One of the major consequences of the failure to pay child support on time and in full as ordered to do so is that you run the risk of suffering consequences associated with your actions. One of those consequences is having your driver’s license suspended. This is a major inconvenience for you and your family alike. Once you begin to repay the child support that you owe the next logical question would be: how do you go about getting your license reinstated?
It is frustrating to not be able to drive a vehicle. Getting behind the wheel when you are not legally able to do so means that you are risking further punishment by the courts in ways that are almost certainly going to be more severe than losing your driver’s license the first time. However, child support delinquency has become such a significant problem for Texas families that the state legislature felt like they needed to do something to up to ante as far as potential consequences of not paying your child support were concerned. This is where we get the ability to lose your driver's license. It is intended to "sting" and be like a splinter in your big toe- every time you try to do anything, you are going to notice not having your driver's license.
For many people, a wage withholding order put the issue of paying child support into a back-of-mind situation. A wage withholding order is directed at your employer. They will withhold a portion of your paycheck and transmit the money directly to the Office of the Attorney General. This way you will not have to think about paying the money yourself. Rather, your employer and the Office of the Attorney General will team up to make sure your children receive the child support that they should be receiving.
On the other hand, you may not be in a situation where a wage withholding order is practical. For example, if you work as an independent contractor then it may not make sense to have seven or eight wage withholding orders drafted so that each of your contractor employers can send a few bucks into the Attorney General's Office so that your child support obligation can be met. You may only work for one of these employers for a short period and then move on to a new place. The wage withholding order does not follow you from place to place where you work. The order is specific to that particular employer and is non-transferable.
The opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to this subject is paying child support directly from you to your co-parent. These direct payments eliminate the need for a wage withholding order but also put you at risk. The Texas Family Code states that informal payments of child support are not accepted. This means that if you were to write a check to your co-parent to pay them child support you technically would not get credit for that payment. This means that he or she could claim that they were not paid child support for a given period and you may be ordered to pay child support all over again.
Whether this is a likely situation that could happen to you is less important than figuring out how best to go about not falling into a trap of missing a child support payment and then needing to go back and correct your mistake. Even then you will have to go back and try to retrieve your driver’s license or any other license that is taken from you because of failing to pay child support.
You can’t work if you don’t have a driver’s license in many cases
Many of us reading this blog post would quickly find ourselves in a tough spot were we to lose our driver's license. This is especially true when it comes to working. Even if your job does not require a driver's license to fulfill certain work duties having a license may be critical to simply being able to make it to work that day. Texas is not a place where public transportation is all that widely available. Most everyone reading this blog post, therefore, utilizes a personal vehicle to make it to work that day.
Falling behind for payment or two will likely not put you in any danger of losing your driver's license for any period. It is not as if the judge who issued your court orders would send you a letter telling you that you are a few thousand dollars behind in payments and that your driver’s license is being revoked because of that. These judges do not sit and keep track of your Attorney General payments page to ensure that you maintain compliance.
The role of the Texas Attorney General in paying child support
Rather, the way that a court would become aware of your child support arrearage would be through something known as an enforcement case. An enforcement case seeks to enforce the terms of a court order on a range of subjects. When it comes to paying child support, you would be taken to court either by your co-parent or the Office of the Attorney General for the failure to pay child support either on time or in full.
Note that the Office of the Attorney General does not represent your co-parent in an enforcement case. Yes, the OAG can and does file enforcement cases for child support which can give the impression that they represent co-parent in the case. However, the truth of the matter is that the OAG represents the state of Texas and may be paying for benefits on behalf of your child in the form of health insurance or food stamps. In that case, the OAG is trying to prevent a situation where the state is paying your child benefits while their parent does not pay child support.
The OAG would also be working with the goal in mind to not put your co-parent in a position where he or she needs to enroll your child into a benefits program due to their not receiving the child support needed to care for your child. As you can see, the OAG has many motivations to keep track of child support and ensure its proper payment. Do not be surprised if you miss a child support payment to find that the OAG files an enforcement action against you either on its motion or because your co-parent have contacted them first.
As you can see, while a family court judge will not be constantly monitoring the state of your child support payments other entities certainly will be doing so. The OAG has a group of attorneys who specifically work to ensure the proper payment of child support. These are lawyers who file enforcement cases every single day regarding situations very similar to your own.
