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How to handle child support in Texas when you are incarcerated

If you are responsible for paying child support and are also facing the possibility of going to jail or prison for having committed a crime, you likely have a lot on your mind right now. At the forefront of your mind are hopefully questions about how you are going to provide for your child and ensure their safety while you are not able to be with him or her.

The ability to pay child support can be part of the solution to this problem. What to do while you are incarcerated and how to handle child support payments once you are released will be the topics discussed in today’s blog post.

What you need to know about the Office of the Attorney General

The Texas Office of the Attorney General administers the payment of child support in our state. Payments are made through the State Disbursement Unit and onto the parent who receives child support. It is important that you know what this state agency does and what role it will play in your life. Not knowing these things can have a negative effect on you and your child.

First off, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has basic information about you, your family law cases, as well as the court, ordered amount of child support that you will need to pay on a monthly basis. If you have questions at any point about what you are expected to pay, how often you are expected to pay it and whether or not you current in the amounts that you have paid, you can go through the OAG's website to learn more.

If you fall behind in paying child support and are otherwise a threat to the well-being of your child, the OAG can also file a lawsuit asking that your parental rights be terminated. For example, if upon being arrested, convicted of a crime and sent to jail, you were not able or willing to ensure that your child could be cared for in your absence, the Office of the Attorney General may file a lawsuit to have your parental rights be terminated. Not having paid child support on time is typically not a reason why your parental rights would be terminated.

Can child support be modified?

You can contact a private attorney to request a modification from the court that set the amount of child support you are obligated to pay. You would likely be asking them to reduce the monthly child support obligation due to the loss of a job. On the other hand, your child’s other parent may also request that the court modify the amount of child support you are expected by pay by increasing that obligation. For example, if you have recently gotten a raise that parent may request that your obligation for child support reflect this higher salary.

The best route for you to take would be to contact a private attorney to do this for you. You will have the advice of an attorney throughout the case and would be able to likely get your petition in front of a judge quicker. However, you can also contact the OAG directly and ask them to consider reducing your child support obligation. It typically takes longer going this route, and the OAG represents the state of Texas in the potential case- not you or your child’s other parent.

Establish paternity for your child- if you have not already done so

In order to be in a position to have rights and duties in relation to your child, you need to be legally established as that child’s father.

Paternity rights come automatically if you are married to your child’s mother at the time your child was born. However, if you are not married to your child’s mother you and the mother must declare yourself as the father. A suit filed with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General is a good first step towards achieving this goal.

Questions about how much you will have to pay in child support?

Most folks who are in line to pay child support have a decent idea of how much they will have to pay.

However, if you have questions about the specifics of payment for child support then you can go to the OAG for the official guidelines that you will be responsible for.

What can the OAG not do in relation to your child support obligation?

The OAG is limited to handling matters related to child support. With that said, it cannot work to modify anything in your prior court orders that have to do with custody or visitation issues. Many times, fathers will find themselves in a position once they get out of prison where their child’s mother is not willing to let him see their child. If you find yourself in that sort of position, then you need to hire a private attorney to file an enforcement lawsuit that will allow you to get the visitation time with your child that you are guaranteed under the court order.

If you get out of prison or jail and find that your child’s mother has moved it is natural to want to find out where she and your child have moved to. Unfortunately, the OAG will not be able to tell you the address that they have moved to.

The OAG and paternity of your child

When we are talking about paternity, we are talking about the legal determination of fatherhood. If you were married to your child’s mother (or are still married to her) the law in Texas is that you are automatically recognized as the father of that child. You do not need to take any additional steps in order to establish your paternity rights in that child.

On the other hand, if you are not married to the mother of your child when he or she is born, the law does not presume fatherhood in you. Just because you are the biological father of that child, the law will not intercede and automatically declare you to be that child’s father. It is incumbent upon you to take the step and work within the law and have yourself determined to be the legal father of that child.

You do this through legally establishing yourself as the father to your child. You are not able to gain rights and duties for your child (including the duty to pay child support) unless you establish paternity first.

How can the paternity of your child be established?

Voluntary establishment of paternity is possible if both you and your child's mother agree that you are the father, and sign an acknowledgment of paternity forms. These forms will establish you as the legal father to your child once it is filed with the Vital Statistics Unit in Austin. The key thing to note here is that you both need to fill out and sign one of these forms in order for any legal effect to be had. One of your filling out and filing the form individually will have no impact on paternity for your child.

In the event that you and your child’s mother do not agree on paternity then you would need to go through the courts. A child support case can be initiated through hiring a private attorney or by contacting the Office of the Attorney General. DNA testing is going to be the first part of any paternity case. Once you have evidence that shows you to be the biological father of the child a judge will make a ruling on paternity, child support and visitation among other things.

As an incarcerated parent, you have the ability to establish paternity for your child through the Office of the Attorney General even while you are behind bars.

Getting your name onto your child’s birth certificate

Your name can be listed on your child's birth certificate once you are established as your child's legal father.

We just discussed how you can become your child's legal father either by agreement with your child's mother or through a court-centric process. If your child's birth certificate does not list your name, then you can contact the State of Texas once paternity is established in order to get that information updated.

Can you sign an acknowledgment of paternity while you are incarcerated?

If you are incarcerated and your child’s mother wants to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity as well then she should contact the OAG or a local child support office to discuss this with them. These people will be able to guide you all through the process of getting the document in front of you for your signature even while you are incarcerated.

Why would you want to establish paternity for your child?

If the only benefit to your legally establishing paternity in your child was that you would now be forced to pay child support, that doesn’t sound like the most appealing reason to go through this effort. However, there are many more benefits for you and your child that have nothing to do with child support.

To me, the most important benefit that we can talk about for your child is that once you are established as the child’s father your child will know that he or she has another parent who wants to know them and wants what is best for them. The impact on your child in this regard cannot be measured.

Once you are legally established as the father to your child then your rights are exactly equal to that of your child's mother. Many fathers believe incorrectly that their rights are not as significant to the child when compared to the mothers. That is not true. Many times fathers will take on fewer rights and duties for many reasons. However, there is nothing under the law that makes this always the case. You are also setting your child up for the future by allowing him or her to receive financial or medical benefits from you if you were to pass away.

Changing your child’s last name to your last time

It is customary in the United States that a child will take the last time of the child’s father. If you are established as the legal father to a child.

If your child is still very young you may be able to change your child’s last name by contacting the Vital Statistics Office. However, if you are already going through the courts to establish paternity then you would file a motion to change the child’s last name as part of that case.

Can you change your mind once you sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity?

As an incarcerated parent, it can be very difficult for you to challenge the validity of the Acknowledgment of Paternity once you have signed it.

It should be pretty obvious that the reason why it is so difficult is that the state does not want to fall into a situation where men are acknowledging paternity and then pulling back on that with regularity.

Not sure if you are a child’s biological father? Find out how to proceed in tomorrow’s blog post

If you have any questions about the material that we wrote about in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We will pick up where we left off today by discussing paternity issues, child support, and incarcerated parents in greater detail.

Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and discuss your particular situation with you in a comfortable environment. Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to represent clients in family courts across southeast Texas. We believe in going the extra mile for our clients in helping them to achieve their particular goals. Thank you for your time and consideration today, and we hope that you will join us again tomorrow here on our blog.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Support Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child support, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child support lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our child support lawyers in HoustonTX 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, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child support 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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