The legal information provided on this website is the product of
NorthWest Texas (LANWT). None of the legal information on this
website is associated with or the product of the Office of the
Attorney General of Texas or any of its employees.
CHILD SUPPORT ARREARAGES
If child support has not been fully paid as
ordered, child support arrearages accrue. In order to enforce the
child support obligation, a Motion for Enforcement may be filed by
the custodial parent, a government agency such as the Attorney
General, or in some larger counties, the Domestic Relations Office
for that county.
Can I be put in jail for not paying child support?
Yes. You may be placed in jail for up to six
months for not paying child support. The legal basis for placing you
in jail is “contempt of court.” Contempt of court is a legal term
that means a court order is not being followed. You may also be
fined up to $500 for each violation and have to pay attorney’s fees
and court costs. You have the right to be represented by an attorney
throughout a contempt proceeding. If two conditions are satisfied,
you also have the right for the government to provide you with that
attorney free of charge:
• You must prove that your income is very low
or you have no income; and
• The result of the hearing must be that you
are likely to be placed in jail.
In some cases, the law allows you to be
imprisoned for a specific amount of time and/or pay a fine. This
happens when you are criminally prosecuted and imprisoned for
nonpayment, which is a felony. As of September 1, 1999, a felony
conviction is sufficient to deport someone who is not a citizen of
the United States.
How will my being placed in jail affect the
amount of support I owe for the time I am incarcerated?
Your child support order will continue while
you are in jail. You will need to petition the court to ask for a
reduction in your child support amount based on what you can earn
while in jail or in prison. While this may be difficult, it is
you try to do this. It is up to the court to
determine whether to decrease your child support because you have
been imprisoned. Many non-custodial parents believe that if they get
behind at a time when they are legitimately
unable to make a payment, what they owe can later be reduced or
discounted by the court when an explanation is given. However, if
you wait to explain your changed circumstances, the court will be
unable to reduce the back payments you owe. It is very important
that you notify the court immediately, provide proof of the
reduction in income, and ask that your payments be reduced
accordingly. If you do this, the court may temporarily or
permanently reduce the amount of future payments.
What other action might the court take if I
fail to pay child support?
The court may find you in contempt and sentence you to a jail term
and/or fines, but they may suspend the sentence and place you on
community supervision (probation). Some of the conditions of the
probation may include requirements to pay your child support in full
and on time, make additional payments toward the child support
arrearage, pay probation fees, and pay the attorney fees of the
other party. Probation can last up to ten years. If you fail to
follow all the terms of probation, your probation could be revoked
and you will serve the entire original sentence in jail.
If you are served with notice of an enforcement hearing and fail to
attend, the court could issue a warrant for your arrest and have you
brought into court. You could also be ordered to post a bond before
you are released so it is vital that you do not ignore any summons
by the court.
A person seeking to enforce the child support obligation through contempt of court must do so not later than the second anniversary of the date the child becomes an adult or the date on which the child support obligation otherwise terminates under the original order. However, the court retains jurisdiction to enforce the child support through other means, which are discussed below
Some of the other methods to enforce the child support arrearage
include filing a lien on your property, including personal property,
bank accounts, and any real estate you may own. Some property, such
as your homestead, may be exempt from this lien. Consult an attorney
for further information.
Another common tool for enforcing child support obligations is the
suspension or revocation of state-issued licenses. This means ANY
license issued by the state can be suspended or revoked for not
paying child support. These can include your driver’s license,
professional licenses such as plumber’s license, law license,
medical license, CPA license, etc., including hunting or fishing
One possible defense is that you did not pay your child support
because the custodial parent voluntarily relinquished actual
possession and control of the child to you. If the other parent sent
the child to live with someone else, other than you, this defense
will not help you. The voluntary relinquishment must have been for a
time period in excess of your regular visitation periods.
Another defense might be a lack of ability to pay the amount of
child support ordered by the court. The court must be convinced of
all of the following:
- You lacked the ability to provide support
in the amount ordered;
- You had no property that could be sold,
mortgaged, or otherwise pledged to raise the funds needed;
- You actually attempted to borrow the funds
needed but were unsuccessful; AND
- You knew of no source at all from which
you could have borrowed or obtained the money by ANY legal
Other possible defenses include technical
problems with the original child support order or with the
enforcement motion. An attorney can advise you about the possibility
of this defense.
Partial payments of child support are taken into consideration by
the court. If you are behind on child support or have been served
with a hearing notice, try to negotiate with the other party and
work something out.