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Your Dallas Child Support Case: The Basics

You are a super single parent! You prepare three well-balanced, nutritious meals for your son each day. You’re at every ISD football game cheering for him. You’re a PTA committee member at J L Long Middle School. Lately, however, you’ve noticed that even with all your penny-pinching it’s becoming even more expensive to care for your son by yourself. Your son’s other parent visits whenever possible and sends checks for holidays and birthdays, but you wonder whether you can get child support to relieve some of the financial stress. To help you understand your basic rights, FindLaw has put together some general information about typical Dallas child support cases.

What is Child Support?

Child support is a child’s legal right to be financially supported by both parents. The law assumes that a custodial parent (the parent who has primary custody of a child) directly pays for the child’s expenses. Therefore, a non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have primary custody of the child) may be required to make child support payments to the custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent generally must provide child support until one of the following circumstances occurs:

  • The child turns 18 or graduates high school (whichever is later); or
  • The child marries, dies, or is emancipated.

Child support payments can be used for a variety of expenses including basic necessities, childcare, education, and entertainment.

Who Can Apply for Child Support?

A child’s mother, father, or other qualified adult, such as a legal guardian, may apply for child support from the non-custodial parent.

How Can I Get a Child Support Order?

There are two basic ways to get a child support order in Dallas:

  1. An agreement between parents that is approved by a judge, including an agreement reached during the Child Support Review Process; or
  2. Orders made as part of an existing court case--divorce, paternity, child custody and visitation, or Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.

In Texas, the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) serves as the official child support enforcement agency. “Full-Service” assistance from the OAG includes the following:

  • Finding non-custodial parents;
  • Establishing paternity;
  • Initiating, monitoring, and enforcing child support and medical support orders; and
  • Collecting and distributing child support payments.

The OAG also offers “limited services” in the form of payment processing and record keeping through the Texas State Disbursement Unit (SDU).

How Do I Apply for Child Support Services with the OAG?

You can complete an application online or call (800)-252-8014 to request an application be mailed to you. There are also six Child Support Division field offices in Dallas where you can apply. If you receive assistance from the state government, such as Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, you may not need to fill out an application.

The type of application you should submit depends on several factors, including your relationship to the child, where the child lives, whether you have custody of the child, your marital status, and whether there are existing court orders.

Are There Fees Associated With Receiving Child Support Services?

Yes. Although there is no fee to submit an application, a custodial parent who receives support payments must pay fees associated with the services provided.

If a custodial parent uses full-service monitoring and enforcement from OAG, that parent must pay a $25 service fee each year he or she receives at least $500 in child support payments. This fee does not apply if the parent has ever been on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Alternately, if a custodial parent receives only SDU services, that parent must pay $3 each month in service fees.

What If the Non-Custodial Parent Refuses to Pay or Stops Paying?

The OAG uses several techniques to enforce support orders and collect past-due child support payments. These methods may include the following:

  • Suspending a driver’s license, professional license, or hunting and fishing licenses;
  • Withholding wages from a non-custodial parent’s paycheck;
  • Filing liens against a non-custodial parent’s property and/or assets;
  • Intercepting federal income tax refunds, lottery winnings, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation awards, or other state or federal sources of money;
  • Initiating a lawsuit against a non-custodial parent; and
  • Requesting the District Attorney pursue criminal charges.

How Much Will I Receive or How Much Will I Have to Pay?

In Dallas, a judge has the discretion to decide how much child support a non-custodial parent must pay. Although the judge may weigh several factors, the most important consideration is the “best interests of the child.” State law has created guidelines to help judges determine support and these guidelines are presumed to be in the best interest of the child.

You can use the guidelines to estimate a child support payment.

Can I Make Changes to an Existing Child Support Order?

Possibly. Only a judge can modify an existing order, even if both parents agree to a change. The judge will look at whether there has been substantial change in circumstances since the order was issued. Alternately, a parent may contact OAG every three years to request a review of a child support order. In that circumstance, the court will calculate whether the child support order differs from the current child support guidelines by 20% or $100 or more per month.

Although the OAG assists with child support services in Dallas, the Office does not represent the child or either parent. Child support cases can be emotionally challenging and your rights and obligations may be difficult to understand, particularly if they are part of a divorce settlement or other court order. For these and other reasons, you may want to consider contacting a legal aid organization or an experienced family law attorney in the Dallas area.

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