How do retroactive child support and back child support work in Texas?

retroactive child support

In the state of Texas, both parents are expected to help support their children. The amount and type of support vary depending on the circumstances and income of the parents and what Texas child support guidelines dictate. But what happens if you never filed for child support or a parent isn’t meeting his or her court-ordered child support obligations? How do retroactive child support and back child support come into play?

What is retroactive child support?

If you’re wondering what is retroactive support, it’s important to understand there are different circumstances where a parent can take legal action to pursue child support owed in Texas. However, in order to file a lawsuit specifically for retroactive child support in Texas, the state guidelines are clear.

Per Texas Family Code Chapter 154.009, the court may order a parent to pay retroactive child support if the parent:

  1. Has not been previously ordered to pay child support for the child; and
  2. Was not party to a suit in which child support was ordered.

Those two conditions must be met in order to request retroactive support. Texas’ retroactive support meaning is different than the meaning of back child support in Texas, which we’ll dive into later in this article.

Many of the retroactive child support claims our Fort Worth law firm sees are where two parties have been operating without an order for a child’s preliminary years of life, trying to do what is in the best interest of the child. The parents simply didn’t take legal steps to put any Texas child support obligations in place.

What often prompts these situations is the need for clarification as a child gets older regarding child custody, visitation and child support in Texas. To determine the amount of retroactive support and put official orders in place, the court will consider the facts.

Considerations typically include what the parties have been doing to cooperate regarding visitation and access, who has been paying what expenses (medical, tuition, extracurricular activities and so on) and what if any money has been changing hands. If one party has been paying some support but they haven’t been paying the full amount the state of Texas requires, then the court may retroactively adjust that. 

How far back can child support be claimed?

If you’ve never filed for child support before, Texas law stipulates that you may be able to file for retroactive child support back to the date the parents separated. However, the general rule we see judges follow is going back four years.

We generally don’t see the courts going back a lot further than four years unless there are really egregious circumstances whereby one party was totally evasive, knew they were the parent, they had resources to pay child support but still weren’t paying it.

It’s also important to know you cannot go back and ask for retroactive child support by attacking an existing child support order. For example, say a parent paying child support was earning $75K per year when the order was initiated and is paying support based on that income. Then that party switched jobs and started earning $150K the following year.

The parent receiving child support payments was aware of the job change but waits two years to request an increase. That parent can only request a modification in child support from the date the request for modification is filed. They cannot request retroactive child support for the two years the other parent was earning more because the parents have a standing order in place that stipulates what the child support amount is.

The lesson here? Time is of the essence if you want to make a request to modify child support.

What is back child support in Texas?

People often ask, “Can I get back child support if I never filed?” Technically, no, because you would need to file for retroactive child support (see above) if you’ve never filed. Back child support generally refers to court-ordered child support that hasn’t been paid, which a parent can ask the court to enforce.

So, can you get back child support? Yes, but it isn’t always easy to collect. You can hire an attorney and take the other parent to court and ask the judge to hold that parent in contempt of court.  The judge could impose fines and jail time on that parent, and even revoke the parent’s driver’s license and professional licenses, among other penalties.

Unfortunately, many parents who refuse to pay child support never end up paying it. If you find yourself in that situation, you need to ask yourself how much money you are willing to spend in legal fees to try to get the other party to pay child support, when they simply refuse. Fighting an uphill battle also takes time and energy on your part. Is it worth it if you’re fighting a losing battle?

That’s not to say you should necessarily let things slide. Your best bet is to seek legal advice from a reputable family law attorney to learn more about the options in your specific case.

Have questions about back child support or retroactive child support in Texas?

If you live in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, the knowledgeable child support lawyers at the Sisemore Law Firm are here to help. To schedule a confidential case review with an attorney at our firm, please call our office at (817) 336-4444 or schedule an appointment online. 

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