This is not a shot at the Texas Attorney General’s Office (OAG). For the most part, I believe the Texas OAG does a good job managing the estimated 1 Million cases for child support. But, there is just so much they can do with that caseload. For those of you out there in need of your child support, its probably an understatement that you don’t have the luxury of waiting 1 -2 years to have your day in court. If you haven’t experienced dealing with the OAG in collecting your unpaid Texas child support, consider yourself very lucky. If you don’t believe me, just ask someone who has. Most likely they will tell you that the OAG was extremely slow, sometimes rude, and nothing really happened to the deadbeat.
Don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t to say that the OAG doesn’t accomplish much. To the contrary, when you consider the vast amount of unpaid child support there is in Texas, they actually do quite well in getting some of that money collected. But their results are spread out over a million cases. But I would bet you couldn’t care less about how well the OAG did on average with a million people. You care about your case, your family, your money, your children’s needs. You probably not only want to collect your money but additionally hope to send a message to the obligor parent through some form of punished to let them realize this is serious. Sadly, many parents who are missing out on their child support, not only fail to see any of their money recovered quickly, but also fail to see the justice system work to punish these deadbeats to set an example.
For those who haven’t been through the process, let me give you a brief overview of the problems. Hopefully you will see that the OAG is not incompetent but simply isn’t designed to adapt quickly to problems that arise.
Starting the Case
Unfortunately, cases to enforce unpaid child support don’t start automatically and not all cases, in my opinion, appear to be treated equally. In most cases, the OAG monitors child support cases in which the children are receiving CHIPS or MEDICAID assistance from the State. They do this of course because that is money the state is “losing” and the OAG is responsible for trying to recoup that expense. Now, I am not sure if these cases receive priority with the OAG’s office, but it certainly appears that way. These cases seem to get flagged fairly quickly.
In other cases, a child support enforcement case brought by the OAG normally begins when a Texas parent applies for assistance with the OAG claiming they are not receiving their court ordered child support. After this happens, it can take awhile (weeks if not many months) before the OAG moves the case to litigation.
Even when the case is “flagged” and or moved into the litigation process, that doesn’t mean it is quickly filed and that collection processes start. Normally the OAG tries other methods first
OAG Files Judicial Writs of Withholding
One tool available to collect unpaid child support is known as a Judicial Writ of Withholding. I use them in my practice and so does the OAG. This is often the first step initiated by the OAG. At our office though, we use this tool in conjunction and simultaneously with other tools, such as child support liens to freeze assets. Nevertheless, filing this requires the giving of notice to the Obligor parent, and then waiting for a response and then following up with a court order. For a private attorney, this doesn’t take long, but for the OAG, the time can vary depending upon how busy the local office is. Again, the OAG’s problem is not that they are just slow in general, its that they have huge case volume. But, still, it can take a while for the OAG to move on to the next step
Filing The Motion to Enforce
This is the lawsuit that is filed to obtain a Judgment for back child support that can later be executed on to collect your money. Usually, to put leverage on the obligor parent, the OAG will also seek Jail time for failure to pay support. This is where the problems come in. When jail time is a punishment sought for enforcing Texas Child Support arrearages, the obligor parent must be physically served with a copy of the lawsuit. This is known as Service of Process. You’ve seen this in the movies where some process server finds a person and hands them papers and says “you’ve been served.” Its like that, but not as dramatic usually. This is required in all lawsuits, but the problem for the OAG is that they don’t have the time to plan and organize the service of process. With our office, we coordinate with our private process server (who will show up looking like just a regular guy) to increase the chances of getting your ex served quickly and prevent them from avoiding. We will even, if necessary, give our process server a photograph of your Ex just in case your ex tries to lie and say “that’s not me.” The OAG on the other hand won’t normally hire a private process server, which is usually much more efficient and creative at getting the job done, but instead will hire a constable that will get around to serving your papers when they can. The problem with a constable is, how likely do you think it is that your ex will open the door if they see a police officer knocking on the door with papers? Yeah… Not Likely. As a result, it can take weeks if not longer just to get them served. This delay often results in resetting the hearing on your child support case, once, if not multiple times. It could take months (maybe 6 months) before you even make it to your first court appearance.
The Court Appearance
After the delays in service and the court resets, when you actually do get the opportunity to go to court guess what happens? Yup, normally, there is another reset. Why? Well, in many cases, your ex will show up without an attorney and give a sob story as to why they can’t afford one. When this happens, the judge will appoint an attorney for them if jail time is being pursued. This of course results in yet another reset, and then when another attorney gets involved scheduling conflicts occur.
Finally you get your day in court
Then perhaps a year, if not longer, since the time the suit was initially filed, when you finally get the opportunity to present your case to the judge you discover another problem: The OAG doesn’t really know the facts of your case. The reason for this is simple, they have too many cases, they haven’t really spoken with you in depth, and they don’t actually represent you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered parents in need of their child support who think the OAG is actually representing them. They don’t represent you at all. They honestly have no duty to you. They represent the state of Texas and that’s it. This causes a huge problem in court when you are hoping your ex will finally be punished but the OAG doesn’t cross examine them effectively to bring out all the big facts that could possibly anger the judge to influence them to impose jail time. Often times, you leave court that day with your ex simply receiving probation and making small repayments each month. After this the OAG does little else to pursue the unpaid funds as its time to move on to the next case.
This is the unfortunate result for too many people in need of their Texas Child Support.