Karen Marvel | Unusual Remedies for Collecting Past Due Child Support and How to Use Them

Today we are excited to welcome attorney Karen Marvel to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Karen practices family law and has held many leadership positions during her career. In each year from 2017-2020 she was named one of the top 50 family law attorneys by S.A. Scene magazine. 

Karen’s passion is collecting past due child support no matter how old the case. 

She says, “One of the things Texas does really well is this huge array of remedies to help people collect support.”  
Today we are talking to her about what family law attorneys need to know when collecting past due support, including: 

  • The process for securing child support judgements (how quickly you can get into court)
  • Creative ways for collecting child support and some important things to remember when employing them
  • Exactly how to use liens and levies (without court intervention) 
  • How to collect attorney’s fees
  • And much more

Mentioned in this episode:


Karen Marvel: There’s no time period in the statute for license suspension, for collecting the past due support. Only that it’s at least 90 days overdue. So what it basically tells you is child support doesn’t go away.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast, your source for the latest news and trends in family law in the state of Texas. Now, here’s your host attorney Holly Draper.

Holly Draper: Today we’re excited to welcome Karen Marvel to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Karen is a Board Certified family law attorney practicing in San Antonio. She has been named as a Texas Super Lawyer every year since 2008. She’s a member of the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists in the Family Law Sections of the state bar and San Antonio bar. She’s a past president of the San Antonio Family Lawyers Association and of the Family Law Section of the San Antonio Bar Association.

Karen has served multiple times on the Legislative Review Committee for the Texas Family Law Foundation. She has a passion for collecting back child support, no matter how old the case. She’s also a wife, mother to three kids and three dogs and an active community volunteer. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Karen: Thank you, Holly. It’s an honor to be here. And I really appreciate this opportunity.

Holly: So why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background?

Karen: Well, I’m a native San Antonian. I grew up here, I went away to college in Abilene at a little school called McMurry University, which totally changed my life in a really good way. I went to Texas Tech for law school. And then I came back here to San Antonio. I was really honored at the beginning of my practice, I was hired during my law clerking to work for a firm that did family law, kind of on a specialty basis. And I had the privilege of working for Richard Orsinger, who is one of the most the most outstanding Family Lawyers in the state, and probably the country.

And that’s where I started family. I got into child support, when I took a job, after a few years of solo practice working for Bexar County’s Domestic Relations Office. And at that time, we had a child support enforcement division, that’s now gone. My last year there we had a contract with the attorney general. So I became an assistant attorney general at that time. And that’s what moved me into child support, and then a path of lots of child support cases and lots of interesting things along the way.

Holly: So how would you describe your current practice?

Karen: My current practices, regular family law. I’m doing a lot of divorces and enforcement, lots of modifications. So I think everybody knows, and I do take a chunk of child support collection. I prefer to be on the side where I’m helping collect. But I also do the other side, when someone’s been wronged in a case the numbers are wrong, or there’s a misinterpretation of the order. I think it’s important for everybody that that order is right, because the strain it puts on the families and children is just not useful.

Holly: Yeah, I agree completely. So today, we’re here to talk about child support and child support enforcement, as you’ve kind of already alluded to already. So specifically, we’re going to talk about things that attorneys need to know when collecting past due child support for clients or when representing people against whom someone is seeking to collect pass due child support. So to start with, what kind of time limits do we need to be aware of?

Karen: Well, the the interesting thing about child support is in some parts, there are no time limits at all. But the way it’s set up is it’s almost kind of a spectrum of remedies. If you think about when the children are younger, and up until they’re two years after the last payment is due. Contempt is a remedy. Contempt is jail. Contempt is serious. Civil or criminal, and could be up to six months or until it’s paid. That remedy goes away. Once the children you’re two years past that about age 20. But then there is still a remedy of a cumulative money judgment. That’s available under 157.005 for 10 years from the time that the children the child support obligation ends.

But really, that’s not the end at all, because the cumulative money judgment has certain remedies and rights. But there are also additional remedies you can get under the child support lien statutes, the start a new chapter on 157.301 and go forward and under the writs of income withholding. Under those there are no time periods for collecting past due child support. And those remedies and also the other one is licensed suspension, which you can do as a private practitioner for driver’s license, professional licenses, and things like that. We don’t have some of the remedies we’ll talk about later that the Attorney General and the feds have, but we have our own remedies.

