Collecting a judgment for unpaid child support under Texas law

The Texas Constitution and Texas Property Code set out powerful protections for Texans against creditors. For the average person these protections prevents most creditors from attaching property to satisfy a judgment on a debt. This protects the homestead and a significant amount of personal property in Texas. Property may be foreclosed to satisfy a debt when the debt is secured against specific property. The Texas Family Code, however, sets out an even more powerful weapon to satisfy a judgment for unpaid child support. Today’s post will discuss this weapon and how it compares to the normal protections debtors receive under Texas law.

How a divorce attorney gets a judgment for unpaid child support in Texas

Let’s start out talking about how we get to a judgment for unpaid child support. When child support goes unpaid the Texas Family Code provides procedures for a child support enforcement. These remedies include jail time, probation, wage withholding and judgments collected against the obligor’s property. Frequently obligors do not have assets to satisfy the unpaid child support. Collecting against future wages through increased wage withholding is often a better solution.

Sometimes, however, obligors have assets like retirement savings available to liquidate to pay child support. In these cases getting money that the obligor already has in hand can be easier than chasing down wages. That is especially true with self-employed obligors. Income may be inconsistent and the obligor may not deserve trust to follow the withholding order. When there is a better option to collect unpaid child support against existing assets the obligee will ask the court to confirm the unpaid child support as a money judgment and let the obligee collect against the obligor’s assets.

Texas child support liens

The most common post-judgment collection mechanism for a child support judgment is the child support lien. A child support lien allows the obligee to foreclose against the lien on property held under a recorded title or in the hands of a third party. This applies to cars, boats, checking and savings accounts, 401ks and other retirement accounts, and investment accounts. The Texas Family Code allows us to collect on a child support lien against many types of property otherwise exempt from judgments under the Constitution or the Texas Property Code. The only property exempt from a child support lien is property part of the homestead under Article XVI of the Texas Constitution. That means we can’t make the obligor homeless but we can tap all sorts of other assets.

Getting this process right is not always easy. There are specific steps to follow in a child support enforcement from drafting the motion through obtaining judgment to perfecting child support liens. If these steps are not completed correctly or the necessary documents are improperly drafted then the obligee can seriously hamper his or her ability to collect unpaid child support.

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