to believe that your co-parent is just magically going to start paying the child support again. Rather, you need to be able to hold your feet to the fire, Attorneys are great at doing this. 

On the other hand, if you are a parent who owes your co-parent child support then work with an attorney. Jail time and large fines are the potential consequences if you do not present a strong case to contradict the evidence submitted by your co-parent. An attorney will help you prepare, develop goals, and generally ensure that you are not getting taken advantage of nor are you being too dismissive of the enforcement. Different types of family law attorneys can help you in whatever situation you are facing. Child support matters are especially serious and at the end of the day can impact your child most profoundly. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case. 

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