And there’s no time period in the statute for license suspension for collecting the past due support, only that it’s at least 90 days overdue. So what it basically tells you is child support doesn’t go away. It goes it goes to your grave. It follows you it can be an obligation of your estate, and your estate is charged with paying it and it’s a what they call a class four creditor under estates, which is about the second tier. So you really have child support. You have remedies almost similar to the IRS. To collect the past dues.

Holly: So you mentioned the 10 years after the child turns 18 time limit, but then you talked about really there not being a time limit. So how does the 10 years play in?

Karen: Well, I think a cumulative money judgment has some specific remedies that you can collect as far as registering it in different states and things like that. But you know, that’s the unusual part. Because if you read the statutes carefully under 157.323, it’s the and that’s the child support lien and levy statute. That’s if you could somebody contest it. And you go to court, you have the hearing, it says, the court shall grant a judgment. Doesn’t say cumulative money judgment, but it says judgment. Now under liens under 158.309, it says, shall confirm the arrears. And all the case law has said that you have the same remedies no matter what, and you can collect them.

So functionally, there does not seem to be a big difference between the two. But the legislative intent has been very clear that they are working on this. When they change the time limit on 157.005, the cumulative judgments, the actual change was not made by family lawyers. It was made by a legislator who was a probate attorney, who was trying to get some things clarified and taken care of, for purposes of probate. There really hasn’t made that much of a change. The Attorney General had nothing to do with it. I was at the legislature when that happened. And it just it just went through.

Holly: So do you need that cumulative money judgment to do something like putting a lien on property?

Karen: No, you do not. This is why. A child support, every child support payment not paid is a judgment by operation of law. That’s a federal requirement. And Texas has adopted that. What you’re doing with your liens and your levies and your writs and things is you’re collecting those individual judgments into, that why they call it a cumulative money judgment. May include prior judgments includes all of the other ones. So that’s why because once a judgment is a judgment, it’s a judgment. So you can collect on it any time. What we’ve done with the liens on the levees is we’ve given us different remedies to collect.

Holly: Okay, how does collecting on those types of judgments differ from collecting on something like a personal injury judgment that somebody gets against a defendant?

Karen: The beautiful beauty of child support is that there are no exemptions, except for the homestead under the Texas property code. There specifically says all of those that we learned in law school about and people know from bankruptcy about a 30,000 or $50,000 limit, where you can have you always laugh you know, a horse and a mule that you can have as exempt property that you can set aside. That does not apply in child support. The only only application is a homestead.

And so once you walk in there, you can walk into their house, you can take the refrigerator, you can take the food in the refrigerator, I don’t recommend doing that. I’ve actually done it, it wasn’t very helpful. It wasn’t very useful. We discovered the cost benefit ratio. But it’s important to know that that that this is such a powerful tool that was given because of the importance of child support that you can go in and you can get just about anything you need.

Holly: So back to the time limits issue. You think you’ve mentioned UIFSA earlier, which for anybody that doesn’t know is the uniform interstate federal support act

Karen: Family support.

Holly: Family support act. Okay. I was close. So what are the time limits involved? If there are any for registering a foreign support order?

Karen: What they say, what UIFSA says, and remember UIFSA, all 50 states have enacted the identical law, reason, federal money. If we didn’t enact it, they would take money away from Texas. So we enacted it in Louisiana, everybody. What it says is that you look to the state that has the longest time periods for enforcement. And so since Texas has no time periods, generally, it’s going to be you can use the Texas law.

That’s under 159.604. And so what you would do is you would go look, if you wanted a contempt, let’s say you want to do to do contempt, and that order is out of Virginia, and maybe Virginia has a limit that the children are 21 to get child support. And I’m guessing here because I don’t know I’m just just kind of spitballing this, you can you can live in Texas and use that Virginia time limit to get contempt of court even though it might not be available as a remedy in Texas.

Holly: Do, does the parent who was ordered to pay have to live in Texas to do that?

