Kay finally managed to turn her life around. After years of drug abuse and jail stints, she found her peace with fishing. Fishing allowed her to conquer her demons. She rebuilt her life and is on the cusp of getting her plumbing license. However, her years of drug abuse took its toll on her family. Her husband was killed in a drug deal gone bad while Kay was serving time for a drug possession case. A court gave custody of her twins Leona and Leon to her husband's mother Ruth. Ruth dislikes Kay with a passion. She blames Kay for her son's death. Ruth believes if it had not been for Kay, then her son would not have gotten involved with drugs.
While Kay worked on getting her plumbing license, she took classes to prepare for her licensing exam. Kay also needed hands on experience as an apprentice working under a master plumber to obtain her license. She found it difficult to find a paid plumbing apprenticeship because of her criminal history. She did manage to get an unpaid apprenticeship through her school and acquired the hours needed. Going to school and getting a tradesman's limited plumber license was Kay's pathway to a better income for herself and her kids. Her school and apprenticeship schedule took a great deal of time. Unfortunately, she took too much time off from her only paying job at the Chicken Shack and she lost that job. She did not make the court-ordered child support payments to Ruth for a few months and had to stay with friends because she was evicted from her apartment. Nevertheless, Kay thought once she got a paid plumbing gig she could make more money than the minimum wage she earned at the Chicken Shack. This would allow her to pay Ruth more child-support to help with Leon and Leona. Things started to look promising when her instructor, Jerry, promised her a job at his plumbing company upon her obtaining her tradesman license. Kay said she would get back on track with the child-support just as soon as she got a job with Jerry. Kay tried to tell Ruth that was her plan but any time she attempted to talk to her the two ended up in an argument. Ruth was not hearing what Kay had to say.
It was not Ruth's intention in her retirement years to be the primary care-taker of two young kids but she was willing to because she loves her grandchildren. Nevertheless, Ruth thought, Kay brought those kids into the world so she should at least pay something to take care of them. Kay did not pay child support for over six months. It was not as though Kay was ordered to pay a great deal of money from her job. Ruth was furious Kay could not even do that minimum and pay the child-support. She decided to take steps to fix the situation and contacted the Attorney General's Office for help.
Kay went to renew her car registration because it expired the month before. Kay completely forgot about the registration due the stress of taking her licensing exam during that time. She was surprised when the Harris county clerk told her she could not renew her car registration and she needed to contact the Attorney General's Office. She thought to her self “what does my car registration have to do with the Attorney General's Office.” She got home and her friend gave her a letter that arrived in the mail that day from the Texas Plumbing Board. Kay thought finally some good news, “ I finally got my tradesman-plumber license.” Unfortunately, she was unpleasantly surprised. The letter indicated the Texas Plumbing Board could not issue her license due to unpaid child-support and she would have to contact the Attorney General's Office. She got the letter late on Friday afternoon so she would have to wait until Monday to speak with someone. However, her nerves were frazzled and she was quite upset. She needed something to calm her down. On Saturday, she thought she would go fishing to clear her head and get some perspective. She went to her local Walmart to renew her fishing permit but was turned away again because as a retailer for the Texas Parks and Wildlife, they were not allowed to give her a permit. You see the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received a request from the Attorney General's Office to not issue or renew any fishing permits to Kay because she was delinquent in her child support payments. Kay was fuming. She thought, “how could the Attorney General's Office do this?” What does a plumbing license, a fishing permit or car registration have to do with child-support anyway? Isn't this beyond their reach?
The Link Between Your Child-Support Obligation and Your Texas Licenses
In the fictional illustration given above, Kay is wrong. Kay mistakenly believes there is no link between her plumbing license, fishing permit or car registration and her failure to pay child support. The Texas Family Code provides many tools to get the attention of a party who is not paying child support in accordance with court orders. Most persons know they can be found in contempt and receive free room and board at the county jail if they fail to pay their court ordered child support.1 However, jail time is not the only possible consequence for not paying child support. Any license, issued by the state of Texas is subject to suspension, revocation, non-renewal or termination for failing to comply with a child support order.2 Potential suspensions can be broad and affect all aspects licensed or permitted by any agency, commission, board, office or department of Texas or any of its political subdivisions.3
When Can a License Be Suspended, Revoked or Terminated?
