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How are Child Support Orders Enforced?

How are Child Support Orders EnforcedA child support order can be enforced by an individual or by the Texas Attorney General. Although enforcement by the Texas Attorney General is free, it is frequently slow. Hiring an attorney will produce considerably faster and more efficient results in enforcing a child support arrearage. 

A Parent’s Duty to Support Their Child

Child support orders are presumed to be in the best interest of a child. When an obligor parent (the parent responsible for paying child support) falls behind, the obligee parent (the parent receiving child support) has the right to to pursue enforcement. Texas courts have noted that “…court-ordered child support reflects a parent’s duty to his child, not a debt to his former spouse. Except as provided by statute, the other parent’s conduct cannot eliminate that duty of paying child support. Estoppel is not a defense to a child support enforcement proceeding.” [1] Usually, to enforce a child support order, the obligee parent must file a motion for enforcement. 

What Does a Motion for Enforcement Look Like?

A motion for enforcement petitions the court to force an obligor parent to make ordered child support payments. According to the Texas Family Code Section 157.002 (a) motion for enforcement must:

  • Identify the provision of the order allegedly violated and sought to be enforced; or,
  • State the manner of the obligor parent’s alleged noncompliance;
  • State the relief requested by the movant; and,
  •  Contain the signature of the movant or the movant’s attorney.

When Can A Motion For Enforcement Be Filed?

A motion for enforcement may be filed to enforce any temporary or final order of child support. Moreover, under the Texas Family Code Section 157.001 (b) the court may enforce by contempt any provision of a temporary or final order. Temporary orders include but are not limited to a temporary restraining order (commonly referred to as a “TRO”),  a standing order, or an injunction. [2]

Where Should a Motion for Enforcement Be Filed?

The Texas Family Code states that a motion for enforcement should be filed in the court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction. What is “a court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction?” This phrase simply denotes the court which issued the original child support order a petitioner wishes to enforce.

Can a Texas Judge Enforce a Child Support Order Against Someone Living Outside of Texas?

A Texas court may enforce an order of child support against an obligor parent living outside the State of Texas when it exercises “personal jurisdiction” over the obligor parent. According to the Texas Family Code’s Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, a Texas court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident individual or the individual’s guardian or conservator if:

  • The individual is personally served with citation in Texas; or,
  • The individual submits to the jurisdiction of Texas by consent in a record, by entering a general appearance, or by filing a responsive document having the effect of waiving any contest to personal jurisdiction; or,
  • The individual resided with the child in Texas; or,
  • The individual resided in Texas and provided prenatal expenses or support for the child; or,
  • The child resides in this state as a result of the acts or directives of the individual; or,
  • The individual engaged in sexual intercourse in this state and the child may have been conceived by that act of intercourse; or,
  • The individual asserted parentage of a child in the paternity registry maintained in this state by the vital statistics unit; or,
  • There is any other basis consistent with the constitutions of this state and the United States for the exercise of personal jurisdiction.

Personally Served With Citation In Texas

In this context, personal service with a citation requires serving the obligor parent with a physical copy of a motion for enforcement and accompanying citation in Texas. Texas Courts have noted that “The focus in determining whether personal jurisdiction exists is on the contacts created by the actions of the party sued rather than contacts created by the person bringing suit.” [3] 

Individual Submits to Jurisdiction in Texas

The act of submitting to jurisdiction in Texas generally occurs when a party immediately responds to a lawsuit that has been filed against him or her. Once an out-of-state obligor parent submits to jurisdiction in Texas, a Texas court can enforce a child support order against them. One should consult with a lawyer to determine whether or not a non-obligor parent living out of state has submitted to jurisdiction in Texas.

Individual Resided With The Child In Texas

If a parent lived with their child in Texas, a Texas court has jurisdiction over any corresponding enforcement suit. The requirement of personal jurisdiction does not extend to out-of-state parents spending time with their children under a visitation agreement. The act of visiting a child will not cause an out-of-state obligor parent to become bound by a Texas court’s jurisdiction. [4] One should consult with an attorney to decide whether or not an obligor parent’s visits to Texas constitute personal jurisdiction.

Individual Resided in Texas and Provided Prenatal Expenses or Support for the Child

The definition of prenatal expenses is circumstantial. However, they often include doctors visits and any prescribed medication that a mother receives during her pregnancy. If an obligor parent that currently lives out of state previously resided in Texas and provided prenatal expenses or support for a child, then a Texas court will have personal jurisdiction over the corresponding enforcement suit. One should speak with a licensed attorney to determine whether or not a Texas Court would have personal jurisdiction over an out of state obligor parent.

Individual Engaged in Sexual Intercourse in Texas and the Child May Have Been Conceived in Texas

If a child’s conception could have been the result of sexual intercourse inthe state of Texas, then the State will have long-arm jurisdiction over the out-of-state obligor parent. Long-arm jurisdiction  describes the process through which a court can issue a binding decision over a person in another state.

Key Points

There are several ways to enforce a child support order. The most common is to request that the Texas Attorney General do so. Although there is no charge for this course of action, you can expect slow and inconsistent results.  Talk to an experienced family law attorney to decide the best way for you to enforce your child support payments.

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