On top of that, your co-parent is likely very aware of the status of your child support payments or lack thereof. When budgets are tight the money that you pay in child support can go a long way toward ensuring that rent is paid, or groceries can be purchased. It isn’t likely that your co-parent is either going to overlook a missed payment or be ok with your continuing to miss child support payments even if you have a good excuse.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of an enforcement petition regarding child support, it is best to meet the issue head-on. It does not make sense for you to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. As you probably experienced with your initial divorce or child custody case these do not tend to be issues that go away. A decision can be made in a case that you do not file an Answer once you are notified of the pending enforcement lawsuit. This means that a court can order terms for repayment of child support without your knowledge or approval. A bad situation where you were not able to make child support payments can quickly turn into an even worse situation where you owe current and past due child support simultaneously.
On the positive side of this situation, however, there are ways for you to avoid running afoul of your prior court orders and to avoid having a court order you to pay past due child support in ways that are no better for you than what you had on the books earlier. An enforcement case is a serious matter and one that requires you to be prepared for a range of outcomes. At the same time, if you are intentional about avoiding missed payments whenever possible then you can position yourself well to deal with any issues you encounter head-on rather than trying to avoid them or hoping that they will go away on their own.
How to proceed if you lose your driver’s license for the failure to pay child support
If you do find yourself in a situation where your driver’s license has been suspended because of the failure to pay child support, then you should take a step back and think through what to do next. There are a series of steps that your take to have your driver’s license reinstated as well as to get back into the good graces of your co-parent and the OAG, alike.
There are legitimate reasons why you may have missed a child support payment. The nature of your job may be that you are moving from job to job on a near-constant basis. For example, we have already discussed how being a contract employee may find you going from employer to employer regularly. While this type of arrangement may afford you a great deal of autonomy when it comes to your daily life it may also put you in a position where you have a week or two here or there where you have no income coming into your home.
You can budget your way out of a situation like this. Saving up your money while you are working to have some money set aside for when you are not drawing any income would seem to make sense. However, I also realize that the likelihood of your being able to do this may not be all that high if you do not have a household budget or if other factors prevent you from saving up enough money to do so. In a perfect world, a budget is a tool that every family should use to understand their finances and where their money is being spent.
Not having a budget may be indicative of a situation where you are not aware of your financial situation and therefore it is easier to fall behind in your bills, child support included. If there is no wage withholding order in place that automatically pays your child support obligation, then you are in a position where an enforcement case becomes more and more likely to be filed against you.
The most direct way to address this situation is to nip it in the bud before you have your license taken away by a court for any period. Talk with your co-parent about your situation and see if a payment plan can be worked out directly with him or her. You may be surprised at how willing they are to work with you if you explain your circumstances clearly and honestly. The more direct you can be and the more aware of your situation he or she is the greater the likelihood that this can be an issue that is not solved by going through the courts.
Once you discover that you are behind in child support payments you should start to take steps that go toward the repayment of child support arrearages. This could include saving money as much as possible and offering to make a payment on a one-time basis to get yourself caught up on the payments that you have missed to that point. This could be seen as a good-faith effort on your co-parent's part to show that you are doing everything you can to pay him or her back the money that you owe. Keep in mind that he or she is under no obligation to accept this sort of offer.
If you have already had an enforcement case filed against you, it is best to have some amount of money in the reserve to be able to show the court that you are taking this situation seriously and that you can quickly begin to make progress in paying the arrearage. In some situations, you may even be able to take on a second job to give yourself a bigger shovel to dig yourself out of this hole that you are in.
The same judge who took away your license can also restore your license. It may involve your co-parent notifying the court when you have met a certain benchmark for repayment. For example, if you owe $10,000 in back child support you may be able to petition the court to have your driver's license reinstated once you have paid by half of that figure. You should talk with the court at your hearing about whatever the circumstances are and see if you can avoid having your license taken away. If you need your license for an essential job function, then it may not make sense for the judge to take away your license.
It also pays to understand your child support order from front to back. Many people in your shoes run into missed payments simply due to a misunderstanding about what their responsibilities are. You should know exactly how much child support you owe each money, how the money needs to be paid to your co-parent, and what any other details are regarding missed payments. If you also are ordered to pay cash medical support or any other set costs with health insurance, then you should pay attention to these details.
One final bit of information that we can share with you today is to always try and do your best to keep the lines of communication open between you and your co-parent. It can become easy to just fall into a groove of making your child support payments each month and never really considering what is going on with your co-parent. Remember that your co-parent and you are raising children together and this goes beyond paying and accepting child support. The better your relationship the greater the likelihood that the two of you will be able to work out any temporary problems regarding child support.
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. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.