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Family Law


August 16, 2022


What Happens If You Don't Pay Child Support in Texas?

what happens if you don't pay child support

Child support is a contribution of money to help cover the basic needs of a child, such as food, housing, clothing, and medical care. The Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is the agency that handles child support orders - and they take not paying child support seriously. They can take many actions to enforce child support when it is not paid. This article will discuss child support laws in Texas and what you need to know about failure to pay child support, whether you pay support or receive it.

Texas Child Support Payment Laws

The OAG can order either parent or both parents to pay child support. In a typical scenario, the parent who spends the least amount of time with a child will receive a court order for child support. However, if the child lives with a grandparent or other relative and they have custody, both parents may have a legal obligation to pay child support. The standard formula is straightforward: 

  • Child support is 20 percent of the net income of the non-custodial parent. 
  • Another 5 percent of net income is added for each child. 
  • Payments may be modified if a parent is incarcerated, injured, or disabled. 
  • Payments typically continue for children until they reach age 18. 

Child support laws in Texas allow for courts to take unique circumstances into consideration when establishing orders. However, once child support is ordered, the parent is obligated to make them. The OAG may take enforcement action if a parent refuses to pay child support. The Texas OAG urges any parent having a hard time paying child support to let them know as soon as possible.

We are often asked, “do you have to go to court for child support?”. The answer is no. Child support can be established through the OAG. However, child support is often - but not always - arranged as part of divorce or separation proceedings via a family law attorney - with support payments beginning on a start date designated in the divorce decree.

Child support payments are completely separate from visitation, and parents or guardians may not withhold visitation for the failure of a mother or father not paying child support. Whether or not a divorce occurs, a Dallas family lawyer can be helpful in getting child custody and child support established or modified.

How Does Child Support Enforcement Work in Texas?

Texas courts recommend that custodial parents go through the OAG for child support enforcement. This is the best step to take because the OAG has resources that courts do not. However, the OAG can have a high volume of cases, and additional legal support from a family law attorney or child custody lawyer may be beneficial in the interest of results and time.

The legal process of child support may be confusing or feel overwhelming, but it is important for providing financial, medical, and dental support for children. The first step to getting an order and enforcing it is establishing paternity. For some families, this step may feel “extreme” but it is necessary in case the father changes his mind, becomes disabled and receives state benefits, or dies. Established paternity can allow a child to receive a possible inheritance as well as other benefits, like social security, life insurance, and veteran’s benefits.

Mothers, fathers, grandparents, and others may be able to apply for child support through the OAG. Once paternity is established (for fathers) and an order is in place, intentionally or knowingly failing to provide for a child is known as criminal nonsupport. However, even in cases of clear nonpayment, many parents are unclear about what to do when child support is not being paid or how to report someone not paying child support in Texas.

What Are the Penalties for Failing to Pay Child Support?

does the state pay child support if the father doesn't

Child support orders are issued based on the best interest of the child. The Texas OAG may take some “enforcement” actions and administrative remedies against a non-custodial parent not paying child support:

  • Suspending or denying licenses (motor vehicle, business/professional, and hunting and fishing licenses)

  • Denying a new passport issuance or passport renewal (required under Federal Law if you owe $2,500 or more).
    • File lien on assets, properties, and interests (bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance plans, insurance settlements, lottery winnings, and more).

  • Denial of vehicle registration renewalthrough the Department of Motor Vehicle (TxDMV).
  • Report to credit bureau reporting agency under 1 Tex. Admin. Code § 55.102.
  • Texas also has an Evaders hotline 1-866-EVADERS - available to provide tips about child support evaders (sometimes referred to in Texas as deadbeat dads or deadbeat moms). Only parents who owe more than $5000 in past due child support and have had an arrest warrant issued qualify. Those in the Evaders program will have their name, photograph, and amount of back child support listed on the Attorney General of Texas evaders web page. This is a public page identifying a list of parents who owe child support in Texas.