Karen: Has to have some connection with Texas. Go back and you look at and the the statute looks at a personal jurisdiction kind of a thing. And it has to have reasonable expectation of being hailed into court. Again go back to law school. It says that you know if they worked in Texas and they lived with the child in Texas, my very favorite is that if they had intercourse in Texas and the child was conceived as a result of that intercourse, Texas has jurisdiction.

People call that you know, the Padre Island Spring Break Texas jurisdiction over a baby. And but there’s a case on that. There’s a case of a football player who was in San Antonio playing for a summer football league and got a woman pregnant. And he bent back to Minnesota and said, you can’t bring me in here. I there’s no way I was in Texas, working for three weeks. And they said, well, as a matter of fact, we can.

Holly: Is there any reason why you would want to try to enforce a support order here that was entered in another state, if the person doesn’t live here?

Karen: You know, again, if you’ve got a connection with them, you’ve got the remedies that you have in Texas are so much broader than you would have because then you immediately once you register in Texas, you get to adopt those Texas remedies. So they may not have the same liens and levies, provisions that they had in Arkansas or wherever they are Virginia.

But they have one here in Texas, so you get to use those, and you get to apply it into your case. And so that that is the biggest reason again, Texas, one of the things Texas does really well is we have put out this huge array of remedies to help people. You know, and we always forget, it’s not just the attorney general. It’s you know, private attorneys have many of these same remedies and have almost as much remedy as the attorney general does.

Holly: So we’ve gone through a few of those remedies, suspending a license, judgments, withholding, what are some other unusual remedies people can get in collecting child support?

Karen: QDROs are one remedy that people don’t think about because retirement is not exempt. And so if you get a judgment in one of these cases, you can go get a QDRO issue. There’s some strict provisions to make sure it’s done right. But it is, you can collect a lump sum that way, and you’ll get all your money. As long as it’s if it’s a defined contribution plan, you’ll get it immediately. If it’s a defined benefit plan, like they pay it out like a pension, you’ll get the money as that person gets the money. They can’t push it through any other way. They have to follow the rules of the QDRO. One of the things I want to remind people about on a QDRO that’s so very important is first is that the person who is the alternate payee, as we all know the person receiving the money in your QDRO case, it’s the child.

It is not the parent, if you name the parent, you won’t get the money. The second is taxes still have to be paid out of these cases. I always get an order from the court that says that the parent who owes the child support pays the taxes. And then that way they won’t deduct. Qe know as family lawyers, that if somebody wants to go in and take their money out of their QDRO early, they’re going to have a 20% tax and then a 10% penalty. That does not happen in this case, so long as you put it in the right way. And you do you do the numbers the way they’re supposed to be.

Holly: So, but that happens, the penalties and taxes are still there, you’re just getting an order that says that the person you’re taking the money from is on the hook for it.

Karen: The other parent pays them. That’s correct. The other parent gets responsible for taking them.

Holly: Okay, so most family lawyers are probably only used to dealing with QDROs in the context of a divorce proceeding and dividing the marital estate. So other than what you just mentioned about taxes and fees, are the QDROs in those two situations essentially the same or are there other differences?

Karen: They’re essentially the same. You do you run them the same way you get the same approval as long as you’ve got a court order, you know that that shows what the number is, and you can send that to the people, they’re going to process it the same way.

Holly: So do you need to get a QDRO signed off on by the judge and approved by the other party and all of that like you normally would in a divorce proceeding? Or can you have a cumulative money judgment and get a QDRO sent to the provider without a court order?

Karen: No, you need a court order because QDRO magic word is order, they won’t take it without a judge’s signature. And so you do have to again if you’re within a time period that the person is still represented, you notify the other side, you tell the court you get the court to do it. Otherwise if they’re not represented, I mean I’ve walked them through because if you look at it, it is a remedy that is not there’s no requirement on a judgment to give them notice of certain things. You, they can get notice afterwards after the fact. They get notice of a lien after the fact.

They get notice of a levy after the fact. But you get notice a license suspension after the fact. And when they have, it happens you give them some notice but they have they have a right. So wait, let me correct that. License suspension they do get a little bit of notice and an opportunity to be heard. A lien doesn’t and neither does a levy. You give them notice after you’ve sent them out. Let me let me real quick distinguish on those because I think that’s an important, important distinction for people to understand.

