Whether you are the custodial parent to whom money is owed or the obligor facing stiff penalties for non-payment, the more you are willing to participate in fixing the situation, the more likely a positive resolution can be reached that helps everyone involved, especially the children who rely on the payment of child support to help sustain their needs.There are several reasons court ordered child support becomes unpaid and past due. Even though past due child support, called an arrearage, continues to accrue, it is important to address child support payment problems to ensure children do not go without the money their custodial parents need for to support a child’s needs. When parents ordered to pay support fail to meet their obligations there are various options available to enforce child support, including contempt of court which can include an imposition of fines and possible jail time for failure to follow the court’s order to pay child support.
How and why do child support payments stop and fall behind?
Despite there being an income withholding order used to collect and disburse child support, the common reasons child support is not withheld and paid include the loss of a job, failure to report cash income and problems with the withholding order and process itself. When an employee no longer receives a paycheck after losing a job, the Texas Attorney General, who collects and disburses child support will not have the money to deposit to your child support account. The employer is responsible to report a termination within seven days to the Office of the Attorney General.
After an employment termination, the child support obligor might take on side jobs for cash and extra income while looking for a new job. In other cases, the non-custodial parent ordered to pay child support may fail to disclose new income. In addition to failure to earn and report income, there can also be problems with the wage withholding order and collection systems. In any case, the longer one waits to correct problems, the more difficult it can be to collect on an arrearage and get current with support payments.
What are the options available to a custodial parent who needs to enforce child support obligations?
Depending on how well you communicate with the other parent, you might be able to work out a plan to make sure the child support payments continue, even after a job loss. The obligor might use savings and other monies to satisfy their court ordered obligation. Note that the obligor may have the option to ask the court to modify their child support obligation to reflect the loss of income. In any of these cases it is important to seek the advice and representation by a lawyer to make sure there are no future problems caused by a change in child support payments, arrearages and withholdings.
Your family law attorney may contact your former spouse or their lawyer, if one is retained, to negotiate a resolution to the problem of insufficient support payments as ordered by the court. Resolving enforcement problems out of court can save everyone time and money. If, however, the child support obligor is not an amicable party, your lawyer may need to file enforcement proceedings with the court to seek a court order establishing new obligations regarding current and past arrears in child support.
The courts and the state have options in enforcing child support obligations.
Judges have discretion in child support enforcement cases and their primary objective should be to facilitate the resuming of payments. Judges may require those who lost their job to seek assistance with the Texas Workforce Commission to find new income. Judges might also order partial payments of child support arrears if the obligor has access to means to make payments on arrears. If the obligor fails to follow court orders, the judge may find them in contempt of court. In some instances, judges may sentence an individual to jail as part of the finding of contempt, requiring a payment of past due child support as a condition of release.
When the State of Texas gets involved in penalizing child support obligors for failing to pay child support the Attorney General may file liens against property and assets, suspend drivers and professional licenses, locate new employers and serve wage withholding orders and file lawsuits seeking jail and judgements against non-paying child support obligors.
If you are on either end of a child support enforcement matter it is important to be represented by an experienced divorce and family law attorney.
This article highlights a few of the common legal issues in a child support enforcement matter. Whether you are the custodial parent to whom money is owed or the obligor facing stiff penalties for non-payment, the more you are willing to participate in fixing the situation, the more likely a positive resolution can be reached that helps everyone involved, especially the children who rely on the payment of child support to help sustain their needs. To learn more about what options may available in your situation, contact Scroggins Law Group.
*Mark L. Scroggins is *board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Unless otherwise noted, other attorneys are not *board-certified.
**Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service, awarded to Mark Scroggins 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)
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