Penalty for Non-Payment of Child Support in Texas

By Beverly Bird

Father and son outdoors

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Divorce doesn't end a parent's responsibility to support his children financially, so when a court orders child support, Texas and the federal government require you pay it through income withholding. This obligates your employer to deduct your support from each of your paychecks and send it to the state. Texas then disburses the payments to your children's custodial parent.

Child Support Guidelines

Texas' child support guidelines are relatively simple and clear-cut compared to some other states. Unless your child is disabled, support is typically payable until he turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. These events emancipate your child, although emancipation can occur sooner if he marries or establishes his financial independence in some other way. Texas uses the percentage of income model for calculating child support, so your payment is a percentage of your pay, minus allowable deductions, based on the number of children who need your support. For example, if you earn $6,000 a month or less and have two children, you must pay 25 percent of your net income after deductions as child support. The percentage goes down a bit if you're also supporting children from another relationship.

State Services

All child support orders, including divorce decrees that order child support, are registered with Texas' Office of the Attorney General. The OAG oversees income withholding orders for current support and can initiate enforcement measures to collect past-due support. A custodial parent who wants the OAG to take enforcement action must apply to the state for these services, unless she's receiving financial assistance from the state, such as TANF or Medicaid. If so, the OAG enforces these support orders automatically.

Financial Penalties

The OAG has many methods at its disposal to collect past due child support when an income withholding order for current support isn't enforceable, such as when a non-custodial parent is self-employed or unemployed. The office will first try to get the money by seizing the non-custodial parent's liquid or cash resources, such as bank accounts. Federal law allows the state to intercept tax refunds. The OAG can ask the court for a judgment against you for what you owe and can use the judgment to place a lien against your real or personal property. If you begin working at a job where income withholding is possible, the OAG can initiate an income withholding order for both current and past due support, or arrears. Arrears are payable at the rate of 20 percent more than your regular child support payment, or a percentage that will pay off your arrears within two years, whichever amount is less.

Other Measures

If you don't have bank accounts, own property, receive a tax refund, or have any other resources that Texas can pursue for the support you owe, the state will take other steps to encourage you to pay your arrears. The OAG may take these methods in addition to other collection efforts. The OAG can ask the court to hold you in contempt if you willfully refuse to pay or attempt to avoid paying, even though you have the resources. This can result in jail time. The OAG can also suspend your driver's license, recreational licenses or even a professional license, such as to practice medicine or law. It can place a hold on your passport or block issuance of one so you can't travel out of the country.

Statute of Limitations

Child support arrears don't go away in Texas unless and until you pay them. There is no statute of limitations for the state to try to collect from you. Even if all your children emancipate and you no longer owe current support, you'll still owe the arrears and you'll still be subject to enforcement measures.