The lien is available to freeze the money, or the property or whatever it is. That’s its job. It goes out there it holds the money. It has no power to do anything else. In order to do something else, you get a levy to seize the money. Now, how you get that is you have either got your cumulative money judgment, your contempt, your confirmation of arrears under 158, under a writ of income withholding or 157.323 under a lien holding, and then you take that, that gives you the right to go issue a levy to collect the money. And so we will do that on banks, we’ll do a scatter shot on banks all over the country to see what I can get.

Holly: And so that’s something that a private attorney can do without court intervention?

Karen: Correct. Correct.

Holly: So what exactly, can you kind of describe for us the process for securing child support judgments?

Karen: Okay. Again, depending on the remedy you want, they can, you know, be what I do normally is I will, I will file the liens, I will get a calculation of the arrears. I will check the attorney general, make sure it’s right, use their their number, and I will file a child support lien in the county where the person lives where the property they have property. And I will go look at any bank that they may have, send it to Fidelity, send it to Charles Schwab, any Edward Jones, those kind of places that have placed, places where people put their money and get something frozen there. At that point, when you file your motion for enforcement of child support, are you seeking contempt? If yes, requires personal service notice of the hearing, get them down to the courthouse, which is a little harder than that used to be.

I practice in Bexar County, and we have a special thing where we have to go get permission from our monitoring court that handles our long cases that they have an in person hearing now. And I did that, and I went up there in August, and I was so excited to go to the courthouse, and the guy didn’t show up, but I got a case for his arrest. So that works, you know. So when you file that and you go to court, it if you do not have it combined with a motion to modify, you can get to court, technically in 10 days. Doesn’t really happen, we know because of service and things like that.

So you need to set your hearing a little further out. If it’s combined with a motion to modify, you have to treat it like a regular lawsuit, give them notice 45 days notice for trial. So one of those things is I’m not going to do those together. And if I need to get my money and my clients hands, I’m going to go out and just do my enforcement. And then I’ll file a separate motion at down the road to modify to increase the child support or change the medical or something like that. So we’ve got these lienss in place, we go to court, we get our judgment. We get our judgment at that point, we can issue a child support levy, to the bank, the credit union, the financial institution, issue the QDRO and go seize the money and have that paid in and collect it and hopefully be on our merry way.

And also get attorneys fees because remember, attorneys fees on child support enforcement are mandatory. And they’re collected as child support. So you get all of these remedies that you have for that for all of these wonderful things for your child support, or you have the same remedies available to you for your attorneys fees. Very important distinction.

Holly: So when you’re sending out liens to various financial institutions, are you doing it because your client says I think he has an account at Edward Jones. Are you casting a wide net, trying to hit anything that’s out there at any of the major banks?

Karen: I hit it, I send a wide net. I have a database of probably about 50 financial institutions and and I just send them to everybody. Make sure I’ve got a good social security number and a good date of birth on the obligor the person who was the child support. It costs nothing to send. If you can sit down and put together a simple little program. I’ve got a merge somebody did for me in it and with Excel and Word and you other people you could do it out of form builder, pro Doc, tech stocks, any of those, you can put it together.

And then you just pop them out. Most of them accept it by fax. Very few of them want certified mail. So they’ll give you the information and you just have to contact them. But if you know you know that he banks at Wells Fargo, he’s always banked at Wells Fargo, you may want to just start there. I used to have a theory that everybody banked within five miles of their house. I’m not sure with the internet that that’s necessarily the case anymore. But it used to hold pretty true. And so you know, you hit a couple of credit unions you hit hit the bank, so we would hit them and we would find the money.

Holly: So when you submit a lien to a place that you don’t know if the person has money there or not, does the bank notify you then that hey, they don’t have an account here or okay, we got the lien on the account.

Karen: They’ve been really nice about notifying us. What again, what I have is at the bottom of the cover sheet, the fax cover sheet is a little thing they can fill out that says yes, there’s an account. Here’s how much money is in it. Here’s their address, because the statute says they’re supposed to provide the address the financial institution has for the person, and then no, no account. And I try and make it just super simple. Fax it back to me at this number. You know, it’s I’m surprised they will not take emails.

