Jonathan Fox | Inside the Office of the Attorney General

What goes on behind the scenes at the Office of the Attorney General?

Jonathan Fox spent years working in the Office of the Attorney General and was named 2016 Assistant Attorney General of the Year. He is here to share his expertise on issues related to the Office of the Attorney General.

He’ll break down common questions from family lawyers, including:

  • What happens at the OAG when someone files a child support request?
  • The difference between full service and registry only
  • Time expectations for when the OAG will contact your client
  • Modifications after a change in income
  • Tips for a private attorney trying to navigate IV-D court
  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Jonathan Fox: I think it’s important to recognize what the purpose of the Attorney General is. They do help children, but mainly this is about public assistance.

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, Carrie Tapia.

Carrie Tapia: I’m guest host Carrie Tapia, and I’m excited today to welcome Jonathan Fox to the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast. Jonathan is a divorce and family law attorney in Grapevine, Texas. He also practices child welfare and probate. He’s been practicing family law for about 14 years and eight of those years are with the Office of the Attorney General Texas, the Child Support Division. He was recognized during that time as the Assistant Attorney General of the year for the Fort Worth region in 2016. Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us today.

Jonathan: Oh, thank you. Thank you for the nice introduction.

Carrie: Alrighty, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jonathan: So I was licensed in 2005. I went to the University of Houston Law Center. Originally from Virginia, I went to the University of Richmond for undergrad. And I’ve got two kids, I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. And I guess when I’m not practicing law in my solo practice, I enjoy playing tennis with my daughter just doing things with my kids. Traveling, skiing, mountain biking outdoor stuff. So yeah, that’s more about me.

Carrie: Great. Um, how would you describe your current practice?

Jonathan: So I have a solo practice. I have one paralegal right now. And that’s it for staff. I have about 70 cases. I do child welfare court appointments, and then the rest of my business is mostly from referrals from other attorneys. I have a small office in Grapevine, which is a good location. Most of my cases are in Tarrant, but I have a fair number of Dallas cases. Denton and Collin cases, too.

Carrie: Okay. Yeah, Grapevine is a great central location.

Jonathan: It is for that, yeah.

Carrie: So today, we’re gonna focus on various issues related to the Office of the Attorney General. Can you tell us a little bit about your background working with OAG?

Jonathan: Okay, sure. I’m a fan of OAG. I’m not here to be negative about them, but they’re very good about telling your story, and get people from their agency to talk to other members of the bar and explain what they do or, you know, explain what powers that they have. I think the main reason is just like any other organization, you have to get management approval to give presentations. So because of that you don’t see, Assistant Attorney General’s talking to the bar very much.

So people are confused. I think a lot of attorneys deal with the AG but don’t really understand AG. I mean even attornies in large firms that you explain to them some of the powers that AG has, and they’re like, wow, I didn’t know that. So I’ve just ever since I’ve gotten out of my own in private practice, people have asked me a lot of questions. And I’m happy to answer.

Carrie: That was great, because it’s a lot of why I wanted to have you on today was I have a lot of questions about the OAG and just kind of the back, kind of like the back office side of things. And because I know that there must be so much happening behind the scenes. But often, when I’m dealing with them, it seems like nothing is happening. And I’m not getting any responses and I just need, you know them to look at one little paragraph from a 50-page. It’s hard to get that dialogue going. So okay. Um, so can you describe just kind of getting into that? Would you describe for us what the process is like. Kind of behind the scenes at the OAG when someone files a request for child support? It’s like a brand-new case.

Jonathan: Sure.

Carrie: Am I right that they can submit the request online?

Jonathan: They can. Or in person. Most of their cases, however, are involuntary. Basically, when you have a parent on usually Medicaid, that automatically creates a child support case. So most of the people, you know, maybe they wanted child support, but maybe they didn’t. But they have, you know, automatic case with the attorney general. And a lot of those cases, the ones where there’s public assistance involved can’t be closed.

So the Attorney General is getting referrals straight from Medicaid. That’s the main part. Food stamps, you know, cash assistance, which they call TANF. When I was there, there wasn’t very much TANFs. I guess people in the public thinks there’s a lot of cash money being distributed, but there’s really not, it’s really Medicaid and food stamps from my memory that created the role. As an attorney, I really wouldn’t be involved in that step I’d be a little bit farther down, down the line, once the case, they bring the case in and set it up, and then it’s ready to go to court.

