Last Updated on January 23, 2024 by Turner Thornton
Paying child support is a legal obligation, but some parents will go to great lengths to avoid putting more money in their ex’s pocket. This includes intentionally staying unemployed or taking low-wage jobs to reduce their child support payments.
But that tactic won’t work in Texas – or at least not anymore.
On September 1, 2023, a new law – specifically Senate Bill 870 – went into effect, giving judges the power to order parents behind on child support payments to actively seek employment or enroll in a community employment program to help them find a suitable job – whether they want to or not.
In this article, we discuss the Texas new child support enforcement law, which makes sweeping reforms to the Texas Family Code and addresses various aspects of child support enforcement and modification. But first, let’s look at examples of unemployment and underemployment regarding child support.
Examples of Intentional Unemployment or Underemployment
Some parents are very open about their schemes to avoid paying child support. They will quit high-paying jobs, work part-time or for cash only, or simply refuse to find a job – all in an effort to lower their child support payments. Here’s a look at some examples of intentional unemployment or underemployment.
- Unemployment Example: A parent who was previously employed in a well-paying position becomes “unemployed” by resigning and then claims inability to find new employment, despite not actively seeking job opportunities, in an effort to avoid child support responsibilities.
- Underemployment Example: A skilled professional with a high earning capacity chooses to work only in part-time or temporary positions that pay significantly less than what they are qualified to earn, thus lowering their apparent income to reduce child support payments.
- Unemployment Example: A parent avoids formal employment, choosing instead to rely on sporadic cash jobs that are not reported as income. This lack of formal employment record is then used as a basis to claim inability to pay child support.
- Underemployment Example: A parent with a degree and experience in a high-paying field deliberately switches to a career or industry known for lower wages, citing personal reasons, but with the underlying motive of reducing their child support payments.
- Unemployment Example: A parent who has been laid off uses this as an opportunity to claim prolonged unemployment, even when viable job offers are available, in order to claim an inability to pay child support.
- Underemployment Example: A parent intentionally fails to pursue promotions or advancement opportunities in their career, maintaining a lower income level than they are capable of earning, to minimize child support payments.
- Self-Employed Underemployment Example: A self-employed parent defers or refuses contracts or business opportunities that would significantly increase their income, thereby reporting lower earnings and reducing their child support obligations.
Under the new law, if a parent believes that their ex is intentionally engaging in these tactics, they can present evidence of underemployment or unemployment to the court. The judge can, in turn, hold the other parent accountable and order him or her to actively seek employment – or be subject to potential sanctions and possibly even a jail.
Texas New Child Support Enforcement Law: Empowering Family Courts
A central theme of this new law is the enhanced authority it gives to family courts to crack down on parents who use unemployment or underemployment as a strategy to reduce their child support obligations. It revises Section 154.017 of the Texas Family Code to give courts the power to order a parent to:
- enroll and participate fully in a community program that provides employment assistance, skills training or job placement services; or
- work, have a plan to pay child support, or participate in work activities appropriate to pay child support.
Simply put, the new law allows a judge to order a parent to get a job; be enrolled in a program to help them get a job; or get a better job suitable to their qualifications so they can pay their child support.
Parents who deliberately fail to abide by this court order (or any other) are subject to a contempt of court charge, which carries penalties such as fines and the possibility of jail time. By empowering family courts to address intentional unemployment or underemployment, Texas is sending a clear message that avoiding child support payments will not be tolerated.
Other Key Aspects of Senate Bill 870
While the big news surrounding the new child support enforcement law is the provision allowing courts to order parents to actively seek employment or participate in community employment progams the law also contains other important changes. These include:
Releasing Child Support Liens on Property
In Texas, if a parent falls behind on child support, a lien can be placed on their property. Under the new law, the parent who is the recipient of the child support can partially or fully release a lien on the debtor parent’s property. This release of lien can be executed if the court finds that the parent is making a good faith effort to pay off their debt.
Adjustments During Incarceration
Obviously, when a parent who pays child support is in jail, they are unable to work and pay child support. In the past, incarceration did not exempt a parent from their child support obligations, which meant they owed back child support upon release.
The new law allows a judge to adjust child support obligations during a parent’s incarceration, acknowledging that incarcerated parents may not be able to meet their obligations and aligning payments with the standard child support guidelines for the net resources available during imprisonment.
It’s important to point out, however, that there certain exceptions. The reduced obligations do not apply to incarcerated parents for violating child support orders or for crimes involving family violence against the other parent or child.
Child Support Enforcement Issues? Contact Us.
While there are legitimate reasons for unemployment or underemployment, some parents use these tactics to intentionally avoid paying child support. If you have evidence that your ex is not fulfilling their financial obligations towards your children, the new law gives family courts in Texas more power to hold them accountable.
If you need assistance with child support enforcement issues, don’t hesitate to contact Varghese Summersett Family Law Group at 817-900-3220. Our team of experienced attorneys and paralegals will fight for the best interests of your children. Call us today at 817-900-3220 to schedule a consultation. As always, our goal is to provide effective, compassionate representation in all family law matters. Let us put our resources to work for you. We serve clients throughout North Texas, including Fort Worth, Southlake and Keller.