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Common misunderstandings about child support laws in Texas

I think that of all the issues regarding family law in Texas, the one that I get the most upset, flustered and exasperated questions about is child support. Whether you are the parent who stands to receive child support or the parent who stands to pay child support, the issue is one that touches a lot of nerves. It is likely that if you and your ex-spouse have a child together that one of you has been ordered to pay child support. While attorneys work hard to make sure that their clients understand all facets of their divorce prior to its conclusion, the fact is that most people have questions about child support in particular once the divorce is over.

The reason for that is pretty obvious: it’s all about the money. People get upset when it comes to paying money to someone that he or she has just divorced. Even if the money is for the benefit of someone that he or she loves (their child). On the other hand, people also get upset about receiving money that is thought to be insufficient. Many parents, perhaps you can count yourselves among them, care for children on a day in and day out basis without much additional assistance. Child support from a parent who sees the children only on weekends can seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to the total amount of financial and emotional energy that goes into raising a child.

On top of all of this already substantial amount of angst that goes into child support, you may have experienced the sensation of friends, colleagues, and family members sensationalizing the subject of child support even more than that it already has been. Has anyone ever told you that child support doesn’t need to be paid if you are not able to see your child? Or, if your ex-spouse doesn’t pay child support as he is ordered to then it is perfectly ok to withhold visitation rights from him?

These are the sort of misunderstandings that are common in the world of child support in Texas. A lie gets around the world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on, as the quote attributed to Winston Churchill goes. In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, I would like to take this opportunity to hopefully dispel a few of those misconceptions that are floating around in the steamy, late Spring air here in Texas.

If you don’t get to see your child then you don’t have to pay child support

We can also flip this misunderstanding around: if you aren’t paid the child support owed to you on time and in full then you don’t have to allow your ex-spouse his or her visitation time. This is an issue that family law attorneys run into quite a bit. Usually it will be a father coming into our office to discuss a potential child support modification case who raises this issue. He will go on to tell us that in losing his old job a few months ago his ex-wife has been unwilling to allow their child to see our client until the child support is paid.

The father in this scenario would usually like his child support obligation decreased due to his picking up a new job that does not pay nearly as well as his last one. What he doesn’t always know is that his ex-wife couldn’t just withhold visitation to their child simply due to his not having paid child support. Sometimes fathers will use this lack of time with their child as a justification for their not paying child support even in part once a new job is obtained.

The bottom line is that neither parent is justified in the above scenario, as far as their actions are concerned. If you are the primary conservator of your child this means that you have the right to receive child support payments and to determine the primary residence of your child. If your ex-spouse fails to pay child support on a timely basis you are not in the right if you withhold your child on his weekends of visitation.

By that same token, if you are being denied visitation with your child you cannot stop paying child support as a response. You are still obligated to pay child support even if you haven’t seen your child in months. Now, I am not saying that neither aggrieved parent in these scenarios has no options. Enforcement lawsuits are filed and heard in Texas Family courts every day. Talk to a family law attorney before you make a mistake that could cost you time with your child and/or a significant amount of money.

Daddy did it (and he has to pay, too)

Another popular, yet false, notion is that fathers always have to pay child support. This goes back to antiquated notions about which parent is more able to care for a child on a day in and day out basis. Mothers have traditionally been provided the better end of that deal, in no small part due to the fact that fathers have ceded ground to mothers on this front. Why fight for primary conservatorship, many fathers thought and continue to think, when mothers have an advantage in winning child custody cases?

Well, there is nothing in the Texas Family Code that states mothers are superior parents when compared to fathers, and there is no advantage to being either in the custody component to a divorce. More to the point we are discussing today, fathers more typically pay child support only because more fathers surrender this issue to mothers. If you are a father who wants to be named as the primary conservator of your children you can and should state your case to a judge. If you win this right, your ex-wife will be paying you child support.

The Attorney General doesn’t need to get involved- you can pay child support directly to your ex-spouse

While this statement can be true, it should not be in your case. There is this notion that paying child support through the Office of the Attorney General costs more or is a pain the backside or takes longer to process or etc. Mothers and fathers alike have come to me in recent years with this idea firmly planted in their minds.

Is it true? No. Child support can be paid directly to your spouse but it should not be. For one, if you are expected to pay child support most divorce decrees do not give you credit for direct payments to your ex-spouse. You could end up paying direct payments and then not receive the benefit of having made them in the first place. Yes, that means you could end up having to make double payments if your ex-spouse alleges that you missed payments over a period in time when in reality those payments were made directly to him or her.

Even if you and your ex-spouse are on good terms you should not agree to make direct payments to him or her. This doesn’t mean that you don’t trust him or her. It just means that the amount that you pay in child support is a significant number and is not something that you would risk there being any misunderstandings about. Make the payments through the State Disbursement Unit of the Attorney General and you will always have a clear cut record of how much you have paid, on what date and what (if anything) is owed by you.

More questions about child support? Stay tuned to our blog tomorrow when we continue this topic

We will finish up this mini-series of blog posts on child support misconceptions in Texas tomorrow. In the meantime if you have any questions or are seeking clarification on something that you have read please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC today. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with licensed family law attorneys. It would be our honor to meet with you to discuss this topic or any other in the field of family law.

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