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What to do when you are on the receiving end of a child support enforcement lawsuit in Texas

Being accused of doing something wrong is a tough position to be put into. In many cases, you may have had a valid reason for failing to do something that you had promised to do. In other cases, you may well have done the thing you were supposed to do but not in the way you had said you would. Or, another person may just be spiteful and want to see you put through a hard time for no particular reason. In any event, there are times in life where we need to be able to properly defend ourselves against the actions of others.

This is especially true if you have court orders in place that direct you to pay child support to an ex-spouse. While you certainly love your child, you almost certainly do not love the idea of paying money to your ex-spouse so that she can take care of your child. Do you even know where the money is going? Probably not. I have had more than one client ask me if there is any way that he can track how that money is spent. The short answer is that there is no realistic way to do this and that you won't have a definite idea of where the money will be spent.

Regardless, you have a responsibility to pay child support whether you know that the money is being spent on your child or whether it is being spent on a new handbag for your ex-wife. If you fail to pay the child support in time and in full there are consequences and repercussions that you will have to come face to face with. I'll start with this: if you are found to have violated a court order that requires that you pay child support it is possible for a judge to order jail time for you, among other things. It is not likely that you will be sent to jail for falling a few thousand dollars behind in paying child support. However, if you have repeatedly been to the family court for child support violations it is entirely possible that this will be the outcome for you.

How to protect yourself when facing a child support enforcement lawsuit

Since jail time is on the table in an enforcement lawsuit you need to approach your case like you are a defendant in a criminal case. Hiring a lawyer is a must if you can afford one. If not, the court must provide you with an attorney at no charge if you qualify as being indigent. Seemingly every court has a different set of rules that you must satisfy in our to qualify for a court-appointed attorney. In most situations, if you are receiving food stamps or other government assistance it is likely that you would also qualify for free legal representation.  

You want an attorney to be by your side so that you can avoid making mistakes that will end up costing you time, money and ultimately your freedom. I am not exaggerating when I say that you could go to jail as the result of a child support enforcement case. Yes, you, the person reading this blog post could go to jail. Accountants, small business owners, engineers, salesmen, waiters, busboys, construction workers- it doesn’t matter. You may have never run afoul of the law before in your life. However, judges are not lenient with men who violate child support orders, especially if you have done so before. 

The Office of the Attorney General can pull a sneak attack before you even know what happened

In Texas, the Office of the Attorney General in charge of collecting and distributing money received for child support. It can make your life much easier if you are able to pay your court-ordered amount of child support in full and utilize its website to track your payments to ensure that you are doing what you are supposed to. On the other hand, the Office of the Attorney General can also make your life much more difficult if you are not able to pay your support correctly.

Their office can actually begin to take action against you for the failure to pay child support without your even knowing it. Allow me to explain. If you are paying your ex-spouse child support directly- instead of through the State Disbursement Unit as likely stated in your Final Decree of Divorce- you may have put yourself in a tough spot. The reason is, your ex-spouse deny that you made the payments that you legitimately have. Furthermore, it could happen that the Office of the Attorney General begins to take steps to collect that money without even taking you to court. 

When the Attorney General goes down its list of people who are failing to make payments, they may see your name on that list since they have no record of your direct payments having been made. A potential remedy to this situation is to intercept your tax refund before it makes its way to your mailbox or to your bank account. Your professional license(s) may be suspended, and other financial assets may be seized. They do not need a court order to do this, either, so it all could happen rather quickly. 

The bottom line: life changes quickly. When you sense that you are going to need to leave your job for another, or when you are let go from a job without a new job to land on that means you need to consider the impact on your child support situation. You know how much you earn from your work. You know how much you have in savings. You know how much you have to pay in child support. Finally, you know what your other bills are. 

With all this information you can pretty well predict if you are going to be able to pay your child support. If you find out that due to a change in circumstances that you can no longer pay your child support there is something you can and should do about it. 

How to go about modifying a prior child support order

Most family law attorneys will tell you that you need to wait three years since the date your last order was signed by the judge for you to come back and attempt to modify your child support order. Keep in mind that if something significant has changed in regard to your income- either an increase or a decrease- it could be that you need to modify your order sooner than that. 

The law in the Texas Family Code is that if the “new” amount of child support that you should be paying differs either by $100 or 20% from the current amount that you are paying then you are justified in requesting a modification. That is a difference over or under the current amount, I should add. There are child support calculators all over the internet, including one on our website, that you can use to figure out how much child support you ought to be paying considering your income and the number of your children who are involved in the current child support lawsuit. 

Since you have already been through a divorce you will be familiar with the steps of a child support modification case. Filing a petition to modify, receiving an answer from your ex-spouse and then attending modification is typically how these sort of cases work. If a settlement cannot be reached in mediation you would present your cases to a judge and he will decide whether a modification is appropriate. 

What happens with medical support?

As we mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, the responsibility to pay medical support for your child is a concept that is married to the need to pay child support for that child. There are a number of ways for you to meet this obligation. First, you can have health insurance through your employer or can pay for a private plan. You would then simply add your children to that policy in order to meet the requirement to pay medical support. 

Another option would be to pay your ex-spouse for the health insurance premiums that she pays to keep the kids on her employer-provided health insurance plan. The last option is when neither you or your ex-spouse have private health insurance available through your employers and a government plan is utilized. You would then pay medical support to reimburse the State for providing your child with insurance.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you have a wage withholding order in place with your employer, that same order will allow medical support to be withheld as well. Depending on which of the above options are in play for you and your family the money would either go to your ex-spouse or directly to the State of Texas. 

For the most part, parents split any medical costs for their children that are not covered by insurance. However, you should refer to your Final Decree of Divorce to see for certain what was ordered in your divorce. I always advise clients to set up a reminder on their phone to have any bills that were not covered by insurance sent to your ex-spouse by the end of each month. That way you both are aware of them and can pay accordingly. 

What do parental rights have to do with a divorce or child custody case?

When it comes to dividing up your child’s time between you and your ex-spouse, there is something visceral about the process. Obviously, your child cannot be in two places at once. So, it is likely that you will want your child to be with you as much as possible. However, we as parents need to keep in mind that while time with your child is important, your ability to make decisions that affect their well-being is just as important if not more important. 

We see the word "custody" used along with in the context of Texas family law, but you may be surprised to learn that the word custody is not utilized in the Texas Family Code even one time. The word that we do see quite a bit is "conservatorship"- a word that you may be less familiar with. What conservatorship means is the relationship that you have with your children in terms of the ability for you to make decisions regarding their well-being. Rights to spend time with your kids and make decisions that are supposed to benefit them. As well as the duties to support your child- financially and otherwise. That is what conservatorship is all about.

Whatever decisions a court makes in conjunction with a child must be done according to what is in the best interests of that child. This is the legal standard by which a judge will view your case if you ever present yourself for a temporary orders hearing or trial. In tomorrow’s blog post we will get into what impact parental rights will have on either your divorce or child custody case. 

Questions about family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

There is no better source for information about family law in southeast Texas than the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys’ practice in courts across our community and do so on behalf of clients and families just like yours. To learn more about our office and the services we provide to clients please contact us today. 

Our lawyers take a great deal of pride in advocating on behalf of hard-working people just like you. While no two cases are just alike, we believe that our experience in handling a wide variety of family law cases leaves us prepared to represent you and your family better than any other attorney in our area. We invite you to look at our website, read our blogs and to reach out to us six days a week for a free of charge consultation with one of our attorneys. 

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