During the course of divorce, in most cases, a child support order is formulated and is consequently included in the final decree of divorce. With the primary focus on the best interests of the child, the court orders the non-custodial parent (obligor) to pay for the basic support and medical care of the child to the custodial parent (obligee). However, if the obligor defaults or completely stops paying the support amount, then the court or the Child Support Division (CSD) has many options at its disposal to enforce the child support order. These options are briefly discussed below.
In the event, the obligor fails to make periodic payments against the child support, then the court or the CSD has the legal right to ask the obligor’s employer to withhold that much amount from the monthly disposable income of the obligor which would be able to cover for the arrearages as well as for the current support (Texas Family Code § 158.003). If the obligor happens to be self-employed or cannot be subjected to income withholding, then the court could order the obligor to pay a monthly amount of support to the obligee which would be able to cover the current amount as well as the arrearages. To make sure that the obligor complies with the enforced order, the obligee could request the court to make the obligor to execute a bond or post security (Texas Family Code § 157.109).
Child Support Lien
According to the Subchapter G of the Texas Family Code Chapter 157, a claimant can request the court to place a lien against the real and personal property of the obligor that is not exempted under the Texas Constitution (or by other laws) to collect the child support due and owing, including any accrued interest. A child support lien covers all real and personal property including: an account in a financial institution, retirement plan (individual retirement account), proceeds from an insurance policy, and property seized and which is subjected to forfeiture (Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 59) (Texas Family Code § 157.317).
It must be noted here that a child support lien cannot be attached to a homestead that is exempted under the Texas constitution or Property Code. Also, a child support lien is not effective until and unless it’s perfected as given by the Texas Family Code § 157.316.
An obligee or the CSD can file a petition to suspend a license of the obligor in the event that the child support arrearage equal or greater than the total support due for three months under a support order (Texas Family Code § 232.004). Once the petition is filed, the clerk of the court or the CSD should provide the obligor a notice of the same informing about the right to a hearing, deadline for requesting this hearing, and a hearing request form (if it’s a CSD case). If even after a warning and a repayment opportunity, the obligor fails to comply with the order, then the court has the legal right to suspend a state licence of an obligor such as driver’s license, professional license (medical, legal, dental, etc.) or any other state licenses.
Incarceration & Fine
An enforcement order given by the court may impose incarceration or fine for a criminal or civil contempt (Texas Family Code § 157.166). For a criminal contempt, incarceration in a county jail cannot exceed: 180 day limit for every violation and/or $500 fine for every violation. In the case of a civil contempt, however, there is no time-limit for incarceration which means that the obligor will have to stay in the jail as long as he/she doesn’t stop performing or start performing a certain act which would end the incarceration.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)
A QDRO is used to direct the benefits availed through the public retirement system towards an alternate payee i.e. the obligee or the child. A court generally comes out with an amount which must be deducted from the retirement plan so as to cover the arrearages.
If the obligor complies with certain requirements laid down by the court, then the court could suspend the incarceration as discussed below. The court could suspend commitment (incarceration) if the obligor: reports to the designated community supervision officer as per the laid requirements; lets the community supervision officer to visit his/her home or any other place of obligor; takes counseling on financial planning; pays child support & arrearages; pays court-ordered attorney’s fees as well as the court costs; gets employment assistance; and participates in mediation or any other services that could help the obligor to comply with the support order (Texas Family Code § 157.211).