The purpose of this handbook is to inform noncustodial parents about paternity establishment and child support services. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) believes that children do better when they have the love and support of both parents. This guide is designed with that in mind.
The OAG does not represent the parents or the child in court – the OAG represents the State of Texas. This handbook provides basic information on paternity establishment, child support, custody and visitation. It is not meant to take the place of legal advice.
Simply put, you are the parent who does not have primary custody of the child. But this does not mean you don’t have rights as a parent. Remember, you are a very important part of your child’s life.
A managing conservator, or custodial parent, has the legal right to decide where the child will live. This right is commonly called custody. A possessory conservator, or noncustodial parent, has the legal right to spend time with the child and know the whereabouts of the child. These rights are commonly called “access and visitation” or “possession.”
Many people think only fathers can be noncustodial parents, but that is not the case. In Texas, about 10 percent of noncustodial parents are mothers. Some of the information in this guide is directed toward fathers, but most of the information can apply to either a mom or dad who is the noncustodial parent.
Many people don’t realize that noncustodial parents can open a child support case, but they can. Apply for child support services online from the child support section of the OAG’s website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8014 to request an application.
Your case will be scheduled for a negotiation conference with the other parent in the child support office. If you and the other parent can’t agree on issues like child support or visitation, the case will be set for court.
Child support is based on your net income (pay after taxes) and state child support guidelines.
In Texas, the guidelines are:
It doesn’t matter if you are not working, the court will still order you to pay child support. It is best to provide the court with as much information as possible on your income so you can receive a realistic order.
When you are supporting multiple children who live in different households, the guidelines are adjusted based on the number of children you are supporting. It is important that you let the judge or OAG staff know that you support other children.
If you are employed, your employer will take child support directly out of your paycheck and send it to the State Disbursement Unit. This is the simplest and fastest way to pay child support. To pay by check or money order, send support payments to the State Disbursement Unit (along with your case number).
State Disbursement Unit (SDU)
PO Box 659791
San Antonio, TX 78265-9761
Pay online at www.expertpay.com or www.e-childspay.com. The OAG keeps track of the support you’ve paid.
View your payment history on the OAG website www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8014 to request a copy.
In Texas, the OAG automatically opens a child support case when the custodial parent applies for some public benefits, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Medicaid. The custodial parent must cooperate with the OAG to establish paternity and set child support.
Federal law does not allow the OAG to enforce a parent's visitation rights. However, there are resources that the OAG provides to help parents who have trouble seeing their children. For help with custody or visitation issues, call the Access and Visitation Hotline at (866)292-4636. The Hotline is answered in English and Spanish, Monday - Friday, 1–7 p.m.
Paternity means legal fatherhood. It creates ties between the child and the father, both emotionally and legally. In Texas, an unmarried father is not automatically recognized as the legal father. Parents who are not married when a baby is born must establish paternity for their child to have a legal father.
There are two ways for unmarried parents to establish paternity: 1) sign a legal document called an Acknowledgment of Paternity, or 2) get a court order.
When a baby is born to married parents, legal fatherhood is automatic. The husband of the woman giving birth is called the presumed father. The presumed father automatically has the same legal rights as the mother.
Paternity creates a legal connection between the child and the father. Dad, Mom and their child benefit when paternity is established.
Benefits for Dad
Benefits for Mom
Benefits for Child
When parents are not married to each other, there are two ways to establish paternity.
REMEMBER: If you receive a court summons, you must appear in court or paternity may be established without you. The court can also set child support, medical support, custody and visitation whether or not you are actually present. If you cannot appear in court, contact the court or child support office handling your case and ask how to file a response with the court.
Some people think if they don’t show up and don’t get a genetic (DNA) test, nothing will happen. That is not true. The court can make a paternity decision without a genetic (DNA) test.
Yes. Minors can complete an AOP, and it is legally binding.
For information about how to rescind or challenge paternity, visit the child support section of the Attorney General’s website www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) toll-free at (866) 255-2006.
Yes. Texas law requires unmarried fathers to act very quickly to avoid losing their parental rights. If a man thinks his child is going to be placed for adoption, he can register with the State’s Registry of Paternity through the Department of State Health Services. A father can register before the baby is born but no later than 31 days after the birth of the child. There is no charge for registering with the Paternity Registry. For more information, call Paternity Registry at (888) 963-7111 extension 7782.
In Texas, if you don’t go to court after being served for a hearing, the court can make decisions about paternity and child support without you. If you cannot appear in court at the designated time, contact the court or child support office handling your case and ask how to file a response with the court.
What if I pay for things that my child needs, such as diapers, instead of paying the money through the child support agency?
You are helping to support your child, but the court may see things differently. It is unlikely that a court will consider these direct payments as payment of child support. If you give the child or the child’s other parent something directly, you will still owe the full amount of court-ordered child support. The court will likely consider what you give to the other parent to be a gift to the child.
