Earlier last month, the ever-controversial R. Kelly (Robert Kelly) was sent to jail because he owed approximately $161,000 in past due child support, showing that not even celebrities are above the law. According to CNN, on January 8, 2009, an Illinois court ordered R. Kelly to pay $20,833 in child support each month to his ex-wife, Andrea Kelly, for their three children. R. Kelly was later released from jail after his back due child support was paid in full by check from an anonymous source.
Child support is serious business. Raising children is not cheap. Typically, the parent receiving child support is the primary parent and must incur quite a bit of expenses to raise a child, such as day care, food, clothes and shoes, extracurricular activities, and entertainment. The costs can go on and on.
In Texas, an obligor’s (the person who owes child support) child support is calculated based on a party’s net resources (as defined by Texas Family Code) multiplied by a percentage based on how many children the obligor currently owes a duty of support and how many children are before the court in this instance—this is referred to as “guideline child support.”
While the Court has discretion to go above guideline child support, in most instances a party’s net resources is capped at $8,550.00. To put things in perspective, a party who makes minimum wage will pay approximately $300.00 a month for one child and a party who is paying maximum child support will pay $1,710.00 per month for one child. This is not including an obligor’s statutory obligation to provide health insurance for the child as well as a split of unreimbursed medical expenses.
Since so many parents who receive child support rely on the monthly child support payments to make ends meet, as was the case with R. Kelly’s ex-wife (she was in foreclosure on her house), the Texas legislature and many other legislatures have determined that child support is one of the most sacrosanct debts. For instance, the Federal Government does not allow child support to be discharged in bankruptcy. Thus, even if you file for bankruptcy, your child support obligation still stands. If you are in the military, your specific branch may carry more severe discipline implications for child support enforcement.
In Texas, if a person is in arrears on their child support obligations, the Texas Family Code sets forth some steep consequences if the child support is not paid timely. First and foremost, if the person to whom child support is owed requests that the attorney general step in and help with enforcement, there is a high likelihood that the attorney general will file suit and request that child support obligations be enforced.
However, if the child support obligee (the person to whom child support is owed) chooses, they may hire a private practice attorney to help them enforce their child support. If a court finds that child support is due and owing, a court is authorized and mandated to order that the obligor pay reasonable attorney fees for the enforcement. Caution: Just because you think the other party can’t afford an attorney to enforce a child support obligation, that doesn’t mean the obligation won’t be enforced.
So, if the Court finds that an obligor (such as R. Kelly if he were here in Texas) is past due on their child support, what options does the court have as punishment? The court has many options:
- The court may hold a child support obligor in contempt of court—meaning that the obligor can be subject to incarceration, community supervision and the payment of any associated fines.
- The court may enter a judgment for past due child support payments that can be enforced by liens and levies on financial institutions and potentially your tax returns.
- The court may order that child support be automatically withheld from paychecks.
- A lien may be placed on all non-exempt personal property.
- Bank accounts and financial institutions can be ordered to release funds to the obligee until the child support obligation is paid in full.
- The court may order that an obligor’s licenses may be suspended, including but not limited to professional licenses, recreational licenses (like handgun and hunting licenses and driver’s licenses).
Long story short, whether you are a celebrity or just an everyday person like most of us, child support obligations are serious. The courts take them very seriously and if you are in arrears, do everything within your possibility to stay current or be prepared to face the consequences just like R. Kelly.
Sally L. Pretorius is a shareholder at KoonsFuller. She practices family law and was certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 2015. Pretorius, the current President of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, has been a member of the TYLA Board of Directors since 2012, previously serving as vice president and secretary.