The Legal Implications of Unpaid Child Support: What You Need to Know
If you’ve been ordered by the court to pay child support, you must respect this responsibility. Failure to pay child support exactly as detailed in your court order can result in serious consequences.
Still, many do not understand the implications of unpaid child support. The courts take child-related matters seriously, including custody and support. Therefore, simply failing to pay child support when and how it must be paid can take a toll on your life in several ways.
If you are having difficulty paying ordered support, never simply stop paying. Instead, discuss your options with a Fort Worth child support attorney.
Establishing Child Support: How Child Support is Determined in Court
There are several reasons why child-related matters are taken to court. These matters are often brought up in divorce cases, as divorcing spouses with children must make decisions regarding the children before a divorce is finalized. Alternatively, parents can also file a case in court for child matters alone, like custody and paternity.
Regardless of how child support is brought up in court, there is no denying it is crucial and can affect a child’s life.
Generally, child custody matters are first determined before child support decisions are made. This is because the custody arrangement influences child support details.
Custody arrangements are tailored to every case, depending on the situation. The court can award one parent sole custody, giving them physical and legal custody over the child. Otherwise, the court may award parents joint, or shared, custody, allowing both parents to share time with and make decisions for their child.
Physical custody is often one of the most significant determining factors for child support. Generally, the parent who spends less time with the child, or the noncustodial parent, pays the custodial parent for the child. In Texas, the noncustodial parent is also called the obligor.
No matter whether the court orders one parent to pay or both parents to pay, both parents are still financially responsible for their child. Even if one parent pays the other parent child support, it does not mean the receiving parent is off the hook entirely.
Calculating Child Support in Texas
Not only is it important for the court to determine which parent must pay, but also how much the parent must pay. To make it fair, Texas courts use an income percentage method. Using this method, the court can calculate the amount of child support based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income.
To adequately calculate child support, Texas courts look at all sources of gross income and benefits, including:
- Salary and wages (including tips, commissions, overtime, and bonuses)
- Income from self-employment
- Rental property income
- Unemployment benefits
- Veteran benefits
- Retirement benefits
- Workers’ compensation benefits
- Disability benefits
Next, to figure out the parent’s net income, the following must be subtracted from the gross income:
- State and federal income taxes
- Social security taxes, or in the alternative, contributions to their retirement plan
- Union dues
- Health insurance premiums the parent has been ordered to pay for the child(ren)
After establishing the net monthly income, the court multiplies that number by a percentage, based on how many children the parent must pay child support for. These percentages include:
- One child: 20%
- Two children: 25%
- Three children: 30%
- Four children: 35%
- Five children: 40%
If there are six or more children, the amount cannot be less than that for five children.
Of course, the courts can deviate from these child support guidelines as they see fit. Every case is unique, leaving judges room to make changes if they feel it is necessary and appropriate based on the circumstances.
Exploring the Legal System: How Unpaid Child Support is Handled in Court
Unpaid child support is called back child support, or “arrears.” This could include child support and medical support.
In many cases, the support-seeking parent starts by communicating with the support-paying parent to determine why they have not paid their child support as ordered by the court. While communication is sometimes all that is needed to correct the issue, it is often not enough for support-seeking parents to get the money they’re owed. Therefore, if you’re owed child support, you may need to take legal action against your child’s other parent.
As the support-seeking parent, you can begin by filing an enforcement action against the other parent. When you file an enforcement action, you’re essentially asking the court to make the delinquent parent follow the child support order and make all missed payments.
It is not uncommon for Texas judges to find delinquent parents in contempt of court. Being in contempt of court means the individual has disobeyed a court order. When a delinquent parent is in contempt, the judge may impose fines or jail time. If the parent is jailed, the judge can require the parent to pay at least a portion of their arrears in order to be released.
Texas courts take child support matters seriously. Therefore, if a support-seeking parent asks the court for help, the court can step in and do whatever is necessary to help the parent get the child support they and their child need and deserve.
Breaking Down the Numbers: How Unpaid Child Support Affects Your Finances
There are many reasons why support-paying parents do not pay the other parent the full support amount, or stop paying the support altogether. However, if there are issues affecting the paying parent from making payments, simply avoiding their responsibility won’t solve the problem. There are proper ways to handle financial matters that could avoid further financial trouble for the paying parent.