Once child-support debt is owed for three months or greater, proceedings to suspend an obligor's Texas license can be initiated. The proceedings may be initiated by either a Texas child-support agency or an obligee.4 Either a Title-IV D court,5 the court of continuing and exclusive jurisdiction or tribunal in which the child support order was registered may hear and decide the case. 6 After a determination is made that the obligor has:
a) failed to make payments that is equal to or greater than three months of child-support in accordance with a court order;
b) was given opportunity to come in compliance with an agreed or court-ordered repayment schedule; and
c) has failed to comply with the repayment schedule,
then either a court or a Title-IV D agency7 may issue an order suspending an obligor's license.8 However, if an obligor received notice of hearing for the suspension of their license, and does not timely respond to the notice, then a default order without further hearing will be granted. Essentially, the petition filed seeking license suspension will be deemed as admitted by the obligor.9
How Is A License Suspended?
After receiving an order for suspension, a Texas licensing authority shall first determine if they have issued a license to the person named in the order, immediately record the suspension of the person's license, report the suspension of the license as appropriate and demand the return of the license to the appropriate Texas authority. 10 Any person who continues to operate with the use of a suspended license will be subject to any applicable civil and/or criminal liability of an unlicensed person or that of a suspended license-holder.11 No further hearing by the Texas licensing authority shall be necessary. Although it is not required, a licensing authority may send notice to the affected licensee and/or others affected by the suspension.12
When Can Denial of A License's Issuance or Renewal Occur?
Any Texas license may also be denied issuance or renewal upon the request of the Texas Attorney General's office if a person fails to pay court-ordered child-support for six months or greater. 13 Any licensing authority who receives this notice, must refuse the issuance or renewal of a license. 14 No hearing or court-order is required prior to this. However, once notice is sent to the licensing authority, the Attorney General's Office must send notice to the license-holder of the request to deny issuance or renewal and the steps that can be taken before license issuance or renewal can occur. Once notice is received, the obligor may dispute the debt and request an informal review. If after an informal review takes place via phone or in person, the dispute still exists, the licensee may request hearing to withdraw the Attorney General's request no later than 30 days following receipt of the agency's determination after the informal review.15
This was the penalty applicable to Kay. She failed to pay child-support for six months or greater and without hearing, her Texas licenses and permits were not issued and renewed. The Attorney General's Office did not have to do a hearing first. However, Kay is entitled to notice from the Attorney-General's Office. If she did not get notice she must bring that to their attention or the court. The lack of notice could be grounds for contesting the denial of her plumbing license, fishing permit renewal and car registration. Kay can have an informal meeting with the Attorney General's Office to discuss her child-support debt, her defenses, and come to some resolution. She may contest it altogether if the dispute between her and the child-support office is not resolved.
A Licensing Authority May Not Lift A Suspension For Failure to Pay Child-Support
A licensing authority may not modify, remand, reverse, vacate, or stay an order to suspend license for failure to pay child-support. Said authority also may not review, vacate or reconsider the terms for a final order to suspend license. 16 The only way for an obligor to fix this is to go through the Attorney General's Office or contest it in court. The licensee may come in substantial compliance with a repayment schedule established by the Attorney General's order suspending the license and receive a stay17 of the order to regain the license. The Attorney General's Office may vacate or cancel the license suspension order once all outstanding child support is paid in full. The license suspension may also be cancelled or stayed if the Attorney General's Office deems good cause exists to do so.18
A Texas licensing agency is also prohibited from doing the same where a person's license issuance or renewal is denied. In the event issuance or renewal is denied because of child-support delinquencies, the licensing agency may not grant a issuance or renewal until they have received notice from the Texas Attorney General's Office. The notice must show the licensee:
a) paid no less than $200 and entered in a repayment schedule with the agency;
b) paid the outstanding child-support in full;
c) was granted an exemption as a part of a court-supervised plan to improve the person's earnings and child-support payments;
d) successfully contested the denial of issuance or renewal of their license. 19 Thus with the illustration above, Kay cannot try to remedy the issuance and renewal of her license and permits through the agencies that denied them. She must speak with the Attorney General's Office first. Her plumbing license, car registration, and fishing permit will not be renewed until she:
(a) pays no less than $200 and enter a repayment schedule with the agency;
(b) pays the child-support in full;
(c) gets an exemption from the court under a court-supervised plan to increase her earnings and child-support; or
(d) she wins in court when she contests the denied license issuance and renewals.