    A Parent Not Paying Child Support: How to Enforce Child Support in Texas?

    how does child support work in texas

    A Texas family law attorney can file a child support order to enforce child payments through the Texas court system via an enforcement suit - giving a judge the option of finding a non-custodial parent in contempt of court and issuing either a fine or an arrest warrant. This is an effective way to report someone not paying child support in Texas and may hold the non-custodial parent accountable for paying support, regardless of the reasons why child support is late (incarceration, job loss, etc.)

    If you would like to speak with a lawyer about what to do when child support is not being paid, your legal rights, and options when child support is late, the dedicated family law attorneys at Brooks & Radchenko are here for you.

    Tax Refunds when a Parent Fails to Pay Child Support

    Custodial parents and grandparents with support orders often ask how to get child support if the father is not working. Under federal law, if a parent owes back child support, a federal or state child support enforcement office can intercept tax refunds to apply to owed child support.

    Federal Tax Intercept Program

    Texas, like all other states, will report overdue child support to the Treasury Department. The IRS, in turn, will take a tax refund and give it to the state child support agency to pay the custodial parent. This intercept program also applied to the first round of COVID-19 stimulus payments. To see if you are on the Treasury Offset List, you can call the IRS at 1-800-304-3107. You will also receive a notice of proposed tax refund seizure before your refund is seized.

    State Tax Intercept Programs

    Although Texas does not have state tax (because they do not assess an income tax), many states that assess income tax have intercept programs. These state tax intercept programs are similar to Federal intercept programs.

    Paying Back Child Support with Tax Refunds

    Tax refunds are only helpful in child support when the non-custodial parent (1) files a tax return and (2) is entitled to a tax refund. However, even then, the state will be paid back for any drawn public assistance during times of child support not being paid off. Additionally, if the non-custodial parent owes other debts, like federal student loans or federal income tax, these may be paid first with refund money. 

    Retroactive Child Support

    Pay Child Support

    If a co-parent has managed to avoid paying child support, you may be able to request retroactive child support be ordered, for up to four years preceding the petition. Retroactive amounts may be based on whether the parent was aware of their obligations, and the number of net resources available.

    In some cases, retroactive child support may be paid for a period of more than four years if the parent knew of their obligations and intentionally did not pay. The court will consider if the parent can afford to pay it and whether it is in the best interests of the child.

    I Missed Child Support Payments - What's Next?

    Missed child support payments will not go away and the court has some actions they can take against you. If you were not able to make a child support payment, you should: 

    • Pay what you can. It is much better to pay a portion than nothing at all. 
    • Let the other parent know the reasons why child support is late. They have the option to file an enforcement action through the court (outside of the OAG) but may hold off if you are communicating and making an effort.

    If your circumstances changed, such as losing employment, you may be able to obtain a modification in your support order. 

    Call Today to Speak with a North Texas Family Law Attorney at Brooks & Radchenko 

    Texas is serious about child support orders, but it may be challenging to navigate the system in any time-effective manner without an attorney advocating for you. The family law attorneys at Family Law of North Texas offer highly personalized results-focused legal representation. We advocate for individuals and families in all aspects of child support matters, including orders, enforcement, and modification. To see how you can benefit from our knowledgeable and resourceful attorneys, contact us today to arrange a free case evaluation.


    Can I lose custody for not paying child support?

    Child support and visitation are distinct and completely separate family law matters in Texas. You cannot lose visitation for not paying child support. It is possible that parental rights could lose parental rights if you abandon the child for a period of more than six months.

    How far behind on child support before jail in Texas?

    Intentional avoidance of court-ordered obligation to pay child support is a serious matter. However, you will not be thrown in jail on the first missed payment. You must be found to be in contempt of court for failing to follow a court order.

    Does the state pay child support if the father doesn't?

    Child support is paid by a parent, not the state. Unfortunately, the state does not pay child support in cases of the father not paying child support. Speak with a lawyer about your options for child support enforcement in Texas.

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