Most of them are insisting on faxes, but that’s what we do so that so you know, and you know, so just keep on a checklist and see where your money is. I mean we anytime money comes in, everybody hits the fax machine, it all gets excited at the office. It’s like, oh look, you hit something! $6.23. Yeah! But it’s frozen, it’s frozen. And it gets their attention. It gets the other side’s attention.

Holly: Because as soon as you put a lien on their bank account, the bank is going to notify them.

Karen: Right, and they can’t use their bank account. Because what happens is they’ll put the lien in, say, you know, for $11,000. They’ll put the lien in, and it holds everything. And so if they keep money keeps rolling in, it just stays in there. And I’ve seen people who did not move them their money, like their direct deposit, and there’s another enough money to pay off the case came in during the interval where we were waiting to get to court. We had some other issues going on in the case that they said, no, there’s now $14,000 in there. Oh, really? He was too stupid. The first thing I would have done is moved my direct deposit. And can we talk about medical bills real quick while we’re doing this?

Holly: Yes, that was exactly what I was gonna ask you about next.

Karen: Okay, um, you know, I was looking back and I wrote a paper in 2015 for the Advanced Family Law Course. And if somebody wants to read it, it’s on my website at MWfamilylaw.com. And I talk a lot about medical bills and what I’ve tried to work with them. One thing that came out in the legislature this past session, and went into effect September 1st, is there as a separate judgment for child support. There’s a separate judgment for medical support. And there’s a separate judgment for dental support. So that’s three judgments.

I will tell you, there’s a couple of issues with medical bills that become a problem because medical bills are enforceable just like child support. The definition of the medical bill is that it is a form of child support and collectible as child support. Well, there’s this provision in the family law practice manual that says the medical bill has to be turned into the other side within 30 days. And we all see it sometimes we change it to 90 and we work with the other side. But most people don’t. There’s a couple of cases that came out early, maybe 2010, 2012.

Got one out of Dallas, one out of San Antonio, where, because the party did not turn in the medical bills timely, the court found that they could not collect them. And I just it’s just wrong. It’s just it needs to be corrected. But nope. And now that medical bills are required. And again, Attorney General does it this way, because the feds are making them do it. And so now we’re going to all do it. Because when the Attorney General does it, we do it. We need to be careful with that. Let me this is my suggestion when I try and train my clients to do in temporary orders when I get them in a case is I say the minute you walk out of the doctor’s office, you take a picture of that bill, and you send it to the other side.

Just right then that way you have proof you sent your quick text. Here’s the bill I received please send me $30 for your share of the copay. If they can get into that habit, right, then they always have the bills done. They always have proof of delivery. Yes, some people need to do it on our family wizard, same thing uploaded our family wizard uploaded to App clothes, it can be done. But it’s one of those things that in the overwhelm of parenting, or single parenting. It’s one more thing to do. And so they think, well, I’m telling him, well, doesn’t he know I told him that we went through to the doctor the day he knows the co payment of $30? Of course he does. Of course she does, but they don’t always react to.

So it’s really important. Medical support in paying premiums. Same thing, that’s one of the things we’re going to be doing is you’ve got to enforce it. There’s a failure to pay the premium to the parent who’s owed the premium. And the premiums are set up. They’re real clear right now, but then they say you can’t adjust it. Maybe you can’t old order said premium is $180 a month, if it changes their ordered to pay the new amount. Well, is that enforceable by contempt? No, that’s a hard one. But it’s enforceable. It’s enforceable by judgment, especially if they notify the other side. You know, you get this from your employer, you notify the at your other parent, and both parents stay on top of it and take care of it.

Holly: When I think well, that’s one of the important things to note, if there is an order that a lawyer comes across like that, where it says it provides for it to go adjust based on a new premium, that you don’t want that adjustment happening through what they’re sending to the Attorney General because the Attorney General doesn’t know that number has been adjusted, and it’s really gonna make mess up their calculations.

