Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What to do If the Attorney General Knocks on Your Door (Figuratively Speaking)

A "knock on the door" from the Texas Attorney General can take several forms: a letter, a phone call to you, a call to your employer or service of papers on you, among other ways. The knock is to notify you that something is about to happen in court or by a court order. If you are a parent, or alleged to be a parent, the knock is probably to notify you either that you are a parent and have an obligation to start supporting a child or children or they want to examine your financial situation and maybe raise your existing child support or they want you to start paying the support that was previously ordered.

What should you do if you get notice in some form from the A.G.’s office?

Contact a family lawyer, and right away. Don’t delay, especially if you find out about a court date. You need to understand the law and what your options are. The A.G. is not involved to help or represent you. They can’t give you legal advice. They are not a completely neutral party in the process. You need your own counsel. You may be able to work out a better deal by resolving the matter before it goes to court, so you should hire an attorney as soon as possible. It may also take a while to gather information and prepare for court.

Why the A.G. Gets Involved

There are numerous ways for the Attorney General’s office to get involved in your business. A parent could request assistance from the A.G. to collect child support. The State of Texas may have initiated the action if some state assistance has been paid to a parent because of a child. Federal and state laws have forced the A.G. to become very active in collecting child support. They help parents who need to get an initial court order designating someone as the father and ordering the payment of child support. They may also help parents collect past-due child support owed sometimes by "deadbeat dads" (or moms), but also owed sometimes by dads or moms who lost their jobs or became ill or for some other reason could not work or had their pay cut. In addition, the A.G. may periodically review cases to see if support is being paid and to determine whether support should be raised or lowered. (They rarely act to get child support reduced.)

What are some of the things that can happen if the Attorney General comes knocking?

1. Obligations can be created. A court can order retroactive child support all the way back to the birth of the child. The obligation usually will extend until the child is 18 or finishes high school (whichever is later) and can extend beyond that in special circumstances. If there is a court order, you will likely be ordered to pay court costs and attorneys’ fees. There will probably also be an order for medical child support: providing or paying the cost for the child’s health insurance and paying a portion or all of the unreimbursed medical expenses.

2. There could be an increase in child support.

3. An enforcement action can have significant penalties.
If the court finds a child support arrearage (meaning there is past-due, unpaid child support), a judgment with interest may be entered against the obligor (a nice legalese term for the person previously ordered to pay the money) and there would be an order for payments to be made until the total was paid off. There can also be an order for confinement in jail for up to six months for each proven violation of the court order, although some judges will allow a person to be put on probation or community supervision. Probation permits a person to stay out of jail if they report at least once a month to a probation officer and comply with a long list of other requirements. State law also provides for possible suspension of various licenses issued by the state, including driver’s license and professional licenses, among others.


Several things with serious consequences can happen. You can do a lot of damage to yourself by proceeding without representation.

1. Don’t sign anything regarding children or child support without consulting an attorney. You may not understand things very well. The A.G.’s office does know what they’re doing. They are not necessarily trying to take advantage of you, but their objectives and your interests may be different and you may make bad decisions if you proceed without the assistance of an attorney.

2. You might think you can start out at a hearing or court date and then stop it if you don’t like how it’s going. That’s not likely to happen.

3. You may think you can agree to something outside of court and it won’t be binding on you, but it may be binding if you sign it.

4. If you think you can stop everything by just not showing up or by refusing to accept a set of papers, you are wrong and you may end up with a judgment or child support obligation owed by you.

Best advice: See a lawyer immediately!

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