Common questions about child support payments and the law

Failing to make a child support payment can have legal consequences for Texas residents. In the end, it may not be a mistake you can afford to make.

Although most people consider themselves to be law abiding citizens, the complexity of the law can make this difficult to follow sometimes. Even a simple mistake or misunderstanding of your obligations can result in serious legal consequences, including the possibility of fines and even incarceration in some cases.

For parents currently paying child support, this is an all too common fear. Even though the courts try to lay out the specifics of a child support order, without extensive knowledge of family law, a person may find themselves unaware of some of their more subtle obligations. And as you can imagine, this can lead to a number of legal questions.

How do you know if you're breaking the law?

During a custody hearing, a Texas judge may order a parent to pay child support payments to another parent. Payments may be made in a number of ways, including wage garnishment, and must be made regularly. If payments are inconsistent or not paid at all, a custodial parent may seek enforcement of the order.

What happens when a court enforces an order?

If you fail to obey a court order, you may be subject to a finding of contempt of court. When a party seeks to enforce a court order, the court sets a date and time for a hearing and requests that the respondent reply to the motion and appear as requested.

At the hearing, the respondent may present evidence that shows why they have failed to make payments per the terms of the order. In some cases, a parent may not be financially able to pay the court ordered amount due to unemployment. In other cases, a clerical error could cause support payments to be withdrawn sporadically, making it look like the parent is deliberately disobeying the order when in fact they may not even realize that a mistake is being made.

What happens if you miss the enforcement hearing?

Depending on the circumstances of your case, a Texas judge may issue a capias, or arrest warrant, if you fail to attend the enforcement hearing. According to the Family Code, law enforcement officials can treat these like an arrest warrant for a criminal offense.

After being taken into custody, another hearing is set to discuss the reasons for your arrests, and whether release is possible or if further enforcement is necessary. Depending on the specifics of the case, a judge may issue a fine or even send a person to jail.

It's important to know that not all contempt of court cases result in jail time. Judges take a lot of things into consideration before making this decision, such as whether the person is employed or not. Sending a person to jail could compromise their employment and lead to a termination of income, which would not be in the best interest of the child.

Other things to keep in mind

It's worth noting that you may still be held liable for unpaid child support and future payments. Though modifications may be made to future payments, the court may not, under the Texas Family Code, modify or reduce the amount of child support arrearages when rendering a money judgment.

It's also important to point out that a person, at anytime during the enforcement process, does have the right to seek legal counsel. People often find lawyers helpful in situations such as this because they can walk you through the process and make sure that you fully understand your obligations so as to avoid future litigation.

Keywords: child support, child support enforcement