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What consequences could I face if I fail to pay child support?

Getting through your family law case in one piece. That was your only goal. Mission accomplished as you look back on it. The divorce took a lot out of you (and your wallet) but you made it. You can look back on that experience as one that taught you a great deal about how to handle adversity. All the issues that you thought would matter did. The time with your child. Your ex-wife’s propensity to lie and exaggerate. All of this came to the forefront.

When the dust had settled you were happy that your relationship with your daughter was intact. The divorce did take a lot out of you but to be sure you were there for your daughter every step of the way.  They say the best interests of your child are what matters in a family law case. Well, you proved that you could set aside your best interests in favor of your child. You think the divorce was fair even if your ex-wife disagrees. 

Anyways, you are not sure why your ex-wife was so bent out of shape about the case. She got the child support she wanted, didn’t she? All the time spent in divorce negotiations and her focus was almost always on the money. Maybe it’s because she was confident about winning primary custody. That way she could focus on other things. You weren’t so sure everything was going to turn out ok. As a result, you focused intently on the issues that were central to relationship building. Your daughter will thank you later for that. 

Adjusting to life after a divorce

Surely, the way that you can interact with your child now is less than ideal. It used to be that you would get home from work and there she would be. Doing her homework or playing outside. This is what made you the happiest. No matter what was happening with your work- there your daughter would be. Always happy to see you. Your relationship with your wife could be in a tough place. Your daughter was happy to spend the afternoon with you. 

That part of your life may never be the same. She lives with her mom primarily, after all. However, you are happy with the expanded standard possession order your lawyer helped you negotiate. It allows you to see your child a great deal more than you honestly thought you would be able to. That matters to a dad like you who works hard during the day and wants to spend time with your daughter in the evenings. 

Do not underestimate how an attorney helps in situations like this. You do not want to go into a child support case unprepared. There is so much to these types of cases that having an experienced hand by your side makes a tremendous difference. An attorney with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is well-suited to help with your family law matter. Whether it be an initial divorce or a subsequent family case. We are here for you.

Why does child support matter?

Won’t it all just go to your wife’s spending account? That’s what many fathers opine during a divorce. I can’t blame some dads for thinking this way. Many dads feel taken advantage of because of paying child support, alimony, and other costs associated with a divorce. On top of that- are you also giving up a substantial portion of your retirement in the divorce? We’ve seen that happen a time or two. For that reason, it is not out of the ordinary to feel as if the divorce results in bad outcomes for fathers. 

Child support does matter, though. No matter how you feel about your ex-wife or the divorce process. There are benefits to your child when it comes to child support. Now you are correct on one thing. The amount that you pay in child support is paid directly to your ex-spouse. This means that you have no real way of accounting for your payments. Some dads ask if there is a way for your ex-wife to tell them how it is spent. There isn’t and you don’t want that level of contact with her anyways.

In short, child support matters because it helps your child during the month. When you pay your child support it goes towards essentials like rent, utilities, clothing, etc. Even if your ex-wife does use it to pay one of her bills that isn’t a bad thing. It opens other monies to go towards things for your daughter. Paying child support is important because there are consequences to not paying child support. 

Should you ever pay child support directly to your co-parent?

Some fathers who have good relationships with their co-parents get the idea that is ok to pay child support directly to the mom. I should mention that child support is typically paid through the Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division. This is to ensure that there is a third party that oversees the process. The OAG’s website has a tool where you have a ledger that can be checked. This is transparency to doing it this way. 

There is also a record of the payments that cannot be disputed. Put yourself in this position. You made direct payments of child support to your ex-wife. The total amount you paid her equals $3000. We’re talking serious money. Then, one day she comes to you and claims to never have received that money. You are upset at this point. Correctly, you point out that you paid her in cash as she asked. No dice, she says. Pay her directly through the OAG. 

This is a helpless situation to be in. Did you pay her the child support already? Yes. Is there any kind of paper trail to show that you already paid her? No. Did you follow the law as far as sending payments through the OAG? Also, no. In the future, it is wise to follow the law and go through the OAG. This keeps everything on the up and up as far as payments are concerned. 

Learn your court orders and know them well

One of the most difficult aspects of a family law case is to understand your court orders. This does not mean you have to memorize every page. However, it does mean having a working knowledge of the orders. Having a hard copy of those orders handy helps, too. As it pertains to child support there are a couple of different details that are worth being familiar with. 

We have already covered one of those things. That would be where to send payments. The OAG oversees this process. If you didn’t figure it out the first time, make sure that you send your payments through these folks every time. When you don’t there are consequences. For one, you don’t get credit for those payments. This means that if your co-parent gets bent out of shape about anything you could find out that she says that OAG that those payments were never received. At that point, the OAG comes after you and we get into some sticky territory. 

Next, make sure that you understand when your payments of child support come to an end. You would be surprised to learn that fathers across our state have very different ideas about when their child support obligation ends. Most assume that it is when their child turns 18. This is reasonable, given that the child is no longer a child at that point. However, for most of you, the stopping point for child support is either when your child turns 18 or graduates from high school.