So there’d be a lot of things happening before it ever got to a line attorney like myself. So I guess the thing that I always wondered, what about the people that don’t know who the father is? Like, how do they? And so when I was there, I was like, hey, what do you what do you do in that situation? A lot of the child support officers are pretty good at teasing out information to figure out who the father might be.

Anyway, that’s something that happened, I guess, you know, before it gets to the attorney stage, but it’s a huge agency. They’re handling, you know, billions of dollars in support paid to obligees. And they’ve got hundreds of 1000s of cases. So it is a very busy agency. I know, you know, from maybe from the bar’s perspective, when you’ve had a bad experience, you’re not getting any feedback, is anybody working over there.

I promise you, they’re working really hard. And to an attorney, I would go to court two to three times a week, where, you know, we would work a full docket, we’d be there all day as a team at the courthouse, and working dozens of cases. And we couldn’t leave until all the cases were worked. So then we’d have to, when we get back to the office, check our email. So that’s maybe when we’d see your email.

And unfortunately, with all the dockets and the preparation for the dockets, it might be hard to keep up with email. I always tried to keep up with my with responding to the private bar. So and most of the Assistant Attorney General’s do a good job. Sometimes when you’re not getting response, there are some strategies to try.

But you know, behind the scenes, very busy, either go into dockets, preparing for dockets, doing other things like reviewing pleadings, and you know, going to special settings that have been set the private bar that aren’t part of the Attorney General docket, they’re in the district courts or the associate courts, so go into those. So that kept Assistant Attorney Generals like myself, when I was there very busy.

Carrie: Okay. So you mentioned, you know, the billions of dollars that they’re dealing with. I did have a question about the difference between full service and registry only. And why someone might choose registry only over full service, or vice versa.

Jonathan: So the Attorney General office is not involved in all child support cases. I know that’s kind of hard to believe. But like you’re talking about, if the AG is not involved, then they’re not providing services like wage withholding, intercepting tax refunds, and doing other collection activities. All they’re doing registry only case is just making records of the payments that come in. And so all you can get out of a registry only case is like a list of all the payments that were made.

So basically just keeping track of payments that come into the state disbursement unit. And all child support payments are supposed to go through the state disbursement unit. So with the full-service cases, those are cases where people want full service or it’s involuntary, like the people I was telling you about public assistance is involved, they have to have a full-service case. But sometimes, let’s say some people will be like, you know, the mom and a dad will be like, you know, let’s get the AG out of this.

We’ll just deal with each other. And what they’ll do, they won’t go to court and get the order stopped, they’ll go the AG and say stop this child support and the AG says yes ma’am. Yes sir. And they’ll make it into a registry-only case. However, what’s happened there as you know, is that still there. It’s just kind of waiting. Lurking dormant until probably you know the obligee gets mad. I’m gonna put you back on child support and then order the case is reopened the case the springs back.

The obligor probably owes like a ton of money that, I’m gonna say he. It’s probably that he thought he didn’t have to pay, and now he’s in the hole 1000s of dollars 10s of thousands of dollars. So that’s, that’s what can happen in that situation. When somebody says they don’t want the other person to be on child support. So maybe in some high-dollar cases, they just don’t want the AG involved.

And, you know, they can have a private attorney do all the best things that the AG does that such as income withholding orders, and, you know, file motions for enforcement. So, I think those might be the two reasons. One, misinformation about how to go about stopping child support will result in a registry-only case, or people just don’t want state involvement.

Carrie: I had that exact thing happen. They switched it. He was like, no, she turned it off. I was like, no, she didn’t. There’s not an order, that means it’s still there. So as the private attorney now do you advise your clients to do the full service or to do the registry only?

Jonathan: I definitely advise the full service just because the AG has so many collection powers, that would be expensive and difficult for a private attorney to replicate. They can put liens on bank accounts, they can put liens on people’s retirement accounts, they can put liens on personal injury awards, on your car registration, make it hard for you to renew your driver’s license, intercept your tax refund, they’re very powerful. And I don’t think people recognize how powerful that they are. It’s kind of close to the IRS in the powers that they have. So you can’t beat that. And you don’t need to engage with them.

Like, if you’re happy with the way things are going. Like you can still hire a private attorney to do a modification of child support for you, to do a motion for enforcement of child support and still, you know, partake in the administrative powers of the Attorney General. So like a lot of private attorneys just deal with the Attorney General at court, they’re seeing kind of the legal enforcement side. But the Attorney General has a number of administrative powers that aren’t that are lesser known that are part of its it, you know, powers as an executive agency.