Karen: Absolutely. And they and they won’t adjust it because it’s not in a court order. Because when they see that to them, that’s not a court order. And that that’s a limitation of their system. A limitation of the fact that they’re still in the same computer system that when I left in, I left in August 1997. My little sojourn through the Attorney General, they started a brand new system September 1st of 97. And I trained on everything, they’re still in that September 1st 1997 system. That’s how hard and that’s why that’s why your friendly neighborhood Attorney General always looks so pressed.

Holly: Well, one of the things we deal with, I have a lot of trouble with the Attorney General is the child support contempt attorneys fees issue, and how to get those factored in, and how the Attorney General doesn’t seem to have a way of adding those to the judgment.

Karen: They don’t. And you don’t want them to add it to the judgment because they’ll screw it up, okay. You’re better off just collecting it separately. And just you know what’s out there, you you maintain it separately. You can issue a separate writ of income withholding for your share for your attorneys fees. You don’t have to be bound by what the Attorney General is doing on that case. And because their system is designed to take care of the federal requirements, they’re not going to meet, you know, Texas attorneys fees. You know for a while there, they were collecting attorneys fees, and it seems like now, I haven’t seen them in a while, at least not in my jurisdiction. They’ve kind of given up on that.

Holly: Yeah, that’s, that’s frustrating for clients, when it’s the benefit of a contempt proceeding is that you can get your attorneys fees, but they make it so much more complicated to actually get your attorneys fees, then the underlying child support.

Karen: Well, that’s where the liens come in handy. Because and you know, the AG does liens. You you’ve represented people, you get calls from people, we all do that, oh, my gosh, they liened my bank account, and I don’t know what to do about it. And I didn’t know I owe this money. So yeah, they’ve got a fabulous program up there. And that where they run them through, and they have a data match on the bank every month, they get social security numbers from the every bank in the country that matches up with them. And it’s one of those programs that they can do.

And so they run it on it. But they will also because they’re the they’re they don’t represent a party. Remember, they you’re a customer, not a client. And they represent, they have to look at both sides and be fair, you know what happens a lot. And this is the tip for the other side, you can always call into them. And you can ask the Attorney General to see if they will release part of that money. If you have a spouse whose income is going in there, they will consider it. Same thing with tax returns.

And I think people forget about it, they just get so overwhelmed by what happened. And they don’t know that the attorney general is required to look at your individual situation then and make a decision. Now they have parameters, and they will follow their parameters. But generally, if there’s a spouse involved, a new spouse, part of the income tax is going to be released and part of the bank things are going to be released because that’s their money. And the the attorney general has no right to hold it.

Holly: So speaking of the attorney general, when I know kind of as a general rule, we try and avoid dealing with them as much as possible. And we like to handle things privately. But when do you think attorneys should consider involving the Attorney General in a case?

Karen: Well, if you’ve got an out of state case, and there’s no way to get jurisdiction in Texas, you have to go to the attorney general. Yeah, that’s that’s the only place your client can go. Because you can’t if you can’t file something, they’ve got to work with the other state. And then your client you need to do is just help your client monitor if they stay on it and stay involved. In Bexar County, we were under a pilot program where almost all of our cases were in the Attorney General system. Again, for the last 20 something years. We’ve been under, it was automatically joined.

So we’ve gotten used there as part of our lives. We play with them every day. And our presiding court, there’s four Attorney Generals assigned to help attorneys in every case. What you need to look at is they have some remedies you don’t have as a private attorney. They have IRS intercept, they have credit reporting, they have passport suspension, and they have a couple of other special registrations like, like they can suspend the registration on a vehicle. They can suspend the driver’s license renewal or registration that we don’t have, and don’t have the ability to do.

They can get to some federal licenses that we cannot do. So that’s where if you’ve got somebody who’s really recalcitrant or really out of state, you’re going to want to keep the Attorney General in the case and work with them. Make sure your client signs an authorization for you to talk to the Attorney General and get them in, so stay involved. Now the other part of that that’s really important is the minute your case is concluded, if you’ve got a divorce or modification or something like that, send the Attorney General a little letter telling them you’re out of the case.

Because if you don’t do that your client who is no longer your client and not paying you for your time, can’t talk to the attorney general about their case. And you see that every day. So just a simple letter, they have a form you can fill out to do that. You know, to me, it’s I don’t want to call them a necessary evil. They’re just part of the process. They’re part of the process. They will get most of the time, have a more accurate the best calculation of arrears for you, where you don’t have to go do the work and enter 400 individual entries of payments.

