Many people assume that the attorney general stops enforcing child support arrears when the child turns 18. Often, however, this is not the case, and can lead to some scary situations for people who are unprepared. In Texas, the law states that the court maintains their jurisdiction for up to 2 years after the obligation ends. That means that an enforcement action can be filed well after the actual child support obligation ends, and even further than that, the action itself can stretch years longer.
I just argued a case recently where an enforcement action was filed barely within the 2 year deadline, but they were not able to serve the non-custodial parent for almost another 2 years. This meant that I was in front of a judge arguing for why my client should not be sent to jail for repayment of a debt to a parent with whom the child no longer lived, and did not support the child in any way. The silver lining for my client was that he was determined to be fully disabled and was on veteran’s disability and the judge refrained from enforcing a jail sentence, but it was a scary situation for my client nevertheless.
As crazy as it sounds that the state can jail you to enforce a private debt that in no way benefits the child, the bottom line is that it CAN happen at the moment, and it is important to be aware of that. Additionally, even beyond the 2 year time limitation, even if the debt cannot be enforced via a jail sentence it doesn’t go away. Tax refunds, bonds, and any other mechanisms available of enforcing civil judgments are still available to be used, and interest still accrues during this time. It is very easy to get buried in child support debt, and unlike other forms of debt, it is much harder, if not impossible, to get rid of.
It is extremely important to pay attention to your child support payments, and also to be sure that the amount of the child support payment is in line with your current income. If you are a non-custodial parent who is forced to take a lower paying job, you should start the modification process sooner rather than later, as the longer you wait, the longer the higher payments accrue. Conversely, if you are a custodial parent and you think the non-custodial parent makes significantly more money now, it is important to modify sooner rather than later as the court rarely orders it retroactively in those situations.
The bottom line for everyone is to not let these issues fall to the wayside, to stay vigilant, and when in doubt, to contact an attorney who can explain your options.