Carrie: Okay, so talking about, you know, advising a client, which one to choose. When does the client actually or when does the person, let’s say the person receiving the money, when do they actually get that option? Is it something that they get in the mail? Is it a phone call? Because I’ve had situations where my client says I never heard anything from them. It’s usually on the temporary orders. Temporary order is entered, I send out the IWO, I do the form, the name of it’s escaping me, but you know.

Jonathan: The record of support,

Carrie: Yes, the record of support. And then nothing seems to happen that we can see. So what kind of time expectation should we anticipate for the lag of that to happen of when they actually get contacted with OAG to set everything up? And could you speak to that some?

Jonathan: I guess it depends what county. If you’re not in a county, with a valid Domestic Relations Office that handles child support, at that point if there’s a real temporary order not just an associate judge report, I would tell my client to go apply for Attorney General Services. Because probably by this point, if they’re the obligee they’re, you know, begging for child support. So if, you know, any kind of delay is hurting them. So, you know, I’d got have them apply online to get that started. I think, especially with Tarrant County, and I don’t know about Harris, or Travis or Bexar County.

You know, if you’ve got a nonpublic assistance case, you probably want the Domestic Relations Office to be handling it instead of the AG. They have, they provide more individual service. They have a smaller caseload. So you know, I would recommend for my Tarrant County clients to use them. So once there’s an order, like you were saying submit the record of support, and then hopefully they’ll hear something soon. If there hasn’t been wage withholding yet, then they would send that out administratively. But you do need to call.

Carrie: The DRO?

Jonathan: I’m sorry what?

Carrie: The DRO would send that out administratively?

Jonathan: Well, yeah, Attorney General, the DRO is like under contract with the AG. They’re kind of like another AG office except maybe kind of a fancy one. Just because they are handling non-public assistance cases. They’ve got a smaller caseload, more individual service. So that’s something they can do. They can send out administrative wage withholding. So in some of my cases, I’m not even doing income withholding orders, at least not on temporary.

Like, I feel like once there’s a final order, I should still do it just in case in the future that people are not with AG then they can still go get that issued by the clerk. But you know, the AG and the DRO, if this is a DRO that handles child support, can’t do administrative withholdings. There are many cases where you don’t necessarily have to do that. It doesn’t hurt to do it, but it might replicate what they’re doing.

Carrie: Okay. That was yeah, that’s always been a mystery to me kind of the interplay between the DRO and the OAG. Thank you.

Jonathan: Sure.

Carrie: So moving on to like a modification of an order. So I know, my understanding is that the OAG sends out like a letter to both sides at three years after the last order on a full-service case, is that somewhat, right?

Jonathan: That’s my understanding. I mean, they’re kind of creating some more business for themselves by putting the idea in people’s heads, that they might be able to get a modification. So that’s okay, maybe, you know, somebody’s income has gone up substantially, and they should be paying more. So yeah, they will send a letter out to I don’t know whether they send it out to both sides.

But then the next step would be they try to have a meeting in their office, or they’re probably doing it on zoom now. I did a zoom one recently, where you just meet with a child support officer, and they try to, and these folks are real friendly. But child support officers are not attorneys. And they have limited discretion, they can only kind of do a very basic order, where you’re basically one parent is, they’re not doing 50/50. They’re not doing anything special. Just one parent pays guideline child support. And you know, and that parent gets like standard possession.

So that’s all those folks are really authorized to do. And so some people go to this meeting, and, and they, they don’t understand the difference between the court and just meeting with the child support officer to get special stuff and the child support officer is like, no, we can’t do that. We’re going to, we’re going to send that one, this one to court. So if people don’t reach an agreement, then they’ve that one will go to court. But a lot of times people will reach an agreement, or they think they have to. But I’ve had some good experience going to these meetings with people with more complicated income.

And like I’ll do one of those child support calculations and provide, you know, paystubs documents, where people just have a more complicated situation. And I’ve been able to get agreements. A lot of times the child support officers, as soon as they see an attorney, they might cancel the meeting. But I try to build trust, like I used to work for the Attorney General and like, how bad can it be? So a lot of attorneys would say let that one go to court. Just don’t agree, they’ll file it for court. But you know, depending on the situation, I might go to those events.

Voiceover: This episode of the Texas Family Law Insiders podcast is sponsored by the Draper Law Firm. Providing family law litigation in Collin, Denton and Dallas counties and appeals across Texas. The Draper Firm has represented parents in cases before multiple courts of appeals and prevailed in the Texas Supreme Court in one of the biggest parental rights cases in Texas history. For more information, visit or call 469-715-6801.

