YOU’VE BEEN SUED WITH A MOTION TO ENFORCE. NOW WHAT?
- What happens with you’re sued with an enforcement petition in Texas family law for either not paying support or not allowing the other parent to see their child.
- In Texas, if you are sued with a motion for enforcement of Child Support and/or medical support or even for possession and access, you are the Respondent, also known as the Defendant in a criminal case.
- Whether it's for enforcement of Support or possession, the party bringing the lawsuit wants to find you in contempt of court for having failed to follow what the judge ordered. Both Support and possession enforcement lawsuits sometimes request up to 180 days in jail or some other specific punishment.
- In a motion to enforce child support, the request for jail may also be accompanied by a request that you be placed on "community supervision". Motions for enforcement of possession and access may also include a request for jail time, community supervision, or make up time for the parent who was allegedly denied their access of the child. Both support and possession denial types of enforcement cases are serious because in Harris County, TX, failure to show up to court and respond to the allegations may result in orders for your arrest. Unlike other types of lawsuits, enforcement lawsuits involve punishment, which includes the possibility of a sheriff's deputy physically incarcerated you by order of the judge. When I used to work as an Assistant Attorney General in the IV-D child support court, I had the opportunity to argue motions before the judge that resulted in the person failing to pay child support getting locked up.
- If you are sued with a motion for enforcement, the best first response it's too retain legal counsel who can walk you through your best defenses to the lawsuit, including filing your answer. There are serious consequences for someone bringing up a false or frivolous lawsuit against you, so it's smart to determine first that all the claims made against you are legitimate or have merit. If the claims against you are merited, then you may have to plead any affirmative defenses that you might have such as an inability to pay or voluntary relinquishment of the child. Or if you have no affirmative defenses, it may come down to you bringing your side of the story to the judge and having the judge make a decision on whether or not you are in contempt of court.
- Many enforcement lawsuits for nonsupport or for possession denials do not ultimately get resolved by the court, they may get resolved by the parents through mutual agreement. A mutual agreement to resolve a child support lawsuit may involve the Respondent obligor paying some or all of the arrears balance off. A mutual agreement to resolve a possession denial lawsuit may involve the non-custodial parent getting some extra time with the child to make up for the time he was denied. But almost all enforcement actions, whether they involve child support enforcement or possession enforcement, will involve a request for some sort of attorneys fees to be paid back to the parent bringing the lawsuit. This is because they felt were forced to resort to the courts for justice, when they would not have needed to sue the Respondent if the Respondent had just followed the court order. Often times, both agreed enforcement orders and court-ordered enforcement orders contain the requirement that the Respondent pay the petitioning party's attorneys fees.
- If you’re sued with a motion for enforcement of any kind, if the lawsuit requests that you be put in jail, then if you do not have enough money to hire a lawyer and the court believes your are financially indigent, you may qualify for a free lawyer to help protect your rights. But if you are not financially indigent and you can retain legal counsel, it’s best to choose someone with experience in prosecuting and defending enforcement lawsuits to protect your rights under the law.