Although the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division is the agency tasked with enforcing court-ordered child support, sometimes people want to file their own enforcements or hire their own attorney.
Can I enforce child support on my own without going through the Office of Attorney General (OAG)?
Yes, you can enforce child support on your own. You are not required to go through the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to file a child support enforcement case.
What are the advantages of filing an enforcement case on my own?
It is almost always best to enforce a child support order through the OAG.
However, the OAG’s Child Support Division handles an extremely large caseload and there may be long wait times to have your case seen. The longer a case takes, the more difficult it can be to collect back child support. If you bring a private enforcement action, it is possible that you’ll be able to resolve the case more quickly.
Additionally, the OAG can only assist with child support enforcement. This means that the OAG cannot help you enforce other provisions of a court order (such as visitation, property division, etc.). So, if the non-paying parent is violating other portions of the court order, it may be better for you to pursue a private action so you can address all the violations.
Remember: the OAG does not represent either parent in an enforcement action. The OAG represents the interests of the State of Texas, which includes securing child support from non-paying parents. This means that the OAG does not offer the same kind of support that a private attorney can offer.
What relief can I get if I file an enforcement petition on my own?
The court can take a variety of actions to enforce a child support order. For example, the court can order:
- child support payments to be withheld from the non-paying parent’s paycheck;
- suspension of the non-paying parent’s driver’s license or other professional licenses and certificates; and
- for a lien to be placed on properties, bank accounts, retirement plans, and other assets held by the non-paying parent.
If the court issues an order confirming the money owed by the non-paying parent, you may be able to file levies against their financial assets or liens against any property that they own (except for their home).
Most seriously, the non-paying parent can be held in contempt for failing to obey a court order, which can lead to jail time. Instead of contempt, the court can place the non-paying parent on community supervision (also called probation) for up to 10 years. The terms of community supervision will vary depending on the case, but the court can require the non-paying parent to:
- pay back child support and attorney’s fees,
- attend financial counseling classes,
- obtain substance abuse treatment,
- seek employment services, etc.
The non-paying parent can shorten their community supervision by staying current with child support payments and fully complying with any other court requirements.
Starting September 1, 2021, you may also be able to get a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, for child support. Read Texas Family Code 157.501 for more information.
What if the non-paying parent fails to comply with the terms of their community supervision?
If the non-paying parent is sentenced to community supervision and fails to comply with its terms, you can file a motion to revoke community supervision. If the non-paying parent’s community supervision is revoked, the court may issue a warrant for their arrest.
Can the non-paying parent go to jail if they lose an enforcement action?
Possibly. A person who fails to follow a court order can be held in contempt, which can lead to jailtime. Likewise, violating the terms of community supervision can lead to jailtime.
Will the non-paying parent have a court-appointed attorney at the enforcement hearing?
Possibly. Whether the non-paying parent is eligible for a court-appointed attorney depends on whether:
- the judge finds that they are low-income, or indigent, and
- incarceration is a possible result of the enforcement action.
Do I need to hire an attorney to file a child support enforcement action for me?
No, you do not have to hire an attorney to file a private enforcement action. However, it is always best to at least consult with an attorney if possible.
If I hire an attorney, will the court order the non-paying parent to pay my attorney’s fees?
Normally, if the court finds that the non-paying parent failed to make child support payments, it must order them to pay the petitioner’s (your) reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs. But sometimes, the court will waive this requirement. If you plan on hiring an attorney, you should always talk to them about fee arrangements and the possibility of recovering legal costs from the opposing party.
What can the OAG do that a private attorney (or pro se litigant) cannot?
The OAG has certain enforcement tools that are not available to people representing themselves or through a private attorney. For example, the OAG can:
- Intercept the non-paying parent’s tax refund or state benefits;
- Suspend the non-paying parent’s passport;
- Seize lottery winnings; and
- Report the back child support to credit reporting agencies, negatively impacting the non-paying parent’s credit score.
Can I prevent the non-paying parent from seeing the child while the enforcement is pending?
No, you cannot keep the non-paying parent from exercising their visitation rights – even if they are not paying child support.
You must continue to follow the court order. If you don't, you could weaken your case or provide the non-paying parent with the opportunity to counter your suit with their own enforcement action.
What if my child support order is from another state?
A child support order from another state can often be enforced in Texas. But, these cases can be complicated so it is best to work with the OAG or to hire an attorney.
You can read more about other states' support orders in Texas for information about registering and enforcing them in Texas.
Can I collect unpaid medical and dental support in a child support enforcement action?
Yes, medical and dental support, including uninsured expenses, are types of child support and are enforceable just like monthly child support payments. The court can issue a money judgment for back medical and dental support.
For cases filed after September 1, 2021, that can include:
- unpaid medical or dental support;
- a balance owed on medical or dental support owed; and
- interest on medical or dental support arrearages.
How should I prepare if I want to pursue my own enforcement action?
You should carefully read through Texas Family Code 157. This is the part of the law that controls enforcement actions.
You should also meet with a family law lawyer or visit a free legal aid clinic.
- Use our Legal Help Directory to search for legal help in your area.
- Check our Legal Clinic Calendar to see if there is an upcoming legal clinic near you.
- Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.
You can also find more information by doing legal research. Read about how to conduct research in our Legal Research Guide.
You can go to a law library to conduct legal research. There is a directory of public local law libraries at Law Libraries in Texas.
A law library may also have a subscription to an electronic legal research service such as Westlaw or LexisNexis. If you are not near a law library, you can access more information by registering for a free Texas State Law Library Account. With this account, you can access a variety of online sources.
TexasLawHelp.org does not provide forms for pursuing a child support enforcement action.
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