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Family Law Cases in Texas: Defenses to Child Support Enforcement Suits

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 be applicable to your situation because if not, child support enforcementcases 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 of time 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 have a duty to support their children at all times. The child support payments are supposed to act as a substitute for your care and support when you are not able to be in possession of 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 of time that your child was in your possession when he or she was not necessarily ordered to be you can earn credits for payments made. It is important that you be able to show that your child was actually living with you on a day in day out basis for whatever period of time 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 that 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 in order to get the money you needed to pay the support as ordered.

Do you have a wealthy parent, or 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 then the court may find your defense lacking and order you to pay any back support that you may owe. I realize that asking a relative or friend for a loan is uncomfortable but courts have been swayed by evidence of relatives with deep pockets who were not contacted for a loan in order 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 fairly standard for payments to go through the State Disbursement Unit and then on to the bank account of your child’s other parent. In this way, there is typically no issue as far as 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 him or her 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 he or she feels comfortable accepting money for child support directly from you.

From my experience, while this sounds like a nice 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 simply 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 direct payment of child support then my advice would be to never indulge in that practice.

No matter how much easier it may seem or no matter how friendly the other parent is it is a bad idea 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 as an indicator that he or she 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 far as compliance with paying support when determining a punishment for you. Once all of the evidence has been put forth by both sides the judge will be able to consider evidence related to punishment.

If 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 individual circumstances.

Defenses to the failure to pay spousal maintenance

Like child support, spousal maintenance payments need to be made according to the orders set forth in your prior court order.

An inability to pay spousal support is also a defense just as we saw 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 to the failure to pay spousal maintenance. If successful, you may be able to 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 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. 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 individual situation. Consultations with our office are free of charge.

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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. Family Law Enforcement Hearings: Agreements to Settle and Trial
  2. Reviewing your case history is crucial to success in an enforcement case
  3. Texas Family Law Court: Enforcement Actions
  4. How much will your child support enforcement case cost?
  5. The Steps of an Enforcement Case in Texas family law court
  6. Preparing for an Enforcement case in Texas
  7. Defending against an Enforcement Action in Texas
  8. Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Five
  9. Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Four
  10. Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Three
  11. Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law, Part Two
  12. Enforcement Suits in Texas Family Law: An Overview
  13. Child Support Enforcement Defense - Act Sooner Rather than Later
  14. Can my Texas Driver's License Be Suspended for Not paying Child Support?

Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Houston, Texas Enforcement Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding order enforcement, it's important 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 Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan 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.

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