Failing to pay child support- why it could happen to you

Most of us, when it comes to paying bills, do a good job of paying each month. However, imagine a situation where your income dipped by 10% next month. That just means if you earn $7,000 in income, you will earn $6,300 next month. Are there bills that are going to have to go without being paid? Probably so. Many of us don’t have much wiggle room in our budgets. A $700 dip in income from month to month makes it so child support a bigger burden. 

Now imagine a situation where your income decreases substantially. Or a situation where you lose your job. Now you have no income coming in. What sort of emergency savings do you have? If you are anything like most Americans, the answer to that question is probably not much. This isn’t me being judgmental. Rather, it’s me being realistic. Look up emergency savings for Americans in any search engine. Hundreds of articles or blog posts will pop up showing you what the “average” American has in their savings. 

What you have in your savings matters in a situation like this. Not paying child support when you have immediate bills that you need to pay can make sense. That does not mean it is easy to reconcile your bills or to set aside an obligation to your child. What it means is that you are in a position where you have your bills that are more immediately pressing. Not paying child support doesn’t make you feel good, but it isn’t the same sort of stress-inducer as some obligations you have. 

Addressing the issue of not paying child support with your co-parent

When you don’t pay child support each month your co-parent is going to notice. Hoping that she will “let it slide” or “ignore it” is being unrealistic. Rather, it is more pragmatic to address the situation directly with your co-parent to avoid a situation where you have to scramble to talk to her at the last minute. Depending upon your situation and your relationship with her this conversation can take on different complexions. 

Assuming that your relationship with mom is a good one then you have an opportunity to address her directly about the issues with your income. Be honest. Tell her about job loss, job interruption, sickness, etc. People are willing to be patient more often than you think. However, it requires that you be upfront and honest. Tell her about your circumstances and be direct about it. She may surprise you with her response as far as allowing you time to make up the difference in later months. 

At the end of the day, your co-parent does not have to allow you any additional grace or time to pay the obligation. Technically, child support is due in full and on time each month. Losing your job, getting sick, etc. is not a defense in most situations. We are about to discuss modifying child support. That is possible. However, you still owe what you owe. Until you can modify your child support order you need to pay your co-parent what is owed to her. 

So you failed to pay child support- what should you expect

Failing to pay child support can happen to the best of us. Still, however, there are consequences to be mindful of. Initially, you will deal with an upset co-parent. You can expect your co-parent to be upset and generally not be pleasant to talk to. Whether she takes it any further than that is up to her and her disposition. Many times, she has a right to be upset. However, if you follow the advice shared with you a moment ago your honesty may save the day. 

Next, if you fail to pay child support for multiple weeks in a row you should expect to be confronted with an enforcement lawsuit. An enforcement lawsuit seeks to hold you accountable for your failure to pay child support. This looks like a detailed lawsuit that notes the instances where you did not pay child support. Your co-parent adds all the missed payments up and then files the lawsuit.

A hearing date is set up to allow your co-parent to present evidence of the missed child support payments. When it comes to missed child support the only evidence, she needs is an up-to-date ledger from the OAG’s office. Showing that you are not current on your payments is about all the evidence she could have. 

What are the consequences of failing to pay child support?

You can go to jail for failing to pay child support. This is not a given by any means. However, be aware that it is a crime in Texas to not pay child support. The key is that you must intentionally or knowingly fail to pay child support. In other words, you must know or have intended to not pay child support for this crime to be relevant. 

Wage garnishment is a real consideration, as well. Keep in mind that after your divorce a wage withholding order was likely placed in your court orders then. Meaning that your employer at the time should begin to withhold income for child support. The intent is to provide an avenue to avoid missed child support payments like this. Think of it like when you automatically invest money in your 401(K). The money goes right to the investment account before you have a chance to spend it. Regardless of whether the initial wage withholding order is in effect, another may be ordered at the time of your enforcement case. 

A lesser-known consequence of being found in violation of a child support order is that you may have your driver’s license suspended. Any license that you have which is issued by the state of Texas is subject to suspension. This includes a hunting license, fishing license, or concealed carry license. This cuts right to the core of your ability to live your daily life and even carry out your line of work. 

Finally, the OAG can put a lien on your property until the child support arrearage is paid. Property not including your home, your bank account(s), or any other financial account you have is subject to this penalty. You would not be able to sell, add to, or otherwise do anything with this property until the child support arrearage is paid.

Final thoughts on child support and the failure to pay

Failing to pay child support is a serious matter. Even if you think you have a valid defense or reason it still requires you to prepare for an enforcement case. As you can see, the State of Texas takes seriously the failure to pay child support. As a result, preparation is key when facing this type of case. We thank you for joining us on the blog for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. 

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. Interested in learning more about how your family is impacted by the material in this blog post? Contact us today.