In legal terms, custody is called conservatorship and visitation is referred to as periods of possession. In Texas, the law presumes that parents will be “joint managing conservators,” meaning they will share parental rights and duties. In most cases, the court grants these rights and duties to both parents, as long as it is in the best interest of the child.
The presumption in Texas is the Standard Possession Order.
For parents who live within 100 miles of each other, the noncustodial parent has visitation:
For parents who live more than 100 miles apart:
The court may modify the Standard Possession Order based on the child’s best interest. For example, if the child is very young (under 3 years old) or if the noncustodial parent has had very little or no previous contact with the child, the court may order a Modified Possession Order, which starts off with shorter visits that become progressively longer until the Standard Possession Order is reached. Once again, the court is making decisions based on what is best for the child.
Texas law contains guidelines that help judges make their decisions. Here are some things the court may consider when deciding what is best for the child:
The court has legal authority to issue a child support order even if you are not actually present. If your current or past income is not known, the support order may be based on your working 40 hours per week at a job that pays minimum wage.
Yes – because you are still legally responsible for paying child support until the child support order has been modified. However, when circumstances change, you can modify your child support order. For more information contact your local child support office.
During a court hearing, you may ask the court to modify the child support order. To do this, you must present evidence showing that the new amount is in the best interest of the child. The court may or may not choose to order a new amount. The judge will look at the age and health of the child, child care, how much time a child spends with each parent and other factors that impact the child’s well-being.
If both parents agree on a new amount, they may file a written agreement with the court. The court reviews the agreement to see if it serves the best interests of your child. If the court agrees with the new amount, it will be entered in the order.
Child support generally continues until the child’s 18th birthday or until the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. If you and the other parent had private attorneys, your court order or divorce decree may require support to continue until the child graduates from college. Get a copy of your court order and check the details.
Medical support and child support are separate obligations the court may require of either or both parents.
The law assumes the person paying child support will also pay for the child’s health insurance. If the custodial parent is required to provide health insurance coverage, the court will order the noncustodial to pay additional support in the form of cash medical support.
If your income changes and you are unable to pay your child support, notify the OAG and the court immediately. However, simply telling the court clerk or contacting your OAG child support office is not sufficient to reduce the amount of your child support payment. Your monthly child support obligation will only change if you obtain a new support order.
You may qualify for a modification of your child support order if there has been a substantial change in circumstances (major change in your life) that affects your ability to pay child support or:
If you seek to modify your child support because of unemployment, the court may order you to show that you are looking for a job or participating in an employment training program such as those offered by the Texas Workforce Commission.
Many noncustodial parents believe that having a serious reason for falling behind on their child support payments will allow the court to dismiss their past-due support, once they explain what happened. This is not true. If a major life event affects your ability to pay child support, notify the court and the child support office immediately. Do not wait to explain your changed circumstances, because the court will not reduce or reimburse past-due child support payments.
Yes, the Texas Workforce Commission provides skills training and job placement services. At your request, the child support agency can also refer you to education and literacy classes as well as counseling services for substance abuse and parenting skills.
No. You must pay your court-ordered child support regardless of whether you have access to your child for visitation.
If you need assistance seeing your child, contact the Texas Access and Visitation Hotline (866)-292-4636, Monday - Friday, 1–7 p.m.
Legally, child support and visitation are separate issues. This means you have the right to see your child even if you are not paying child support. At the same time, if you are not seeing your child, you must continue to pay child support. Both parents must obey the court order. The custodial parent must let you spend time with your child, just like you must pay child support every month in full. The Attorney General's Office only has legal authority to enforce the child support order.
Yes. You may be placed in jail for up to six months for not paying child support. Under Texas law, the reason for placing a noncustodial parent in jail is contempt of court. Contempt of court means you are not following a court order. You may also be fined up to $500 for each violation and have to pay attorney’s fees and court costs.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout a contempt proceeding. You have the right for the government to provide you with an attorney at no charge if the following conditions apply:
In some cases, noncustodial parents who do not pay child support can go to prison for a specific amount of time or until a fine is paid. This happens when someone is criminally prosecuted and convicted of a felony.
Attorney General of Texas
BY U.S. MAIL
Office of the Attorney General
Child Support Division
P. O. Box 12017
Austin, TX 78711-2017
REGIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTERS
AND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES
Harris County: (713) 243-7100
Dallas/Tarrant County: (972) 339-3100
Bexar County: (210) 841-8450
Travis County: (512) 514-7000
Lubbock: (806) 765-0094
McAllen: (956) 682-5581
Tyler: (903) 595-6900
El Paso: (915) 779-2388
24 HOUR PAYMENT AND CASE STATUS INFORMATION:
FOR THE DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING
1-800-RELAY-TX (1-800-735-2989) (TTY)
ACCESS AND VISITATION HOTLINE
Call toll-free Monday – Friday, 1 – 7 p.m., to talk with an attorney familiar with family law.
Call (866) 292-4636 or visit www.txaccess.org.