Kids don’t come cheap. From diapers to formula, daycare to high school, the cost of childrearing can quickly become overwhelming. And these obligations don’t end, just because you get divorced. Which is why the court will usually require non-custodial parents to make regular child support payments.
But what happens if this parent shirks this responsibility? What are the remedies? And can a custodial parent get reimbursed for missed payments?
Here’s what you need to know about how Texas courts handle unpaid child support, and what the North Texas Family Lawyers team can do to help you navigate this stressful situation.
What is Child Support?
According to a recent study done by the US Department of Agriculture, the average cost to raise a child until they’re seventeen is nearly $250,000. As all parents out there know, however, this can easily add up to much more.
Whatever the exact amount, one thing is clear: it takes a lot of money to keep a small human alive and happy. Which is why courts assign child support.
Child support are payments made by one parent to another and are used to help offset the astronomical costs associated with child-rearing. These orders are usually handed down as part of a divorce order, but can also be issued as part of a parenting plan for unmarried parents.
Payment amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis and are assigned after analyzing the individual factors in each family’s unique situation (see THIS article for more details).
In general, however, the cost is roughly dependent on the amount of time you spend parenting, how many children need support, and the level of your total income.
In Texas, non-custodial parents are almost always the ones who shoulder this responsibility. This is because their child does not live with them full time. As a result, the child’s other parent inevitably takes on a greater share of day-to-day costs.
In Texas, child support payments are used to cover the cost of a child’s:
- Food and housing;
- Clothing, hygiene products, and other personal items;
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance;
- Education costs (such as supplies and books); as well as,
- Travel, media, and entertainment.
That’s correct, you read that right. Child support can—and, indeed, is meant to cover—entertainment. In Texas, children are entitled to the same lifestyle as their parents, and this includes the benefits of discretionary income.
Other, standard health insurances are handled separately and are not included in regular child support payments.
According to the Texas Family Code, support payments must continue until your child:
- Reaches eighteen or graduates high school (whichever occurs later);
- Is emancipated through marriage, court order, or other legal process; or,
- The child dies.
Until one of these things occurs, the responsible party must continue to make payments or else face serious legal consequences.
Unpaid Child Support
Child support is critical to maintaining a child’s health and wellbeing. These payments are carefully calculated to ensure each parent is equally accountable for that care, and unpaid support can result in serious legal consequences, including a revocation of parental rights.
Here are nine things you need to know about how Texas courts handle unpaid child support, and why it’s not something you want to forget to pay.
1. You Could Go to Jail
We knew that one would get your attention.
Failure to comply with a court order—even accidentally—rarely results in anything good. Intentionally failing, however, is much worse, and could put you in contempt of court.
Contempt occurs when someone willfully and knowingly refuses to comply with a court order. This offence can get you slapped with steep fines (up to $10,000), a black mark on your permanent record (which can’t be expunged), and land you in jail (for up to two years).
2. You Could Get Your License(s) Revoked
If jail isn’t enough to scare you into compliance, the courts have other ways of putting on pressure, including the suspension of your license—and we aren’t just talking about your driver’s license, here (although, there’s that, too).
In Texas, courts are authorized to suspend carry permits, hunting and fishing licenses, commercial driver’s licenses, and even other professional credentials (such as an attorney’s license), until the support is paid in full.
Unpaid support that’s more than six months past due will also bar you from receiving a passport. (And it should go without saying, but current passports can also be restricted.)
3. You’ll Probably Have Your Wages Garnished
One of the first things the court will try (before bothering with licenses and jail time), is to garnish your wages.
A wage garnishment is an order that gets sent directly to your employer, requiring them to withhold child support amounts from your paycheck before delivering the remainder to you.
Most of the time, child support orders come pre-prepackaged with this order, anyway, but if not, unpaid support will most certainly earn you the privilege.
4. “Play Money” Isn’t Safe, Either
Looking forward to that tax return? Excited that you just won the lottery? Before you start planning how you’re going to spend all that extra cash, make sure you’re up to date on any unpaid child support.
When collecting back payments, the state is allowed to get creative and can intercept funds, such as federal and state support payments, your tax returns, employee bonus money—and, yes, even that golden lotto ticket—which will be used to compensate for missed payments before hitting your account.
5. The State Can Report You to Credit Bureaus
While they’re busy collecting your lottery winnings, the state may also choose to report any missing, late, or partial payment offenses to credit bureaus. This will negatively impact your credit score and could hamper your ability to apply for loans, credit cards, and other financial help.
6. Liens Aren’t Out of the Question, Either
Not only can delinquent payments hamper your ability to apply for credit, it can also affect the things you currently own, since the state has the authorization to file a lien against any real or titled property under your name (such as a house or car).
A lien is kind of like a claim, which the state can place on any of your “non-essential property,” and use to pay for child support. While they can’t take your house out from under you, liens attached to real property can prevent you from selling it until the support is paid in full.
Needless to say, a lien will also affect your credit score.
7. Partial or Late Payments Still Count as “Unpaid”
Your child’s other parent is relying on these payments to care for your child. When they don’t arrive on time and in full, this can create a lot of stress, along with strained finances. This situation deprives your child of stability, and in some cases, can even affect their mental and physical health.
That’s why, when it comes to child support, anything short of “full and timely” is unacceptable, and could still result in consequences (especially for repeated offenses).
8. You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide
Child support obligations do not go away. These payments are not optional and will continue to stack up on your tab until they’re paid in full—including any missed payments that might be pending.
(And, in case you were wondering, yes, they’ll even follow you to jail. Your child doesn’t stop needing support, just because you’re behind bars.)
However, state legislatures understand that sometimes legitimate life changes do crop up that can hamper a parent’s ability to pay, which is why they’ve provided a way for you to modify child support payments, under certain circumstances.
9. Child Support Modifications Aren’t Retroactive
A judge might approve your petition to modify child support, but that doesn’t mean that their decision can be applied retroactively.
In Texas, modification decisions can only be applied to future payments—not the ones that are past due. So, you’ll still be obligated to pay the full, original amount of whatever missed payments you have pending.
Hence, if there is a legitimate reason keeping you from making full and on-time support payments (including alimony), don’t wait. Contact your family law attorney today, and ask whether a modification might be possible in your situation.
Unpaid Child Support Attorneys in Texas
Whether you are a custodial parent stressed out because of unmade payments, or a non-custodial parent struggling to keep up with a change of circumstances, we want to hear from you.
For more questions about how Texas courts handle unpaid child support, call the North Texas Family Lawyers team at (972) 402-6367, or schedule a consultation online, and together, we can ensure your child’s needs are being met.