Your arrears, which helps you. They won’t have the profit, probably your medical bills, they’ll try and do the medical bills, but they have to do medical bills by agreement. You the other side, they send them over to the other side, say, hey, do you agree to this? If the other side doesn’t agree, they try and set up for hearing they see what they can do. They can’t get very far. Direct payments are a problem with the Attorney General.

That’s where you don’t necessarily want if your clients are bound and determined that they are not going to have the interference of the state disbursement unit in their lives, you need to opt out of the attorney general, which they can do unless they’re if somebody is on Medicaid, or on TANF, SNAP benefits. There’s a form for the Attorney General and it can be done. As a lawyer would I rec? Do I recommend to any of my clients to do that? No, I do not. It protects both of them. You have a record that everybody doesn’t question. But there are some people who are bound and determined that’s going to happen.

Holly: And the family code says that money has to be paid through the state disbursement unit. So that’s always what I tell clients that balk at paying it that way. Family code says you don’t have a choice. But so how can they opt out if the code requires it to go through the state disbursement unit?

Karen: You’re just gonna do it. What they’re gonna do is they’re going to probably they sign an attorney general letter that says, I know I do not want any services from you, it will be very hard to see. Not saying that they can’t because it does say shall and your order needs to say shall. But they if they’re bound and determined, they can opt out of the Attorney General system altogether, both sides. And then what they do is their own business. Which back in the day, maybe when people were grownups. That was that was okay. Part of the reason we’ve had to do disbursement units and things like that, is because there was such a problem with collecting child support.

And such a problem with people walking away. And also a problem with people being on state assistance as a result. One of the things you see a lot I you probably get calls on this, I get this every day is I have a six month old baby, I’m living with the father and now the Attorney General is calling me. And they’re telling me that they’re going to put him on child support. And I don’t want him on child support. I’m perfectly happy with our little arrangement, or we’ve got a little family and we’re doing it. Well then the first question I asked is, are you on Medicaid? Is the baby on Medicaid? Yes, well, you don’t have a choice. Because people don’t read that that’s that’s a fine print.

Nobody ever reads. That says that when I sign up for Medicaid, I assigned my rights to collect child support to the state of Texas. Now what the Attorney General will do with a couple that’s usually living together and things like that, is all the collectors manage, and they won’t mess with anything else. And those people will be okay. But it’s apparently very frustrating for some people. And because they don’t think or, or the other side gets upset, maybe the father or the mother gets upset. Why did you go to the Attorney General? We’ve been taking care of this. We don’t need this. Well, they didn’t the Attorney General came to them.

Holly: So is there ever a time when you think attorneys should advise potential clients to just go to the Attorney General, instead of private?

Karen: When the arrears are low, we’re talking under $5,000. Generally, it’s not cost effective to hire a private attorney, even with collecting attorney’s fees. Again, if you’ve got somebody who’s self employed, it may be harder to find them if you can’t figure out where the bank accounts are. And so what the Attorney General can do is do their powers of suspending their driver’s license. They’ll get some money out of them when they need to do that. Suspending their car registration, they’ll come up with some money, when that happens. That’s usually what I look at. And I tell people that it’s not gonna you’re not gonna get any better than out of me than what the Attorney General can do for you.

Holly: So I don’t know if it’s the same in Bexar county as it is up here. But here with we have the IV-D courts where you have your child support hearings and these courts, and you can choose to remove it to district court and deal with the regular judge that would hear all the other cases. Is it the same way in Bexar County?

Karen: Yes, it is. We have 2 IV-D judges, and then we have our district court system with our unified docket.

Holly: So when do you want to stay in the IV-D court versus pull it out to district court?

Karen: I think if you if you are representing an obligor someone who is who owes the money, the Attorney General is used to dealing with it. They don’t freak out over it. They look at the numbers and they say, okay, let’s figure out and they’ve got very specific things they’re going to do. There’s a certain amount that they’re going to withhold through arrears and things like that. I would stay there in the IV-D court on those kind of the case.

