If you’re in Texas and looking to modify child support or conservatorship, or if you’re wondering how to enforce your current child support order or conservatorship, we can provide some guidance per the Texas Family Code.
In my previous article on child support, I discussed how child support works under the Texas Family Code, as well as how collaborative divorce approaches child support from the perspective of what’s best for the individual family. To fully understand how child support works, it helps to know how it can legally be modified and how it is enforced.
MODIFICATION OF CHILD SUPPORT AND CONSERVATORSHIP
All orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future. Either parent can petition the Court to change conservatorship (child custody), change periods of possession, or modify child support at any time until the child is emancipated. The burden of proof are different in each case, and sometimes are very onerous. You should not enter into an agreement based on the assumption that it can always be modified later. You also should not enter into an agreement that you will pay a minimal amount of child support (or even no child support) based on the assumption that a request for full child support will not be made later.
Also, it’s important to note informal agreements between the parties are not binding on the Court. If you rely on the agreement of your former spouse that you can pay a lesser amount of child support, you are likely to find yourself in contempt of court, as you have violated the Court’s Order. If your former spouse agrees to give you primary possession of the children, and then demands return of the children several days later, you have no enforceable right to retain possession. If such agreements are reached, it’s best to contact an attorney to have them reduced to the form of a court order.
ENFORCEMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT AND CONSERVATORSHIP
Orders relating to support and conservatorship of the children are enforceable by the Court. Sanctions for non-payment of child support or failure to comply with periods of possession include imprisonment.
Please remember that the duty to pay child support and the right to periods of possession with the child are independent concepts. If your spouse or former spouse does not allow you to see the children, you cannot refuse to pay child support. If your spouse or former spouse is not paying child support, you cannot refuse visitation rights with the children. You would need to seek enforcement of the court order. If you violate the court order, your spouse can file an enforcement action against you. If you do not pay child support, the Court can order jail time, garnishment of wages, and other onerous punishments. If you refuse to allow visitation, there are civil and criminal remedies available to the other parent. Additionally, the child’s parent could seek modification of the child custody arrangement to decrease your rights.
In most places, the Court orders that the child support be paid to a child support Collection agency, who processed payments received and then forwards the payments on to the recipient of the payments. The universal collection agency in Texas is the Child Disbursement Unit in San Antonio. They collect the support and then distribute the payments received. This is the case even with Orders of Withholding. Be sure to know what the Judge of your court requires before presenting papers to finalize your case, as having the wrong agency or wrong payment method is a sure way to have the court not approve the papers and not sign the papers ending the case. Worse, you can be held accountable for not doing things the right way, and may even have to make some payments twice. So pay attention to the details!
About the author: Jody Johnson is a Dallas and Plano-based collaborative family lawyer, serving clients in Collin, Dallas, and Denton Counties.