Failure To Pay Child Support Can Be A Criminal Offense
Saturday, January 1, 2005
As Attorney General of Texas, I have made the protection of children one of the highest priorities|
of my administration. Taking care of our children includes holding parents accountable when they refuse to pay child support.
I am thankful for the hundreds of thousands of Texas parents who make regular child support payments. They love their children and are involved in their lives, even though they live in separate households.
The benefits to children who receive child support go beyond the financial security that regular payments provide. Research shows that children who receive regular child support also make better grades in school, are more likely to finish high school and attend college, have fewer behavior problems at school, and are more likely to see their fathers.
Unfortunately, there are many children in communities throughout Texas who will never know the benefits of steady child support payments. Their parents have the ability to pay but refuse to fulfill a legal and moral duty to support their children. These mothers and fathers must be held accountable for the harm they cause.
It is my goal to create a culture of compliance in Texas that dictates consequences to mothers and fathers who refuse to pay their court-ordered child support. Prosecuting parents for criminal nonsupport is a sure way to hold parents accountable and bring justice to the children they are neglecting.
Many people think that child support is solely a matter of civil law. But under Texas Penal Code §25.05, it is a state jail felony for an individual to intentionally or knowingly fail to provide support for his or her child younger than 18 or for a child who is the subject of a court order for child support. It is an affirmative defense that the individual could not provide support for the child.
During my tenure as Attorney General, we have worked with district and county attorneys across Texas to prosecute 197 parents for criminal nonsupport. Out of these, 196 accepted a plea bargain and one went to trial but was dismissed at the request of the parent who was owed the child support.
On occasion, we hear concerns about prosecuting criminal nonsupport cases because of the reasons parents give for not paying child support. I would like to set everyone's mind at ease about them. Here are some of the most popular.
"I'm not the father." In every case that we prosecute, paternity has been established, either by an agreed order or by order of the court, often after DNA testing.
"They didn't let me have a blood test." It is amazing how many men sign agreed orders establishing paternity and setting child support, only to claim later that they really wanted a paternity test.
"The records are wrong; I paid the other parent in cash." Standard child support orders require that child support payments be made through a local registry or the State Disbursement Unit (SDU). The OAG is required to investigate any discrepancy between the payment record of the SDU and the records of the parties.
"I never get to see my child." This is an unfortunate situation, but it is not a defense for failure to pay child support. Texas Family Code §154.011 makes it clear that support and visitation are not connected. My office is engaged in a number of initiatives across the state to promote the involvement of both parents in a child's life.
If the parent owing support is unable to pay, we won't seek prosecution. If the pleadings to establish paternity or set support are unclear, we won't seek prosecution. If the amount of support owed is uncertain, we won't seek prosecution. In other words, we do not go after anyone unless we have a complete record showing that paternity was established, support was set, payments weren't made, and arrears are owed.
As you know, local district attorneys are the prosecutors with original jurisdiction in most criminal matters, and this is true in cases of criminal nonsupport as well. To pursue and win these cases, we need the cooperation of the local prosecutor. Fortunately, we enjoy excellent working relationships with many DAs who are as committed as we are to protecting Texas children.
We offer local prosecutors every possible assistance in investigating, preparing and even trying criminal nonsupport cases. In addition, we have prepared a Criminal Nonsupport Handbook to provide district attorneys with an easy-to-use guide to child support prosecutions under Texas Penal Code Section 25.05. The handbook is available from the child support section of my Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us.
Thousands of Texas children rely on child support payments for a fair start in life. Parents who do not follow the law must be held accountable for refusing to take care of their children. Failure to follow court orders that require payment of financial and medical support must be prosecuted to ensure that Texas children receive the support they need. Without enforcement, compliance will wane.