If you’ve got an unusual case, I unfortunately, I would go ahead and pull it out. I think that as much as I love and respect our IV-D judges, they see a certain amount every day and this is what they see every day. So if you’ve got some very bizarre fact situation, you’re going to want a district court to hear it. You’re gonna feel better off, I think, getting a district judge who’s used to bizarre facts because they deal with custody every day, and so.

Holly: Would that include things like underemployed, intentional unemployment. Self employed but does a really good job of hiding the money.

Karen: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Those are the kind that you want to you want to take out. If you got a problem with direct payments you might get because again, you know, the statute says pay through the registry, but somebody can walk in, and I got, you know, 15 pages of canceled checks, because she asked me to pay them directly. Now is that, how is that fair to somebody who was requested to pay it that way did it that way, even though they didn’t to say, well, you don’t get that money. And now again, that depends on your judge, some of your judges will say, sorry, should have followed the rules. And some of your judges are going to say, you know, that’s that’s not that’s reasonable. You took care of your kids, you did what you were supposed to do. That’s always the issue.

Holly: So when you are in IV-D, court, you have the option of a de novo of the district court, under what circumstances would you do a de novo appeal?

Karen: When I lose.

Holly: Every time?

Karen: Almost every time, probably almost every time. You know, it’s a free shot. And so you might as well go back up and see if there is see if you can change a mind. And you’re not going to change a mind all that often when you get to the district court. But it also gives you an opportunity to go back and say what you saw here, let’s work with the judge, we’ve got something and maybe you can work a deal out on your way when you get there. That’s what usually happens is we move up and it’s like, well, you know that this wasn’t exactly dah dah dah.

And we work it out. If you’ve got another attorney on the other side, and they’re they’re double teaming you with the Attorney General, you’re going to want to appeal take a de novo. Because they they it’s a whole lot easier for them to do that in IV-D court, I think than it is and in regular district court. But like I said in our district courts, we’ve got four or five Attorney Generals on call, ready to go to court with anybody. And they they don’t they may not know the case or anything, but they’ll jump in. And then they’ll figure it out. And they’ll say, eell, you know, we’re here, because this case has us involved. What do we need to do?

Holly: That’s very different than what we think we deal with for district court. Usually you notice the Attorney General and they don’t show up. Or maybe they show up and say can we leave? And then they leave.

Karen: It’s been a really good system, because they have to bless so many of these orders, because so many of them are AG cases. So it’s worked out for us to have them there. And for them to just assign a certain number of people. And we used to have to, and then we just walked to the back of the courthouse and there was a little conference room and we’d all go sit down there and talk to them and get copies of pay histories, whatever. And now there’s like four on zoom. And they’ll just say, go to this room go to this room, or the Attorney General will say we just want to know what happened, send us a copy of the order. Because, they don’t because they don’t need to be in it. So.

Holly: Alright, well, we’re just about out of time. But if you could give, this is one of the questions I like to ask all of my guests on the podcast, if you could give one piece of advice to young family lawyers, what would it be?

Karen: Read the code before you file. I think we all think we know it. And we do. And I mean, I’ve been practicing for 34 years in November. But I try to remember to go back and look and say wait a second, to make sure that I’ve got it right. And I’m pleading it right. And then I’m asking for the right remedies. I think that’s that’s the most important thing.

Holly: So thank you so much for joining us today. If our listeners want to learn more about you where can they do that?

Karen: I’ve got a website mwfamilylaw.com. M as in Marvel W, Wong, Family Law dot com. And if you go there under our resources page, I have an article that I prepared and spoke at Advanced Family Law about child support enforcement remedies, many of the things we talked about here. I also have an article I did for a local group in 2016 that I was calling it UIFSA in a box. Everything you need to know about putting together a UISFA case. Modification, registration and enforcement and they’re free. They’re you’re welcome to use them. And if you have any questions, just reach out send me an email.

Holly: Perfect Thank you so much.

Karen: Thank you.

Holly: Well for our listeners. If you enjoyed this podcast please take a second to leave us a review and subscribe so you can enjoy future episodes.

Voiceover: That Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law firm. We help people navigate divorce and child custody cases and handle family law appellate matters. For more information, visit our website at www.Draperfirm.com

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