When parents break up, most are able to agree on important matters, including paying for their children's expenses. However, some parents fall behind on their child support payments or even quit paying altogether.
This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of Texas. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
A child support order is an official government order that directs who must pay for the basic support and medical care of children.
Typically, the "noncustodial parent," the one who spends less time with the children, must make regularly scheduled child support payments to the "custodial" parent (the parent that cares for the children most of the time) to ensure that both parents are paying a fair share of the children's expenses.
Many divorcing or separating parents are able to agree informally on an appropriate amount of support. However, a simple spoken or written agreement about child support isn't enough to give a court or other state agency the authority to go after a delinquent or "deadbeat" parent (a parent that fails to pay child support). You must have an official child support order in place before a judge or agency can take action to enforce a child support obligation.
If you and the other parent have reached an informal agreement about child support, make sure you have your agreement incorporated (meaning, made part of) an official court order. But if you and the other parent can't agree, you will have to file a request for child support and ask a judge to issue an order that sets up the amount and frequency of support payments.
For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated and who renders a support decision, please see Understanding Child Support in Texas by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Once you have an official child support order, both parents must abide by it. If the noncustodial parent fails or refuses to pay, the custodial parent has several options for enforcing the order and collecting overdue support.
If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and isn't making payments according to the child support order, the custodial parent may go back to court and file an enforcement action, which means that the parent asks the judge to make the delinquent parent follow the support order and make the required payments. Custodial parents can either file this action on their own and represent themselves in court, or hire a private attorney to pursue the action on their behalf.
The judge has several choices in these situations. It's not uncommon for judges to fine or jail delinquent parents for "contempt of court" (meaning, the delinquent parent disobeyed a court order – in this case, a child support order). A judge might also require a delinquent parent to pay a portion of the outstanding child support as a condition of being released from jail. Noncustodial parents can avoid all these outcomes by paying their support in full and on time.
The Office of the Attorney General houses a Child Support Division (CSD) which provides child support services to both the receiving and non-receiving parent. Services are provided to parents at no cost. Federal and state law require the CSD to provide these services, including:
You can call a 24-hour hotline at 800-252-8014 for more information. You can also download and print CSD-approved posters and manuals here.
Family court judges and the CSD have a powerful set of legal and financial tools to obtain payment from parents with past-due child support accounts. The tools the courts and the CSD use will depend on the facts of the case and can include: