Unpaid child support is a significant problem in Texas. At the end of 2013 Texas had over $13 billion in child support arrears unpaid. That is a significant sum of money unpaid in support of Texas children. Many parents who should receive child support do not receive the child support obtained through a divorce or custody proceeding. After years of non-payment of child support plus interest the number can be substantial.
Other federal government suggests approximately half of parents owing child support arrearage owes more than $30,000. Unfortunately, many parents do not take the necessary steps to enforce the child support obligation and let the arrearage build. That happens even if the parent does not independently earn enough income to adequately provide for the children. Today’s post will address the steps parents should take to prevent the arrearage from becoming so large recovery is challenging.
Child support arrears in Texas
Parents have different reasons why they allows the child support arrears to grow into such a substantial sum. Some parents believe the unpaid child support is like a growing investment that someday they will collect. Other parents believe it is too difficult to receive and simply assumes it is lost money. Neither of these are great positions. Once the arrearage becomes substantial it can be extremely difficult for the obligor (the parent owing support) to repay. Interest accrues against the arrearage and continually increases the sum. Additionally, the longer the obligor avoids paying child support, the harder to locate the obligor and the obligor’s employer.
Enforcing child support in Texas
Enforcing the child support order begins when the court signs the order. In preparing the child support order your family law attorney should have reviewed financial assets to pay child support up front. If the obligor can satisfy the child support obligation out of existing resources then it may make sense to have the child support paid up front. That avoids potentially chasing the obligor to receive future payments. You should also obtain an income withholding order for support and serve it on the obligor’s employer.
An income withholding order deducts child support from the obligor’s paycheck which prevents the obligor from hiding wages. If an income withholding order no longer secures payment of child support due to a change in employment then the parent who receives support (the obligee) should immediately take steps to enforce the child support obligation and try to identify a new employer so a new income withholding order issues from the court to continue payroll payments.
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.
How to deal with a child support arrearage in Texas
Once an arrearage of unpaid child support begins to accrue, the obligee should contact a private family law attorney for assistance. Many parents seek out help from the Attorney General’s child support division. The OAG (Office of the Attorney General) offers to help enforce child support at no cost. However, the OAG has more work than it can handle. Many people wait a year or more before they appear in court.
By that time the arrearage may be large enough that it is difficult to recover and the OAG may not have the resources available to thoroughly help you recover in the best way possible. The Texas Family Code gives you the right to enforce unpaid child support through the Texas family courts. In addition to a private right to recover child support, the Texas Family Code also entitles you to recover attorney’s fees and costs from the obligor. The cost of recovering the unpaid child support will not come out of your pocket.
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.
How a divorce attorney or family law attorney in Texas can help you with child support enforcement
A family law attorney can pursue unpaid child support by using a number of enforcement mechanisms provided in the Texas Family Code. These include reducing the child support arrearage to a judgment that can be recovered from the obligor’s financial assets, liens on retirement plans, community supervision (probation), loss of licenses both professional and personal, increasing income withholding by an employer and even placing the obligor in jail. Balancing the right mix of enforcement mechanisms to ensure child support is paid without making it less likely that the obligor can pay the child support is an important part of enforcing child support best handled by an attorney familiar with child support enforcement proceedings.
If you already have a substantial arrearage then you should act as soon as possible to recover unpaid child support. It may require a different balance of enforcement mechanisms to move the obligor to recover the arrearage. It may take some time to repay the child support but you should not assume the child support arrears is unrecoverable.
If there is unpaid child support owed you need to talk to a family law attorney.