In most cases, delinquent parents do not dig into their pockets and pay the receiving parent every penny they owe them. When a judge orders the delinquent parent to pay their arrears, there is often a need to make arrangements that ensure support payments are made fully and timely and prevent the risk of non-payment in the future.
Failing to pay child support can affect the paying parent’s finances. The court may impose any of the following to help make sure unpaid and future payments are fulfilled:
- Wage garnishment: Automatic deductions from paychecks or other sources of income
- Liens: Filing “child support liens” on assets, such as homes and businesses; these liens stay in place until the lien is paid
- Interception of funds: The government can intercept any future earnings, including tax refunds or lottery winnings, to help pay back child support
Unpaid child support can have a major – and long-lasting – impact on a delinquent parent’s finances. The absolute best way to avoid any financial troubles is to pay child support on time.
When a paying parent is going through financial challenges, it does not mean the court will automatically take drastic measures to recover arrears. Instead, the support-paying parent may have options, like seeking a child support order modification from the court. When handled timely, the paying parent may have the opportunity to prevent the legal and financial troubles caused by back child support.
The Impact on Your Record: Understanding the Long-Term Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
Failure to pay child support can affect a delinquent parent for a very long time.
Along with the financial consequences of failing to pay child support, the following are also common for delinquent parents to face:
- License suspension and revocation: The Texas government has the authority to suspend or revoke any type of license, including regular and commercial driver’s licenses, professional licenses, business licenses, and hunting and fishing licenses. If a delinquent parent has any type of license, it is at risk for unpaid child support, as the government has contacts with 60 state licensing agencies.
- Credit report impact: Child support is often viewed as any other type of payment obligation. Therefore, if a parent is delinquent with child support payments, the state can report this to the credit bureaus. The impact on the credit report can make it challenging for the parent to do anything requiring decent credit, like get a mortgage or finance a vehicle, for quite some time.
- Inability to obtain a passport: In Texas, any parent that owed $2,500 or more in back child support is ineligible to receive a United States passport for travel.
Additionally, a delinquent parent may receive extensive jail time. When a parent is found in contempt of court for unpaid child support, the judge can sentence them to as long as six months in prison. However, if the judge determines the delinquent parent is in violation of Texas Penal Code 25.05, they may face charges for criminal nonsupport. Penalties for criminal nonsupport include two years in jail and a maximum of $10,000 in fines.
Can a Delinquent Parent Be Denied Visitation with Their Child?
When a parent fails to pay child support, the payment-seeking parent often feels angry and upset, making them want to keep their child from the delinquent parent. However, it is important to note that, although nonpayment of child support is serious, it does not mean visitation with the child(ren) is denied.
Texas treats child support and custody/visitation matters separately. Therefore, even if a parent owes back child support, they should still be able to see their children.
If you try to keep your child from the delinquent parent, you could face legal repercussions yourself. If you have a legitimate reason for keeping your child from the delinquent parent, for example, if you feel your child is in danger, you can involve the court. Absent a circumstance like this, you cannot take it upon yourself to deny the delinquent parent visitation.
Alternative Solutions: Exploring Options for Resolving Unpaid Child Support Without Going to Court
Resolving unpaid child support doesn’t always have to involve the court. In some cases, parents may be able to work it out without involving a judge.
First and foremost, some parents start by taking the communication route. Instead of going straight to filing an enforcement action, they contact the delinquent parent and try to understand the reason for the delinquency. Sometimes, talking it out and creating a plan together is enough to resolve the issue.
If communication is unsuccessful, or the delinquent parent is unwilling to work together, consult with an experienced Texas child support attorney. A lawyer can review the details of your situation and provide sound advice and guidance. Because every case is different, an attorney can decide how best to handle your child support needs.
Your child support lawyer may decide mediation, a common form of alternative dispute resolution, may be a feasible solution. Mediation is done in front of an impartial mediator who creates a collaborative environment for parents and their attorneys to work together to reach a resolution.
When you are dealing with unpaid child support, you’re not alone in your struggles. A Texas child support lawyer from Mims Ballew Hollingsworth can be your ally, helping you navigate the support repayment process and avoid future troubles. Contact us today to consult with a Fort Worth child support lawyer you can trust.