Little known fact: August is National Child Support Awareness month. It’s a time of year when child support agencies and advocates across the country participate in education and awareness programs about child support – and the consequences of failing to pay it.
To mark the occasion, we are getting down to basics and highlighting things parents absolutely should know about failing to pay child support in Texas.
The Consequences of Failing to Pay Child Support in Texas
1. You can go to jail for failure to pay child support in Texas.
Texas does not tolerate child support evaders. Parents who fail or refuse to pay child support can go to jail for up to two years and pay thousands of dollar in fines – on top of the child support they owe.
There are basically two avenues for which you can be sent to jail for failing to pay child support.
- Under Texas law, a judge can find you in contempt of court and place you in jail for up to six months for not following a court order to pay child support.
- You could also be found to be in violation of Texas Penal Code 25.05, which makes it a state jail felony to “intentionally” or “knowingly” fail to provide court-ordered child support for a child under 18. This is often referred to as criminal nonsupport. A state jail felony is punishable by up to six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
2. Your license(s) can be revoked or suspended for failing to pay child support.
This includes your driver’s license, business license, commercial driver’s license, concealed handgun license and even a hunting or fishing license. Under Chapter 232 of the Texas Family Code, any license issued by a Texas agency can be revoked or suspended for failure to pay child support.
3. The state can garnish child support wages from your paycheck.
In this day and age, most court orders for child support include an automatic income withholding order (IWO). This order is sent to the non-custodial parent’s employer instructing them to withhold child support payments from the employee’s income. This has become an effective tool for collecting child support.
4. The government can intercept tax refunds and lottery winnings if you are behind in child support.
If a noncustodial parent falls behind in payments, the state can intercept federal income tax refund checks, lottery winnings or any other money from state or federal sources.
5. A lien can be placed on your property if you owe back child support.
“Child support liens” are not uncommon. Liens can be placed against property, cars, bank accounts, retirement plans, and other assets if you are in arrears. The lien will remain in place until the debt is satisfied.
6. You may not be able to get a passport if you owe child support.
If you owe more than $2,500 in child support, you are not eligible to receive a U.S. passport.
7. Owing back child support can negatively impact your credit rating.
The state is authorized to report the names of individuals who are delinquent in child support to consumer credit bureaus.
8. Court-ordered child support does not automatically stop if you are incarcerated.
The state of Texas does not automatically halt or modify child support orders for non-custodial parents who go to jail or prison. In other words, your child support obligation will remain the same and debt will continue to mount while behind bars. To modify child support payments while behind bars, the non-custodial parent must file a “Incarcerated Noncustodial Parent Affidavit of Income/Assets” and show that there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances.”
9. Past-due child support doesn’t ever go away.
In fact, the amount will just continue to get bigger because the state charges interest on unpaid child support. The state can go after and collect unpaid child support even after the child becomes an adult.
10. You cannot be denied access to your child if you owe child support
In Texas, child support and visitation are completely separate. The custodial parent cannot prohibit you from seeing your child if you owe child support. Likewise, you must pay child support even if don’t see your child.
11. The state has a webpage and a hotline devoted to “Child Support Evaders.”
The Attorney General of Texas has child support evaders webpage that lists the photo and profiles of delinquent parents who are at least $5000 in arrears, exactly how much they owe in child support, how many children they have and a link to report this person if you know them or their whereabouts. For example, one individual “owes $190,956 for the support of 5 children.” The state also has a hotline to report so-called “deadbeat parents.” The number is 1-866-EVADERS.
12. You should always try and pay something.
If you cannot pay the full amount one month, you should at least try and pay something. A partial payment shows that you are at least making an effort. You should also call the child support payment handling your case and explain the situation.
Deborah Bankhead is an attorney at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group, a Texas law firm that handles divorce, child support and custody disputes, paternity actions, asset division, and spousal support. Deborah is a relentless advocate for individuals and families undergoing life-altering changes.