Can Direct Child-Support Payments be Used as Evidence in an Enforcement Proceeding?

What is a direct Payment?

A direct payment is any payment that is made outside of payments made to the State Disbursement Unit in San Antonio. Most child-support orders require that all payments be made directly to the State Disbursement Unit in order to satisfy a child-support obligation. In fact, if a child-support order has an income withholding order, which most do, then federal law requires the employers to send these amounts that they withhold from an employee’s check directly to the State Disbursement Unit. However, there are many times that either because of an old order or because of confusion between parties, the person who is supposed to be paying child-support decides it would be easier to just pay the money directly to their child’s parent. This can be a real problem when it comes to enforcement and can cause a huge headache for both parties. Some people may assume that when an order says that child-support must be paid through the state registry that there is no hope for someone who gets pulled into court with enforcement and who could potentially owe hundreds, thousands, or even tens-of-thousands of dollars. At least one court of appeals in Texas would have even agreed with you on that up until recently.

Can a trial court look at direct payments as evidence?

Luckily for people who find themselves in this situation, the Texas Supreme Court in Ochsner v. Ochsner, decided June 24, 2016, said that a trial court has discretion to look at direct payments and see if a person who is obligated to pay child-support under an order has met their obligation. The Texas Supreme Court said that the trial court can use amounts paid directly to decide how much child-support a person is behind in paying. According to the case, “The family code directs a trial court in an enforcement proceeding to determine the amount of unmet child-support obligation, and in no way removes a court’s discretion to consider direct tuition payments made outside the registry.” The Court further clarified that, “Covering a cost that plainly benefits the child and that reduces the financial burden on the obligee is a fact a trial court may consider in a child-support enforcement proceeding.”

How much discretion does the trial court have?

This discretion that the Supreme Court talks about does not mean that a trial court is going to be required to accept evidence of direct payment as meeting a child-support obligation. The Court cautions that in some cases the trial court may decide not to consider this evidence at all. This opinion just means that it is within the trial court’s ability to decide that because payments have been made directly, the obligation has been met. It is helpful to note that the case in front of the Texas Supreme Court involved a parent who had paid more than $20,000 more in child support than he was obligated to pay through the original order, he had just made the payments outside of the state registry. It is also important to note that the court cautioned against making payments outside of the registry and said that their decision should in no way be seen as encouraging the making of direct payments because at the very least direct payments complicate things.

Contact Guest & Gray today to schedule your family law consult. We can discuss any enforcement actions, how this case might affect your case, and what your options are. We look forward to meeting with you.