Many divorced parents who pay or receive child support in Texas think it is fairly straightforward. Parents figure out how much child support needs to be paid or received based on the Texas guidelines. Court orders confirm the amount and method of payment. If parents disagree, there might be a court hearing or required mediation to arrive at the right amount, but eventually a court-ordered child support payment is made. And that’s that, right?
Child support is usually uncontroversial. However, Texas child support is akin to a $3.8 billion business, the amount collected in 2014. Because the system is so large, it can be slow to change and remain stuck with old technology and procedures far longer than anyone would like.
For example, outdated information and other problems in the state’s computer system can result in incorrect information. The system is 20 years old, and updating information is very cumbersome. Bad information can mean that a parent may be wrongly penalized or a child may lose support. A project to upgrade the child support technology is over budget and behind schedule, making it hard to predict when the system will become more effective for parents and state employees.
Parents whose child support payments are withheld from their paychecks are vulnerable to fraud and theft. A father in East Texas thought he was making his child support payments every month through payroll deductions, but found out that his employer had been pocketing the money intended for his six children. The father calculated that over seven years, $32,000 had been withheld from his paycheck, but the money never reached his children. The employer, who runs a small auto repair business, finally admitted that she had taken the money because “things were tight.”
Scenarios like this one are not unique. More than 70 percent of child support payments are either withheld from paychecks or garnished. According to an attorney quoted by a Tyler, Texas, TV station, there are a growing number of cases involving small-business employers withholding payments, but not sending them to the attorney general’s office.
When a parent receiving child support no longer lives in the state where the order was issued, things can get complicated. For example, a Texas mother who received child support as a result of a court order in Washington stopped receiving child support when her daughter turned 18. The state of Washington said that child support ends at 18 unless a child is in school. The child was being home-schooled under Texas law after her 18th birthday. The mother was told that she had to comply with Washington’s home school law since the support order was issued in Washington. The case is still pending.
The most common problem is that the paying parent disappears, stops working or, in the case of some Texas parents, becomes an independent contractor. When workers become independent contractors, they no longer receive wages – they are no longer employees. Rather, they are independent service providers. This arrangement works well for employers that wish to avoid paying payroll taxes and for parents who wish to stop paying child support. The child support payments cannot be withheld – there are no withholdings for independent contractors. A variation on this theme is the workers who are paid in cash or under the table, making it very difficult to find them. Parents who are supposed to be receiving child support may not have much recourse in situations like these because the system is cumbersome and varies depending on where the parent lives. For example, Bexar County makes the most arrests in Texas for the crime of not paying child support. It operates a special child support enforcement unit. But parents in other counties seeking to enforce child support orders may not be so lucky.
Seeking help from a Texas divorce and family law attorney may be the best way to resolve problems with child support payments. Attorneys can file suit against nonpaying parents and employers that steal withheld support payments. They can hire investigators to track down missing parents if needed. In short, seeking legal advice may be the best way to restart child support payments.