Texas Supreme Court Addresses Child Support Enforcement Orders

The Texas Supreme Court has perfectly summed up how contentious child support disputes can be in the case of Ochsner v. Ochsner. The Texas Supreme Court stated:
Children get only one childhood. Unfortunately, acrimony between divorced couples is common, and when those couples have children, Texas law commendably tries to blunt the impact of grown-ups’ hostility. One key way to reduce parental bickering—and protect kids caught in the crossfire—is through a child-support order that specifies how the noncustodial parent is to provide financial support. If the order is violated, the Family Code provides enforcement options. See Ochsner v. Ochsner No. 14-0638 (June 24, 2016)

The Court held that based the facts of this case, in a child-support enforcement proceeding, payments made directly to a child’s school, rather than to the court-ordered registry, will count in the determination of arrearages.

How Does This Case Affect Child Support in Texas?

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The facts of the case are important to discuss as they highlight some of the events that lead to child support disputes. In this case, the Oschner’s had divorced in December of 2001. Among the order the trial court entered when they finalized the divorce, the trial court entered a child support order for the couples’ daughter. Per the terms of the order, the father was to pay the mother $240 each month in two installments and in addition the father was required to also pay the daughter’s preschool directly in the amount of $563 per month. Per the terms of the order, when the daughter stopped attending the preschool, the father would then be required to pay the mother $400 two times a month. However, what ultimately lead to a child-support enforcement dispute was the condition that the father pay the mother through a registry. Once the child stopped attending the preschool the father continued to make payments in the amount of 240 per month directly to the mother and made payments for the child’s tuition.
After bouncing back and forth between the trial court and the appeals court, the Texas Supreme Court took the case. The Texas Supreme Court explained in its decision, that the Family Code section 157.263(b-1) provides that a court cannot reduce or modify a number of arrearages but can allow an offset or counterclaim. Under section 157.263, when a money judgment for child support arrearages is requested, the court must confirm the amount of arrears and issue a cumulative money judgment that includes unpaid support, the amount owed on previously confirmed arrearages, interest, and a statement that it was a cumulative judgment. An arrearage exists when someone is behind in paying off a debt or discharging an obligation.
The Texas Supreme Court explained that the trial court had to confirm the amount of the arrearages or the value that remained unpaid. The mother argued that there was an impermissible reduction or modification of the earlier order. The Court ruled that the trial court was permitted to consider tuition payments that were made in a way that was not specified in the order. It reasoned that in a child support enforcement action, a trial court can consider all the payments, regardless of whether they were made precisely according to the order of the earlier court.
The Court ultimately rendered judgment for the father and reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

How is Child Support Enforced in Texas?

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While the facts, in this case, do not support a statement that the father was not paying for child support, all too often a noncustodial parent will become delinquent paying their child support. When a parent does not pay their child support according to the child support order, a parent who has custody of the child has several options they can pursue in an effort to enforce their child support order. The chief means that a parent will attempt to enforce a child support order is to go to the court and file an enforcement action. After this action has been filed a family law judge has several options to encourage a delinquent parent to enforce the child support order. Some of the methods that a judge can employ include:  imposing fines, imposing jail, requiring a parent to pay a portion of the delinquent child support payments. The Texas Office of the Attorney General has established a Child Support Division (CSD) which provides child support services to both the receiving and non-receiving parent and can also provide services when a parent is seeking to enforce a child support order:

  • By working with neighboring states and other states in an effort to collect child support from a parent who has moved outside of Texas.
  • By filing a lien against the paying parent’s property and assets
  • By suspending the paying parent’s licenses, including their driver’s license, any professional license,
  • By directly receiving their federal tax refunds, other state and federal payments
  • By filing a lawsuit against the paying parent on behalf of the receiving parent
  • By locating the paying parent’s employer and requiring the employer to deduct child support from paychecks.

At the Queenan Law Firm, we tenaciously pursue every case we handle.  Regardless of whether you come to us for assistance with a divorce, a custody dispute, a conflict over property distribution, or you simply have questions about what to include in your prenuptial agreement, we will educate you about your responsibilities while advocating for your rights to the fullest extent possible.  If contention exists between you and your spouse, we aim to use our litigation skills to resolve the dispute in your best interest and that of your children.

Contact Our Family Law Lawyers in Dallas, Arlington and Houston

To set up a free legal consultation about your family law matter, call the family law attorneys at the Queenan Law Firm at (817) 476-1797.  With more than 20 years of legal experience representing mothers and fathers throughout the Arlington area, our attorneys are always eager to put our knowledge and skill to work for you.