An inexpensive manner to obtain child support for a child is to seek assistance through the attorney general's office. The attorneys in the AG's office will establish paternity, seek child support, back child support, medical support and even locate an absent parent without seeking any fees. However, problems often arise because of misconceptions surrounding the attorney general's office.
Misconception 1: The Attorney General's Office Represents Me.
In child support cases, the attorney general does not represent any parent or the child in the lawsuit but rather represents the State of Texas. One of the duties of the attorney general's office is to ensure each parent fulfills their financial duty to their child. Although a parent may be the party to initiate contact with the Attorney General's office for assistance, that does not mean that parent now has legal representation. Actually, once proceedings are filed in court, each parent will be named as a respondent. A party who files a suit is the petitioner and a party who must answer to the suit is the respondent. The attorney general's filing of the child support case would make them the petitioner. Each parent must answer, appear, and/or present evidence in the suit in some manner and this makes each parent a respondent. This dynamic can create a dangerous expectation from the party who initiated contact with the attorney general's office. Simply initiating contact does not mean that party will win or will get everything that they asked the attorney general's office to address.
Misconception 2: Once I Contact The Attorney General's Office For Child Support, They Will Work on My Case
Child support cases initiated through the attorney general's office belong to the attorney general. When a person hires an attorney, they expect their attorney to represent their interests with a goal of getting their expressed desired outcome. This is a reasonable expectation, as attorneys have a fiduciary duty to zealously represent their clients' interests. Many parents who seek obtaining child support through the AG's office go there with the mind set that all that they seek in relation to paternity, custody, child support, back child support, medical support and visitation will be what the attorney general's office will fight for on their behalf. However, the attorney general's fiduciary duty to zealously represent their client's interest is owed to the State of Texas not the parent. Their aim is to ensure each parent upholds their emotional and financial obligation to their children and to reduce the costs to the State for public assistance. As such, since the AG is actually filing the lawsuit for child support, they decide what claims and request for relief, if any, will be made. Those claims may or may not coincide with the desires of the parent who initiated contact with the AG's office. If any parent wishes to challenge any or all of the relief sought by the attorney general's office, they must do so on their own.
Misconception 3: I Risk Nothing Taking Care of This Myself
A parent representing themself in court risks losing their interests and/or desired outcomes in a child support case. In the event, a parent's desired outcome is contrary to the attorney general's office, they are going against an attorney familiar with the Texas Family Code, who was trained in the rules of evidence from years of law school and practice before a court of law, and who knows the in and outs of the courts. The situation is akin to bringing a knife to a gun fight. A person with no legal training, who is not familiar with rules of evidence, and who may not know what court they are going to much less have the requisite knowledge of a judge's previous rulings and their significance to their case, is not properly equipped to successfully fight against an attorney who has this backing. Furthermore, if the other parent is also fighting for custody, the attorney general's office cannot assist you. Federal funding does not allow the attorney general's office to provide legal services for custody and visitation disputes. Quite frankly, they will not seek a designated parent to be named as conservator but rather will ask the court to make an appropriate determination on conservatorship. Thus, any parent unable to properly introduce evidence to convince a judge to grant the relief they want, risks losing their desired relief.
Misconception 4: I Can Just Talk To The Judge and Explain My Side
A typical case not resolved by negotiation between the parties will be heard before a judge on the same day. What often takes place is trial by surprise. Unlike a case where a private attorney is hired and time is taken to do discovery (legal procedure where the parties exchange information to discover claims and evidence held by the other party), many of the claims are heard for the first time during that hearing. This gives no time to prepare for a case. The time frame does not support finding and presenting any physical evidence to support a party's claims or attack the claims of the other party in court. Once the judge's decision is made, and unless timely appealed or modified at some later time, the judgment can last until the child becomes an adult.
Misconception 5: It Will Cost Nothing To Use The Services of the Attorney General
Regardless of who initiates contact with the AG's office, if a judgment is taken against that party, they will typically be responsible for court costs.
Misconception 6: Attorneys Are Not Allowed
Any party is allowed to bring an attorney to represent their interests in negotiations or trial.
Author's Information: Attorney Tracey Beecher practices Family Law in Houston, TX. 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, 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.