Collecting a judgment for unpaid child support under Texas law

fort worth divorce lawyerThe Texas Constitution and Texas Property Code set out powerful protections for Texans against the rights of creditors to recover on liens and other debts. For the average person this combination of protections prevents most creditors from attaching a persons property to satisfy a judgment on a debt. For most people this importantly protects the homestead and a significant amount of personal property. This property may be foreclosed to satisfy a debt when the debt is secured against specific property, such as a mortgage on a home or a lien on a car title related to a car loan. The Texas Family Code sets out an even more powerful weapon to collect on a child support lien to satisfy a judgment for unpaid child support. Todays post will discuss this weapon and how it compares to the normal protections debtors receive under Texas law.

Lets start out talking about how we get to a judgment for unpaid child support before we talk about using liens to satisfy that judgment. When child support goes unpaid the Texas Family Code provides procedures for a child support enforcement to enforce the child support obligation and implement several serious remedies. These remedies include jail time, probation (community supervision), increased wage withholding and judgments that can be collected against the obligors property. Frequently obligors do not have assets that we can tap to satisfy the unpaid child support so collecting against future wages through increased wage withholding is often a better solution, possibly tied to probation. Sometimes, however, obligors have assets like retirement savings, investment property and other assets that can be liquidated to pay off the child support. In these cases getting money that the obligor already has in hand can be easier than chasing down wages. That is especially true when the obligor is self-employed and income may be inconsistent and the obligor may not be trusted to pay out on the wage withholding order. When there is a better option to collect unpaid child support against existing assets the obligee will ask the court to confirm the unpaid child support as a money judgment and let the obligee collect against the obligors assets.

The most common post-judgment collection mechanism for a child support judgment is the child support lien. A child support lien allows the obligee to foreclose against the lien on property held under a recorded title or in the hands of a third party. This applies to cars, boats, checking and savings accounts, 401ks and other retirement accounts, and investment accounts. The Texas Family Code allows us to collect on a child support lien against many types of property otherwise exempt from judgments under the Constitution or the Texas Property Code. The only property that is exempt from a child support lien is property defined as part of the homestead under Article XVI of the Texas Constitution. That means we cant make the obligor homeless but we can tap all sorts of other assets.

Getting this process right is not always easy. There are specific steps that must be followed in a child support enforcement from drafting the motion through obtaining judgment to perfecting child support liens. If these steps are not completed correctly or the necessary documents are improperly drafted then the obligee can seriously hamper his or her ability to collect unpaid child support. If you are owed unpaid child support then contact my office to discuss how I can help you recover the child support you are owed.