When you fall behind with your child support obligation in Texas, it’s not just your ex’s response you have to worry about. Your county’s Domestic Relations Office can try to collect from you. If you live in a rural county that doesn’t have a Domestic Relations Office, the Attorney General can take action. In fact, the AG can act no matter where in the state you live.
Motions for Enforcement
The court must authorize child support enforcement in Texas. Your ex, the AG or your county can file a motion, asking the judge to order one or more enforcement measures against you. You should receive a copy of the paperwork, advising you when the hearing is scheduled. If you don’t show up, the judge can order a bench warrant for your immediate arrest.
You can raise certain defenses at the hearing, explaining why you haven’t been able to pay and what you’ve done to try to come up with the money. This might include borrowing from family or friends, taking out a loan or an advance on a credit card, or selling property. It can work in your favor if you’ve at least paid something toward your support obligation, even if you haven’t been able to remit the full amount.
Contempt of Court
If you have no reasonable excuse for not paying support, the judge can hold you in contempt of court. By doing so, he can send you to jail for up to six months and fine you up to $500. You also may have to pay the court costs associated with your ex, the AG or the county having to file the motion against you. The judge has the option of putting you on probation instead, which can last up to 10 years. If you fall behind with your child support again during this time, your probation can be revoked.
Other Enforcement Methods
According to the Attorney General, jail time typically results from having the means to pay but refusing to do so for an extended period of time. It’s more likely the judge will order income withholding if you’re working. In this scenario, your employer will deduct a percentage from your pay and send it to the state to be applied toward your arrears.
The judge likely will order a judgment against you for the amount of your arrears. If you have bank accounts, they can be seized, as can any tax refunds you might be expecting. Liens can be placed against your real or personal property, although your home is exempt under Texas law. Your driver's, recreational or professional licenses may be suspended as well.
Child support arrears keep growing in Texas – the state charges 6 percent interest on unpaid balances. It’s simple interest, not compound, so you won’t have to pay interest on the interest unless the court enters a judgment against you. In this case, the judgment is typically for all you owe at that point in time, which may include interest. From that point, more interest can accrue on the overall balance.
Texas law doesn’t give an overall grace period before the law springs into action to collect from you, but some enforcement measures require that certain conditions must first be met. For example, your tax refund can’t be intercepted until you’re at least $2,500 in arrears. You must owe more than three months’ support before your licenses can be suspended. This doesn’t mean you must go three entire months without paying anything, however. Suspension can occur when you’re in arrears for an amount equal to or more than what you should have paid in three months. For example, if you owe $1,000 a month, your licenses can be affected when you owe a total of $3,000 – meaning partial payments won’t reset the clock.