Texas parents are struggling with the effects of prolonged unemployment and other economic pressures by missing child support payments in record numbers, leaving a gaping, multi-billion-dollar hole in the state’s economy. The huge deficit doesn’t just apply to missed payments, though; more parents than ever before are also seeking downward modifications of existing orders, most often to account for a loss in income for the paying parent. On the flip side, parents who aren’t receiving much-needed support checks are hitting the state’s family courts more frequently than ever before to have child support orders enforced.
The huge arrearage is attributed to several different economic and societal factors, including:
A sluggish economy leading to unemployment or involuntary underemployment
- Higher cost of living
- Still-high foreclosure rates
- Loss of employment leading to loss of health insurance and other benefits
A recent survey by the Texas Attorney General’s office showed that a whopping 46 percent of parents in Dallas County are behind on their child support payments. Furthermore, the Houston Chronicle recently reported that nearly half of the roughly one million residents currently ordered to provide financial support for their children are not doing so in a timely manner, having fallen behind at least one month in the past year. Statewide, that amounts to nearly $11 billion in unpaid support arrearages, fines and court costs associated with enforcement.
Getting help with child support obligations
Regardless of whether a parent owes support or is due to receive support payments, he or she can rely on the services offered by the Child Support Division of the Office of the Texas Attorney General. The AG’s office is responsible for both establishing initial child support obligations and enforcing existing orders. Support is ordered on a case-by-case basis using a formula set out by the Texas state legislature.
The child support guidelines are set forth in Title 5, Section 154 of the Texas family code. They dictate the general way by which income and other factors are used to make initial support orders and modify existing ones. In most cases, the guidelines say that the non-custodial parent has to pay 20 percent of his or her income as child support each month, but deviations from that formula can be made depending on the individual circumstances of both parents and any special needs of the children.
Collecting unpaid amounts
The Texas family court and the AG’s office have several tools available to collect unpaid court-ordered child support payments, including:
- Withholding tax returns
- Garnishing lottery or gambling winnings
- Suspending professional licenses
- Garnishing regular wages
Whether you are in need of having a support order enforced or you are a paying parent that needs a temporary downward deviation, consider seeking the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area; doing so can make the family court system easier to navigate and could increase your chances of success.