Carrie: Okay. So that child support review officer, are they like running numbers? Or is that, is that the guideline child support already been predetermined before that meeting based on information that y’all have access to?

Jonathan: That’s a good point. So the Attorney General has access to information that the private bar doesn’t have access to it. It’s not obtainable by discovery. So they have apparently there’s this it’s called a record of new hires. And it’s mandatory. So employers have to report what their employees make. And so the Attorney General can look at like a couple of years of income information. So if somebody has a W2 job in Texas, the Attorney General probably knows what they make, and can calculate child support pretty easily.

If that information is accurate. Sometimes they get reports from other states. So a lot of times they already have an idea of what the child support should be. That’s just kind of the beginning. Like what about out of state income taxes? What about union dues, children outside of the relationship. So it’s just because they’re able to look up people’s income. So that might not be the whole story in setting child support.

Carrie: Okay, if an obligor is trying to decrease their child support for some reason, like laid off, worse job, is that type of modification something that the OAG would offer services and assist with?

Jonathan: Well, they will say they will, but that’s not really their strong point, because it could take months and months for the case to get to court. And by that time, the person’s income might have already gone back to where it was. So, you know, I find like somebody like that is kind of in a crisis situation, and they need to get to court immediately, and get a temporary order lowering the support. So I feel like in that situation, they need a private attorney.

A private attorney can get them to court, you know, maybe in a month to get a temporary modification. The Attorney General, I mean, God bless them, they’re doing difficult work, they have a huge caseload, that’s just not their strong point is getting a case to court really quickly. So I mean, that’s not going to help somebody if it takes a year for a case to get to court

Carrie: In a private modification, so like where child support with orders. There’s already orders, and it’s a full-service case, but we were doing a private modification. Does the OAG have to sign off on the order? If there’s no change in child support?

Jonathan: A lot of times the judge will want them to. But I think if you give them notice of it, and they don’t intervene, their signature should not be necessary. Just because it’s that they’re just a child support agency, they shouldn’t have to sign off on an order that doesn’t involve it, involve child support. And even some orders that do involve child support for like the Domestic Relations Office will file a letter basically saying, we don’t care proceed without us, which is awesome. I would just show that, you know, you gave them notice they didn’t intervene, and then hopefully the judge will not other signature because the judges are aware. They only care about child support. So, you know, I feel in that situation, they their signature is not needed.

Carrie: But so but in a private modification case, if child support is being changed, but the OAG hasn’t filed an intervention, then what?

Jonathan: So if it’s non-public assistance, well, I just feel like if the AG already appeared in the previous case, I think a lot of judges are going to want them to sign anyway. So you just have to hunt them down. And, you know, maybe find one in the courthouse. You know, it’s not fun, but it’s probably, it’s better than, like not getting it done, basically.

Carrie: That makes sense. One other weird question like that, and then I’ll move back to regular questions. If it’s a private SAPCR like an original SAPCR, and the child is on Medicaid, but the OAG has not done anything yet. So then does the OAG have to sign off on it just because they’re on Medicaid when they haven’t, I mean, they haven’t been given notice.

Jonathan: I mean, not yet. I always wonder like, why aren’t they getting referrals for some of these cases? I just, I’m not sure what the answer is. But I mean, technically no. But if you do one where the order basically admits that the child is on Medicaid, but there’s no cash medical support to the state, you’re kind of setting your client for possibly the Attorney General trying to modify the order pretty quickly. So you know, a lot of these folks, they don’t need to go back to court. It’s kind of dangerous for them to reopen their cases. So I think in those cases, it’s still good to include the cash medical support the attorney general in the future, and, you know, just put something in there so they’ll just leave the case alone.

Carrie: That makes sense. Okay. Do you have any tips for a private attorney that’s trying to navigate in a 4d court?

Jonathan: Sure. I mean, the important thing to remember is that the in IV-D courts, in almost all the cases were filed by the Attorney General, it’s I think it’s important to recognize what the purpose of the Attorney General is. And they do help children but mainly this is about public assistance by us, establish child support orders and enforcing them. They’re basically saving the state money because the state is avoiding having to do public assistance, creating income for families. So that’s less public assistance that needs to be paid out.

And then when they enforce the same thing, basically. So that’s the whole reason why we have federal involvement through section 4D of the Social Security Act in child support. It’s not, I mean, the purpose behind it is, is basically to save money for the state. You know, along the way, they’re doing a lot of good things for families. But ultimately, it’s about reimburse the state for public assistance and public assistance. So it’s kind of important to see the purpose and understand the motivations a little better.

