The Texas Family Code regulates everything to do with child support within the state, including enforcing child support payments. One of the enforcement tools the Office of Attorney General has to compel payment is the ability to place a lien on assets.
The state intentionally makes it difficult to skip child support payments. The best thing to do is to continue to pay until the child is legally an adult or a court orders payments to end. Otherwise, the ability to sell a home or other assets can be blocked or delayed.
Child Support and the Texas Office of the Attorney General
The mission statement of the Office of the Attorney General says its Child Support Division “assists parents in obtaining the financial support necessary for the children to grow up and succeed in life. To encourage parental responsibility, the Office of the Attorney General establishes paternity of children, establishes court orders for financial and medical support, and enforces support orders.”
The Child Support Division also locates absent parents and collects and distributes child support payments. Attorneys for the division do not represent either parent, and clients do not have the legal right to select the enforcement action taken in nonpayment cases.
Besides placing a lien on property to enforce child support payment orders, the non-custodial parents may be subjected to one of the following enforcement actions:
- Deduction of support from a parent’s paycheck through income withholding.
- Interception of federal or state funds in the form of income tax refunds, lottery winnings, or other sources.
- Suspending a license, including driver’s, professional, and hunting and fishing.
- Filing a lawsuit asking the court to enforce the child support payment order, which could result in jail time or a monetary judgment.
Only the court can modify a child support order. No other party has the authority to do so, and any changes are bounded by other requirements.
Who Can Apply for Child Support in Texas?
The Attorney General’s Office accepts applications for child support from mothers, fathers, and other individuals. The child’s benefit is central to the case. Neither parent is favored or represented.
If a parent is a recipient of Temporary Assistance for needy Families (TANF) or if they are certain types of Medicaid recipients, they automatically receive child support services after certification for assistance. Otherwise, the custodial parent must apply for child support.
There is no charge to apply, and most other services are provided at no cost.
Services include locating non-custodial parents. The person applying must provide a current address for the non-custodial parent, as well as the name and address of that parent's current employer if known. If not known, then the name and address of the last employer are sufficient.
Other information, if known, may be added, including:
- Social security number and date of birth
- Names of banks or creditors
- Names and addresses of relatives or friends
- Names of organizations, clubs, or union the non-custodial parent belongs to
- Names of places where the non-custodial parent is known to spend time
Moreover, the custodial parent can hand over copies of the divorce decree, separation agreement, or court order for child support. The AOG can receive acknowledgment of paternity of it has been signed, birth certificates of children involved in the case, evidence of child support payment history, and all documents reflecting both parents’ income and assets.
Even if an unmarried father is already providing support, he should establish paternity. It provides documentation in cases where the father may change his mind, die, or become disabled. It also offers the opportunity to share medical history with the child's healthcare provider, a right to inherit assets, and make a child eligible for other services and financial aid.
Responsibility for the child is not negated if the pregnancy wasn't planned, the father is still in school, or lives in another state. If the non-custodial parent has no income, the judge will determine how child support may be paid. The parent's income can be reviewed after completing school and beginning work.
How a Lien Works
A lien is a legal instrument that uses assets as leverage for the enforcement of debt payment. Child support is but one example of debt. Others include tax debt, court judgments, and mechanic’s liens.
A child support lien may be placed against a house, boat, car, or other assets up to and including any settlements received for cases like an automobile accident.
A lien guarantees that a portion of the proceeds from a sale of the asset is directed toward paying the child support debt. If you are unable to pay off the debt, you may be able to negotiate with the custodial parent (through your attorneys) to remove the lien on a specific property to be free to sell it.
Selling a property with a child support lien against it is difficult. Most purchasers don’t care to become part of a family issue.
Lien vs. Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO)
A child support lien freezes the assets of the debtor, such as a house the debtor owns. Any proceeds from the sale of the frozen asset are applied to the debt with few exceptions. However, there is another tool that may be used to obtain back child support.
A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) applies to specific types of employer-sponsored retirement plans. A QDRO is regulated by ERISA, a complicated federal law that governs retirement plans.
ERISA usually blocks payments from retirement plans to anyone not named as a plan participant or in a way that goes against plan rules. However, a QDRO is a crucial exception. So if you owe child support, your retirement account may be taken as well.
A lien may be applied to retirement funds, but will only keep them from being distributed. A QDRO can force a distribution.
Texas provides a range of child support services, including the enforcement of payments. One way the state enforces payment is through the placement of a lien on assets specifically for child support funding.
A child support lien functions like any lien. It freezes assets and prevents them from being sold without the intervention of the court. However, child support payments are often given priority over other debts when the asset is sold.