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Houston dad ends up in jail for paying child support arrears

This past summer, lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature voted unanimously to introduce a major change to the laws governing the payment of child support here in Texas. However, as illustrated by a recent case out of Harris County, this legislative action may not necessarily be producing the desired outcomes.

Back in June, lawmakers voted to repeal a provision of state law that since 1995 had prevented a parent who was behind on child support from being held in contempt for nonpayment provided that they covered their arrears before the scheduled court hearing.

Lawmakers took the action after seeing how many custodial parents were locked in time-consuming and costly child support battles with non-custodial parents, many of whom would keep delaying their court dates until such time as they could finally become current on their child support arrears and therefore avoid being jailed by a judge for contempt despite their otherwise active efforts to prolong the proceedings. 

While the idea behind the repeal sounds logical, it may be causing unintended consequences.

Consider a case right here in Harris County concerning the father of an 11-year-old boy who only learned after the fact that his child support payments had been modified such that he owed a substantial amount of money, including $3,000 in back child support that his employer had somehow failed to withhold.

"I discovered for some reason his employer was withholding a large amount some weeks a small amount some weeks a zero amount some weeks," said the attorney representing the father.

Understandably wanting to provide his son with the necessary support and avoid possible jail time, the father proceeded to cover all of the money owed, such that when he arrived at court for a November hearing he owed no money whatsoever.

The father was in for a shock, however, when the presiding judge held him in contempt for the late child support payments as well as his failure to abide by a visitation schedule, another modification of which he claims he was unaware. Shockingly, the judge then proceeded to sentence him to six months in jail.

"When she said I remand you to the Harris County Jail for 180 days my mouth just dropped," said the father. "I can't be there for my son in jail. I can't pay child support in jail. This is not in the best interest of the child."

The father has since turned himself in and is waiting while his attorney files an appeal.

It should be interesting to see if more cases like this arise over the course of time and what steps, if any, state lawmakers take to address the problem.

Those fathers with concerns about child support, child custody, visitation rights or relocations here in Texas should strongly consider speaking with an experienced fathers' rights attorney dedicated to protecting their best interests in negotiations and contested hearings.

Source: AL.com, "Houston-area man goes to jail for paying too much child support?" Mark Heim, Jan. 14, 2014; KRIV, "Father pays outstanding child support, still gets jail time," Randy Wallace, Jan. 21, 2014

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