Although a Court may have signed a child support order, this does not necessarily mean that a party will abide by it. Sometimes a party may need to seek further assistance from the Court in enforcing that order. Luckily, Texas allows a party to seek enforcement of child support orders.
When an obligor is ordered to pay child support under a court order and fails to make those payments, or only makes partial payments, the obligee can ask the court to enforce its orders. Essentially the obligee is requesting the Court to force the obligor to abide by its orders. Texas offers a variety of methods in which the Court can order the obligor to comply.
In order for a party to be able to sue for enforcement of child support, the following requirements must be met:
- Child support order was final;
- Order was in effect at time of violation;
- Obligor knew of child support order;
- The order was reasonably specific; and
- The order actually imposes a child support obligation.
Methods of Child Support Enforcement
A party in Texas has various remedies available to them in trying to enforce child support orders. A party can request multiple enforcement methods. These methods are not exhaustive.
Probably the most common way to enforce a child support order is through contempt. This remedy becomes available as soon as the obligor misses a child support payment or makes a late or partial payment. Contempt subjects the obligor to incarceration, community supervision, and/or payment of a fine. If the obligor is found to be in contempt, the Court may order the obligor to be incarcerated until the child support is paid.
However, before a Court can find an obligor guilty of contempt, there must first be a signed Court order in place. Second, this order must be clear enough so that the obligor knows exactly what they are violating. If the order is not clear, the Court cannot hold the obligor in contempt, but instead will issue further clarifying orders so that the order can be enforced by contempt in the future. Finally, the obligor must have been personally served with the contempt pleadings.
The Court your case is in will play a huge factor in whether or not an obilgor will be incarcerated for a first offense. Some Judges will throw the obligor in jail for a first offense, while others will merely give the obligor a “slap on the wrist.”
Confirmation of Arrears
The second most common form of child support enforcement is through confirmation of arrears. This is available once an obligor misses a child support payment and often is requested contemporaneously with contempt. If the Court finds the obligor has not paid child support, it will render a cumulative money judgment for child support arrears. This wronged party may now enforce this judgment through any means available in Texas for enforcing a judgment.
A party may also have the right to ask the Court for a child support lien on the obligor’s real and personal property, to issue a levy on the obligor’s financial institution, or to suspend the obligor’s license (occupational, recreational, and driving license). As with any remedy though, certain requirements must be met ahead of time.
Defenses to Child Support Enforcement
An obligor may have a defense to a child support enforcement action. Some of the more common defense are as follows:
- Actual payment – the obligor actually made the child support payments;
- Inability to comply – the obligor was unable to comply with the court order;
- Relinquishment – the obligee voluntarily relinquished possession of the children to the obligor; or
- Unenforceable court order.
Each case is different and whether an obligor has violated a court ordered is determined on a case-by-case basis. Which remedy a Court grants will depend a lot on the Judge.