Persons Who Can Be Affected By This Law
The first persons who come to mind that may be subject to the application of this penalty for past-due child-support are Texas drivers. That is a fair assumption as driver's licenses and car registrations20 are very common issuances made by a Texas licensing authority.21 However, they are not the only persons who may be subject to this penalty. Any person who requires a license to practice an occupation or profession is subject to this law as well.22 Thus, whether you are a doctor or a plumber, pharmacist or do pest control, you are subject to this order.23 Persons who enjoy fishing, hunting, or any other recreational activity for which a license or permit is required, take note, you are also subject to this law.24
If your situation is like Ruth's, going after the child-support debtor's licenses and permits is an effective tool to promote compliance with the payment order. It certainly creates motivation for an obligor to get in compliance when their livelihood, ability to drive, and/or their recreational activities are in the crosshairs. An obligee, like Ruth, may contact the Attorney General's Office or hire a private attorney to seek this remedy.
If your situation is like Kay, do not ignore any notice regarding your Texas licenses or permits. Your ability to work, drive, or engage in recreational activities licensed by the state is on the line. An obligor, like Kay, may contact the Attorney General's Office to seek a resolution if their license or permits are in jeopardy. However, where a person is unfamiliar with the law, procedure and/or defenses applicable to their situation the use of a private attorney to represent them is also an option.
Author's Information: Attorney Tracey A. Beecher is a family law practitioner. She represents clients with divorce, child support, child custody, property division in relation to divorce proceedings, and child protective services cases. She appears in courts within Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties.
Legal Disclaimer: Each person's situation and circumstances are unique. As such, this article is given to provide general information only. It is not legal advice nor is it intended as a substitute for legal counsel. Should the reader need legal advice or counsel, it is appropriate to seek the assistance of a licensed attorney.
1 Enforcing child-support and spousal maintenance orders, pg. 5: http://www.texasbarcle.com/Materials/Events/5832/94472_01.pdf
2 Texas Family Code § 232.001(1)
3 Id. at (2)
4 Id. § 232.004(a)
5 Court created in response to federal requirements to provide an expedited administrative or judicial process to handle child-support cases. See http://www.txcourts.gov/about-texas-courts/specialty-courts/
6 Texas Family Code § 232.004(b)
7 The Office of Attorney General is designated as Texas' Title IV-D agency. Id. at §231.001
8 Id. at § 232.003(a)
9 Id. at § 232.009
10 Id. § 232.011(a)
11 Id. at (e)
12 Id. at (b)
13 Id. at 232.0135(a)
14 Id. at (b)
15 Id. at (e)
16 See id. at 232.011(c)
17 A stay is a suspension of the terms or requirements of a previous order.
18 Id. at 231.013(a)(1)
19 Id. at 232.0135(b)
20 Id. at 232.0022
21 Id. at 232.001(1)(C)(ii)
22 Id. at 232.001(1)(C)(i)
23 Enforcing Child-support and spousal maintenance orders, pg. 5: http://www.texasbarcle.com/Materials/Events/5832/94472_01.pdf
24 Texas Family Code § 232.001(1)(C)(i)