When parents divorce, it’s natural for them to worry about the future of their children. Who will get custody? Will child support be ordered? Will it be sufficient? What if the child’s parents never married? And how can a custodial parent get child support from a parent who isn’t paying? To learn some answers, keep reading this brief explanation of the child support rules in Texas.

In any divorce, it is always best when the divorcing spouses can mutually agree on matters like child custody and child support. Likewise, if parents are unmarried and separated, it’s best when they can agree about child support. In either case, a mutual agreement will help the parents avoid much of the expense, time, and aggravation that inevitably accompanies a child support dispute.

All parents in Texas are obligated by the law to provide for a child’s housing, education, healthcare costs, and living expenses until that child reaches the age of 18 or completes high school – whichever comes last. In all fifty states, noncustodial parents are ordered by courts to make child support payments. How is that amount decided in Texas, and how can you get the child support that you are owed if you are not receiving it?

WHAT SHOULD A PARENT SEEKING CHILD SUPPORT DO FIRST?

If you are not receiving the full amount of child support that you should be receiving, you are not alone. The statistics, quite frankly, are disturbing. In 2012, the Census Bureau reported that only 41.2 percent of the divorced custodial parents in the United States are receiving the full child support amounts that the courts have ordered.

When parents divorce – or if parents are not married and they separate – an arrangement must be established to make sure that the child or children will be cared for properly. When a parent in Texas needs to have child support ordered, enforced, or modified, the best first step is to schedule a consultation with an experienced Dallas family law attorney.

A review of the noncustodial parent’s resources is the first step in determining a proper figure for child support payments. Those resources may include the parent’s salary or wages, income from royalties, dividends, and interest, rental income, and retirement, unemployment, and workers’ compensation benefits.

After the assessment of the noncustodial parent’s resources, that parent must pay a child support amount based on the Texas Child Support Guidelines, although in rare circumstances, a judge may take other factors into account when the child support amount indicated by the guidelines is unfair or inappropriate in any particular case.

IS MEDIATION AN OPTION IN CHILD SUPPORT DISPUTES?

Unmarried parents and ex-spouses frequently resolve child support disputes through mediation, where parents can establish a mutually acceptable child support agreement that a judge will approve. In mediation, a neutral mediator can help parents discuss and resolve child support conflicts and other family disputes.

If parents cannot compromise on child support and reach their own agreement, the court will issue a child support order. Either way, in the state of Texas, if a noncustodial parent cannot or will not comply with the court order, the courts have considerable authority to enforce that order, and judges in this state have a variety of enforcement tools available.

Judges in Texas make every effort to issue child support orders that are clear, specific, and unambiguous, so that both parents understand precisely what the court expects. Noncompliant parents in this state may be found in contempt of court, fined, and even in some cases sent to jail.

HOW DOES TEXAS ENFORCE CHILD SUPPORT ORDERS?

The court may order that a noncompliant parent’s wages are withheld until all back child support payments are made. The court can have a child support lien placed on that parent’s real estate or other property, and portions of that parent’s tax returns or government benefit payments can be seized. Texas courts can also revoke a noncompliant parent’s driver’s license and any professional licenses.

When child support payments have not been made in full, a custodial parent’s attorney can initiate an enforcement action by drafting and filing a Motion to Enforce. That motion must identify the court order that has been violated, explain exactly how the order is being violated, and spell out precisely what relief the custodial parent is requesting.

The Motion to Enforce must also include the current child support amount owed, the amount previously paid, and the amount still due. Your motion should include attachments such as a record of the child support payments, the original child support order, and any subsequent modifications to the original support order.

When a Motion to Enforce has been filed and served, the noncustodial parent must respond. If that parent disputes anything that is asserted in the motion, a hearing date may be set by the court, and if there is no response from the noncustodial parent, the court will decide and act without that parent’s input.

IF YOU ARE NOT RECEIVING CHILD SUPPORT, WHAT’S YOUR BEST OPTION?

Especially if your child’s other parent is already in violation of a court order regarding child support payments, do not try to make a private arrangement about delinquent payments. It’s too late for that, and if a court order is already in place, private promises and agreements have no legal weight whatsoever. Instead, you will need to take legal action with the help of an experienced Dallas family law attorney.

If you are a noncustodial parent in Texas and you become injured, ill, or unemployed, you can’t just stop making payments. You could quickly be found in contempt of court and possibly even sent to jail. Instead, you must request from the court a modification of your child support order if you can no longer make payments in the amount ordered. If you need to request a modification of the child support order, a Dallas family law attorney can help.

If you are not receiving the child support payments that you should be receiving, you may be struggling financially. If you need to have a child support order issued, enforced, or modified, most family law attorneys will work with parents facing hardship and offer several ways to pay, so don’t let anything stop you from seeking what’s best for your child or children. Nothing is more important.