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Are worker misclassifications creating child support problems?

It's an illegal employment practice that not many people may think about, but which has very real consequences not just for the state's coffers, but also for those parents who rely on child support payments to help make ends meet.

The illegal practice in question is worker misclassification, and it typically consists of an employer incorrectly classifying employees as independent contractors in a bid to avoid paying workers' compensation, payroll taxes and overtime. Estimates from the Texas Workforce Commission reveal that roughly 35,000 workers were misclassified by employers from 2010 to 2012, costing the state's unemployment insurance fund over $2 million.

What exactly does misclassification have to do with child support?

When a parent is past due on their child support payments, the Attorney General of Texas' Child Support Division has a multitude of enforcement tools at their disposal, including the ability to order employers to garnish the wages of delinquent parents on their payrolls.

While a worker's classification as either an employee or independent contractor doesn't make any difference as far as an order for wage garnishment is concerned under state law, experts indicate that it nevertheless becomes much harder to collect when a worker is misclassified as an independent contractor or is paid "under the table."

Is this reality affecting the amount of money collected by the AG's office?

As we mentioned above, worker misclassification can make it considerably more difficult to track and enforce an order for wage garnishment. However, officials with the child support division indicate that an astounding $3.8 billion was collected last year with 78 percent of this money coming directly from employers withholding wages.

Are state lawmakers doing anything to address this issue?

Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) has introduced legislation -- Senate Bill 1727 -- that, if passed, would expand the definition of "employee" as it relates to child support to include "independent contractor."

"That's for the purpose of new hire reporting," said an official with the child support division of the bill. "Not only do employers honor wage withholding orders when we send them one, but they are also required to report any newly hired individual to us within a certain time frame."

Stay tuned for updates ...

If a parent is behind on child support payments and you have questions about your enforcement options, please consider meeting with an experienced legal professional who can provide both answers and a plan of action.

Source: The Texas Tribune, "Ducking child support by becoming a 'contractor,'" Julian Aguilar, April 2, 2015

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