Child Support Enforcement in Texas

Learn about your options for collecting and enforcing child support in Texas—and how you might defend yourself against an enforcement proceeding if you're the delinquent parent.

By , Retired Judge
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When parents split up, paying child support is a fact of life. And because courts must prioritize the best interests of the children, the parent who's ordered to make the support payments needs to take that duty seriously. Failure to pay will have consequences, to the point where a delinquent parent could land in jail. This article will give you important information as to how courts and agencies in Texas go about enforcing child support orders.

Establishing Child Support in Texas

Like every other state, Texas has child support guidelines to determine the amount of support a parent should pay. But Texas is an outlier when it comes to calculating child support, because it uses what's known as the "income percentage" model to arrive at the child support figure. Rather than taking into account both parents' income (as most states do), Texas calculates child support based primarily on a percentage of the noncustodial parent's net monthly resources available for paying support.

Learn more about how child support works in Texas, including what counts as net resources.

Enforcing Child Support in Texas: Two Ways to Go

Matters involving support and custody of children are initially handled in the local district courts in Texas. Parents who are seeking to enforce an existing child support order may go back to these same courts. But there's a second option for enforcing a support order—the Child Support Division in the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (OAG). Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Enforcing Child Support Through the District Court

If you're seeking enforcement through the district court, you'll have to file a motion (written legal request) with the court. The motion must include the amount owed under the support order, the amount paid, and the amount of arrearages (past due amounts). (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.002(b) (2024).)

Filing the motion can get you into court relatively quickly.

The court has various methods for enforcing the order, including:

  • withholding child support payments from the delinquent parent's paycheck (if a withholding order isn't already in place)
  • suspending the delinquent parent's driver's license or professional licenses and certificates, and
  • placing a lien on the delinquent parent's assets.

The downside of filing the motion on your own is that you'll need to either hire an attorney or familiarize yourself with the proper court procedures and forms necessary to comply with the court rules. Although the Texas Courts website has some child support forms available, they don't appear to be inclusive.

If you decide to have a lawyer navigate the legal process for you, it may help to know that if you win your case, the delinquent parent will usually be required to pay your reasonable legal fees and court costs, in addition to the arrearages. (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.167(a) (2024).)

Contempt of Court

Probably the most serious enforcement measure is a request that the obligor parent be held in contempt of court. This can result result in fines and possibly even jail time if the delinquency is egregious enough.

If you're seeking a contempt finding, your motion must spell out which part of the support order your co-parent allegedly violated. Also, because each missed or late payment is technically a separate violation of the order, your motion must list the amount due and the amount paid (if any) for each date of the alleged violations. (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.002(b) (2024).)

Be aware that there's a time limit for these contempt motions: You must file the motion within two years after the child becomes an adult (normally 18 years old) or the support obligation ends, either under the terms of the order or another legal cutoff date. (If you're seeking a money judgment rather than contempt, the time limitation is 10 years.) (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.005 (2024).)

Enforcing Child Support Through the Attorney General's Office

You can apply for child support services from the OAG by requesting an application by mail. But the easier method is to apply online. Once you've set up an account, OAG can handle virtually all of your child support issues.

OAG has a host of child support enforcement tools, including:

  • intercepting the delinquent parent's tax refunds or state benefits
  • seizing lottery winnings
  • reporting the child support delinquency to credit reporting agencies
  • suspending various licenses, including a driver's license as well as professional and recreational licenses
  • having the delinquent parent's passport suspended or not renewed
  • filing liens against bank accounts, retirement accounts, lawsuit settlements, life insurance, and other property, and
  • filing a motion for contempt of court.

      Aside from all of these enforcement methods, the major benefit of going through OAG is that they basically do the work for you, relieving you of the burden of navigating the court system or having to hire an attorney.

      The downside is that OAG is usually swamped with requests for enforcement, so it's difficult to tell how long it will take to get results. That can be a major problem when you need the child support to feed your kids and pay other expenses.

      Another drawback is that if you have other issues that need to be remedied, such as custody and visitation, OAG can't address those for you. So if you need help with more than child support, going directly to court may be your best option.

      Unpaid Child Support Payments Are Considered Judgments

      In addition to the enforcement methods referred to above, Under Texas law, delinquent child support is considered a final court judgment for the amount due. This means the overdue payments are subject to collection proceedings and will also begin to accrue interest, just like any other money judgment. (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.261 (2024).)

      Defenses to Enforcement Proceedings

      If you're facing an enforcement motion for failing to pay child support, you may have a defense under Texas law, as long as you can prove that you:

      • didn't have the ability to pay the amount in the support order
      • didn't own property that you could sell or use to raise the money
      • tried unsuccessfully to borrow the necessary money, and
      • didn't know of any other way to raise the money legally.

      You may also have a defense if the custodial parent voluntarily turned the child over to you, and you actually supported the child during that time. (Tex. Fam. Code § 157.008 (2024).)

      Never assume that you can stop paying child support or reduce your payments just because circumstances have changed. You must file a modification request with the courts or through the OAG.

      Resources Available for Enforcement of Child Support

      In addition to the resources mentioned throughout this article, you can find information on child support enforcement and other family law matters at the Texas Law Help website.

      It's understandable that for some folks the thought of dealing with child support enforcement issues on their own, even with the aid of OAG, adds a debilitating layer of anxiety to an already stressful situation.

      If that's where you find yourself, then it may be worth your while to at least consult with a family law attorney before proceeding. Getting in-depth information from someone who deals with these matters on a day-to-day basis may be all you need to gain the confidence to move forward on your own. And, of course, if it's financially feasible for you, you can have the attorney represent you throughout the process.

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