So that way, you can, I guess, deal a little more in a more understanding fashion with the Attorney General. It’s a big assembly line. And, and like I said, they’re establishing the orders. They’re modifying the orders, they’re enforcing the orders. And it’s like a summary process. Like a lot of people are like, why can’t we do stuff that we’re doing in district court? You know, up there, you know, we’re doing this and here, it just seems like maybe a lot of some of the rules aren’t being followed.

So it is in the courthouse. But in some ways, it’s kind of a summary process. Like, it seems like some of the rules are kind of perhaps getting lost. And I don’t say that in a negative way. But in others states that have IV-D systems, it’s like an administrative court, they’re not even at the courthouse. So and Texas, I think, and their IV-D system is providing more due process, because in other states, they’re just doing a child support order. They’re not even addressing possession and access.

Like I just looked at a Nevada order. All it did was make the dad pay child support. And so here that the theory is in Texas, that you can’t set child support until you’ve done conservatorships. So that the AG, my understanding is they had a waiver from the federal government that has their funding to us to conservatorship. They had to get permission to do that. Because, you know, this, the federal government is only paying the AG to set up child support.

So they’re a child support agency, they ultimately are supposed to care about, you know, as human beings, we’re always going to care about, you know, people’s circumstances, and we don’t want to put a child in a bad circumstance. Just being there as an attorney, you know, you’re going to try to look out. You don’t represent the mom, or the dad, or even the children, which a lot of people like the AG represents the best interests of the child. No, they do not. Is that the state? Which it’s confusing.

Because I guess, like, why does the state need to be represented. But the state’s interest is setting up child support orders to decrease its public assistance. So it’s important, like, you know, in some ways, it’s a lot similar to a district court. There isn’t like a specially designated hearing on temporary orders. Like your hearing, and if a case gets finished there, but if it doesn’t get finished, and it gets reset. So a lot of times, like, you can kind of defeat them on procedure. Okay, I never got notice that the final trial. Like so this needs to be passed, so you can give me appropriate notice.

So I think, yeah, if they, if all the rules were followed all the time at AG court, they never get anything that they’d never moved their docket. But as an attorney, just by invoking some of the rules, you can get good results for your clients. So a lot of people, you know, they don’t know about all the administrative programs. Like sometimes I’ll just get an AG. And it doesn’t even involve going to court. Somebody’s like, hey, I’m trying to sell my house and there’s a lien on it from the AG. And it’s pretty simple. Like, I just contact AG, like, hey, can you guys send over a partial Release of Lien, this is a homestead and y’all shouldn’t have a lien on it.

And they’re like, sure, and they send it, like, send it right over. So there are things you can do to help people that don’t have court processes. And you know, you can you can build some cases that way and, you know, just kind of cases from other attorneys. Or if somebody wants to travel abroad, they’re like, hey, we’re going on a cruise, but the AG has blocked my passport. So that might be something you can help people with by dealing with the AGs special collection, just figuring out how to talk to them.

They have a phone number, and then you can learn their secret emails and talk to them directly. Yeah, there’s just a lot of lot of ways that you can assist people with kind of dealing with their bureaucracy. Like are their numbers even right? Like maybe they don’t have all the direct payments that your client made to the mother. Like, can she fill our an affidavit that list those. The AG puts those in their system.

The one I was getting, I can’t do anything with. It’s like with a really old guy. He’s like, hey, they’re taking half my Social Security. I seem to get it like, I was getting these, like once a week. And they’re so depressing. I’m like, the kids are already grown. They’re like 30 years old. And don’t send me, send me any more of these cases where it’s like 10 years, 10 years after last child emancipates. It’s pretty difficult to do anything.

Like, maybe there’s some strategies with getting the withholding stuff, but generally pretty hopeless of like, really old orders. Somebody owes a lot of child support. They’re withholding it from their social security. So like, I don’t know what to tell you. Like maybe $3,000 I can see what can do. They don’t have $3,000. So yeah, those are those generally, you can always make the situation a little better, except in that one situation. So please don’t send me those calls. But any other AG call, sure.

Carrie: Okay, I’ll send all those to you. Well, we’re running out of time. But just real quickly, where could our listeners go to learn more about you?

Jonathan: Okay, so I guess my website DFW, like the airport, and my email is [email protected].

Carrie: All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve definitely given me a lot of new information, so I appreciate your time.

Jonathan: Okay, thank you, Carrie.

Carrie: Thanks, Jonathan.

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