You have an order for child support, but what do you do next? Parents often don’t know where to start, and the process can seem overwhelming. While the method of collection usually depends on how well the parents work together, parents need to decide how to manage two different types of support: 1. The base child support payments that were ordered from one parent to the other; 2. The shared ongoing expenses that both parents must split, such as uninsured medical care and educational expenses.
How it works in Texas
In Texas, you can either collect payments yourself, or file an enforcement action with the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). For parents who are amicable, abiding by the order and keeping track of payments directly is usually the best option. In the case of the most common order of a monthly payment, the owing parent could write a check to the other parent each month or use any method where proof of payment is easily tracked.
The key is to always pay through a method that gives you an indisputable record of what and when payments were made, and exactly what they were for. This way, if there’s ever a dispute, a Judge can easily see evidence of the payments. For example, you want to make it clear in the “memo” on a check that you are paying support for June 2020, rather than just saying “monthly support.” A tracking service like SupportPay is the perfect solution for child support payments, as it creates an evidence trail that both parents can see and access if they ever need to go to Court.
But wait, there's more
The second way to collect support in Texas is to open up an enforcement action with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Either parent can open up a case with the OAG, as the office does not represent either parent- their only interest is in enforcing the order and making sure the child has the support they need. There are advantages and disadvantages of working with the OAG. Especially for parents who don’t communicate well, opening up a case can make a lot of sense. For example, they have the power to garnish wages, or put liens against the obligating parent’s financial assets. They can also help recover back pay, and interest that accrues, if a parent fails to pay on time. At worst, they can also hold a non-compliant parent in contempt of court or impose quasi-criminal penalties.
What to keep in mind
However, there can be downsides to involving a state agency in your child support case. Once a case is opened, you now have a state agency monitoring everything, and sometimes they make mistakes. For example, if the agency has a wage garnishment imposed on the obligating parent, but the parents work something else out for one or more months, the garnishment still goes through. It can deter parents from coming to agreements outside of court or the agency, which generally should be encouraged. Since all payments must be tracked through the agency, this can sometimes result in double or over payments, delayed payments, miscalculations, and court appearances to untangle the math. This is why introducing a solution like Support Pay, which empowers parents to track their payments, can be a great solution.
Parents must keep in mind that base child support, or “guideline” support, is generally not enough for all expenses associated with raising a child. There is also the added difficulty of how to collect child support add-on expenses, such as reimbursements when one parent fronts the cost of uninsured medical expenses or daycare expenses. In most orders, one parent (usually the non-custodial parent) is ordered to maintain a health insurance plan, but that still doesn’t account for uninsured expenses, like co-pays or emergencies. The OAG does not keep track of these extra expenses, since a wage garnishment only accounts for the base support amount. This means the parents are responsible for properly requesting and reimbursing these additional expenses, sometimes the nature of which aren’t even agreed upon in the first place. Therefore, it makes sense to use technology to help with organizing requests and responses, such as the Support Pay platform.
SupportPay Can Help
An added benefit of using a platform to track these requests is ensuring each request is proper per the order. Imagine a situation where the child support order only includes add-ons for shared medical expenses and day care. One day, the custodial parent requests reimbursement for private school tuition, and the obligating parent doesn’t agree to reimburse. A Judge would want to see this correspondence to determine whether the expense is proper per the court order. Support Pay can easily produce the correspondence for the Judge, who would determine that expense as being an invalid and unenforceable request.
Wrapping it up
In Texas, both parties need to be mindful of the deadlines for requesting and reimbursing additional child support orders. Generally, the parent who paid for the expense should use a reliable method to inform the other parent of the expense within 30 days of incurring the expense. They should provide the other parent an itemized statement of the charges, giving the obligating parent 30 days to reimburse their one-half obligation. These strict timelines are imposed in order to prevent a situation in which one parent collects a large amount of expenses, surprising the other parent with a huge bill. Or the reverse situation, where the owing parent takes months to repay the parent who is out of pocket. Support Pay help parents easily communicate and track these expenses, reducing the likelihood they will become confused or angry with each other. This results in parents being less worried about money, and more focused on the important things.