There are many older cases where the obligor has not paid any child support for many years. For whatever reason, neither the obligee nor the AG's office pursued enforcement early on. Many parents want to know what can be done to collect this old debt.
The Texas Family Code has changed over the years with regard to enforcement remedies. There used to be what was referred to as a limitation period of four years after the child became an adult. However, that was changed and now there are no limitations per se. There are only jurisdictional limitations as to enforcement remedies. In other words, there are limits as to what the court can do, depending on the circumstances.
The most powerful remedy is obviously contempt. The court can incarcerate a parent who is not paying child support and render a money judgment. However, an enforcement action must be brought no later than two years after the child becomes an adult or after a support order is terminated. This means that after that time period, the court no longer has jurisdiction to hold an obligor in contempt.
The next enforcement remedy is less powerful but still is very valuable in pursuing the debt. Each child support payment missed is considered a final judgment against the obligor. The problem is that you can have hundreds of missed payments and therefore many final judgments. This is not really workable for collection purposes, so the family code permits the court to render a cumulative money judgment. In other words, it allows the obligee to get one judgment that adds all past due child support payments, as well as interest, into one judgment. This judgment can be abstracted and used to collect the debt as you would with any other debt judgment. The obligee can abstract the judgment and execute on non-exempt property of the obligor to collect the debt. It can be used to go after funds in the obligor's bank accounts. Upon filing an abstract of judgment with the county clerk, a child support lien is perfected. The judgment will also likely be entered into the obligor's credit reports. Again, there is a time limitation for this remedy. An enforcement action seeking a cumulative money judgment must be brought no later than ten years after the child becomes an adult or after a support order is terminated.
What is available to the obligee if more than ten years has elapsed since the child became an adult? Neither of the above two remedies are available any longer. However, there are two available remedies remaining. The obligee may utilize the free services of the Texas Attorney General's office also referred to as the Title IV-D agency. An obligee can request the AG's office for assistance or retain an attorney to file a Notice of Application for Judicial Writ of Withholding and serve the obligor. The obligor has 10 days to challenge the withholding only to the extent that there is an issue with regard to identity or the amount of arrearage. If there is no challenge, then the writ will issue and the obligor's employer will begin deductions of child support payments. This does not give the obligee a money judgment. The obligee will not be able to get a cumulative money judgment to abstract as described above because of the expiration of the ten year period and therefore will not be able to attach the obligor's non-exempt property. The obligee will only receive periodic payments until paid in full so long as the obligor remains employed.
The AG's office may file a Notice of Application for Judicial Writ of Withholding or it may also issue an Administrative Writ of Withholding. The obligor may challenge the Administrative Writ of Withholding by first contacting the AG's office in effort to resolve a dispute only with regard to identity or amount of arrearage. Apparently, there is no time limitation for the obligor to take this first step to dispute the withholding. If such a request is made, the AG's office must provide an opportunity for a review by telephone or in person. If it is not resolved, the obligor may then file a Motion to Withdraw the Administrative Writ of Withholding with the court and request a hearing within 30 days. If the court overrules the motion, the writ stands and deductions will begin. Again, this does not give the obligee a money judgment. The obligee will not be able to get a cumulative money judgment to abstract as described above because of the expiration of the ten year period and therefore will not be able to attach the obligor's non-exempt property. The obligee will only receive periodic payments until paid in full so long as the obligor remains employed.