If you are behind in your payments, the Texas Attorney General's Office, which oversees child support collections, would rather have you pay something than nothing at all. Your child's custodial parent might feel the same way. In 2006, Texas took part in a study conducted by the United States Inspector General to determine whether debt compromise helps collect past due child support, with favorable results. The state is open to negotiating with you.
Ultimately, your child's other parent is the only one who can agree to "forgive" your child support arrears. The attorney general's office cannot force her. But the OAG will bring the two of you together in a negotiation conference with a case worker to help facilitate an agreement. You can offer to make a lump-sum payment on your arrears for less than the total accrued balance, called a "debt compromise." You can also offer to begin making monthly payments toward your arrears in exchange for reducing your overall balance.
How to Make an Offer
The first step of the process is to notify the OAG that you would like a child support review. Call the office and ask for a "request for review" form. Fill it out and be specific about the terms of your offer. Mail in the request. Someone from the OAG will contact your child's other parent to arrange a conference, then get back to you with a time and location. When you meet with the case worker, if you can reach an agreement, you will both sign a court order formalizing the terms. The OAG will then forward it to a judge for his signature and filing with the court.
Odds of Acceptance
According to the U.S. Inspector General's report, the average child support arrears balance negotiated to a debt compromise in Texas in 2006 was $19,349. Negotiations reduced this by an average of about $14,000 per case. Your chances of reaching such a compromise depend on your ex's good will and the enthusiasm of your case worker to accept the deal you're offering. If you're making current child support payments at the time you make your offer, assuming your children are not grown and you are still paying support for them, it will increase your odds of acceptance. If your children are no longer living with your ex, she will most likely accept your offer rather than have to pursue you for payment through the court system. The case worker will probably encourage her to do so.
If you can reach an agreement directly with your children's other parent, you can also bypass the OAG by having an attorney draw up a consent order stating the terms of your agreement and filing it with the court. Don't make any payment directly to your ex without a court order confirming it. If there's no record of it with the court, it didn't happen. You could end up being out the money and still having an arrears balance on record with the OAG. Texas takes extensive efforts to collect past due child support from non-custodial parents, and interest on your arrears balance accumulates at the rate of 6 percent per year. It's in your best interest to erase the arrears if possible.
- Department of Health and Human Services Department of Inspector General; State Use of Debt Compromise to Reduce Child Support Arrearages; October 2007 (PDF)
- Attorney General of Texas; Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support Modification; May 2010
- Welfare Information Network; Options To Help Low-Income Noncustodial Parents Manage their Child Support Debt; Michelle Ganow Jones; October 2002
- CLASP; Strategies For Preventing the Accumulation of Child Support Arrears and Managing Existing Arrears: An Update; Paula Roberts, et al.; October 2005 (PDF)