In Texas, many child support orders will have the following phrases:
“Payment – IT IS ORDERED that all payments shall be made through the Texas Child Support Disbursement Unit, P.O. Box 659791, San Antonio, Texas 78265-9791, and thereafter promptly remitted to OBLIGEE for the support of the child.
No Credit for Informal Payments- IT IS ORDERED that the child support as prescribed in this decree shall be exclusively discharged in the manner ordered and that any direct payments made by OBLIGOR to OBLIGEE or any expenditures incurred by OBLIGOR during OBLIGOR’s periods of possession of or access to the child, as prescribed in this decree, for food, clothing, gifts, travel, shelter, or entertainment are deemed in addition to and not in lieu of the support ordered in this decree.”
Though the phrase may be common, all too often parents come to our office in arrears for making informal child support payments to the other parent. This usually plays out in a few ways. For example, sometimes parents agree to cancel child support payments until the obligor (parent responsible for the payments) gets a new job because the parent was laid off. Another common scenario is that the obligor has been paying child support regularly and on time but directly to the other parent, and not through the Child Support Disbursement Unit. In this Article, we will explore arrears and informal child support payments.
Where Does the Money Go?
It is often best for child support payments to be made to the Texas Child Support Disbursement Unit. The Office of the Attorney General in Texas keeps records of payments received. The benefit to making payments through the disbursement unit is that you will have accurate records of every child support payment. Most Texas divorce decrees and custody orders contain very specific language prohibiting these kinds of direct payments. Direct payments of child support in Texas are characterized as informal payments of child support. Most Texas child support orders specifically state that any informal child support payments made are considered payments made in addition to child support, not payments made in lieu of child support. Therefore, any informal payments of child support are essentially gifts to the other parent.
What Are Arrears?
Child Support Arrears are amounts owed for past due child support payments. Being in arrears affects the parent ordered to pay child support in several important ways including, but not limited to:
- Income Withholding
- Placing a child support lien on your property
- Suspending licenses (including hunting, drivers, and handgun)
- Criminal contempt (jail time and fines)
- Community Supervision
In these situations, the other parent could hire an attorney to file an enforcement lawsuit against you. If you are found to have violated your court orders, then you could end up having to pay child support arrearage, fines from the court for having violated the prior order, and your co-parent’s attorneys fees in the process.
I Made Informal Child Support Payments, Why Am I In Arrears?
Obligors commonly make informal payments to the other parent for several reasons. Sometimes there may have been a technical error online. Sometimes they didn’t understand the child support order. Other times obligors just don’t have an employer (self-employed) to automatically withhold payments from paychecks. Let’s say for arguments sake that any one of the above situations is true, and the obligor has been making payments on time and with the correct dollar amount. Regardless of the reason, the payments were not made to the disbursement unit, and the Attorney General (OAG) will show no payments for child support have been made. This can be extremely dangerous for parents who go long periods of time making informal payments to the other parent. For instance, let’s say that you are ordered to pay $1,000 per month for child support in January, 2018. For whatever reason you make informal payments of $1,000 every month up until January 2021. Suddenly, your ex gets greedy and says you have made no child support payments, and now wants to take you to court for over $30,000 in arrears. The disbursement unit will show you have made zero child support payments in three years, and now you’re in a tough spot.
What Can I Do If I Made Informal Payments?
Some common solutions are to:
- Call the Office of the Attorney General and begin a request for review.
- Have the other parent forgive all or part of your missing child support payments.
- Ask for lower child support payments through the Office of the Attorney General or the court.
In any event, if you find yourself in arrears for not paying child support and are facing possible legal action against you, your property, or your liberty, you should consider hiring a competent attorney to defend you.
Disclaimer: The legal information presented herein should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. General advice should always be tested by the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Legal advice is almost always case specific. Statues, ordinances, legal procedures, case law and rules of evidence are often revised.