Child Support Payments in Texas $11 Billion Short

Child support payments are often the aftermath of a divorce.

A recent report in the Houston Chronicle newspaper said unpaid child support payments in Texas stand at nearly $11 billion. What’s more, officials report more parents are applying to have their child support payments reduced.

Why? To paraphrase Clinton political strategist James Carville, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The Texas Attorney General’s office reported that nearly 46 percent of parents in Dallas County required to pay child support are behind on their payments. About 40 percent of  parents in the southern Texas counties of Harris and Bexar  have also fallen behind at some point – 4 out of 10.

An up-and-down economy and and unemployment rates nationwide are taking a toll on parents who pay child support, analysts say, although some parents simply defy orders and refuse to pay up. Delinquencies appeared to peak in 2009, the Chronicle reported.

“We have seen our caseload increase because more parents have applied for enforcement services, perhaps because of custodial parents’ reduced earnings due to the economy,” Janece Rolfe, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s child support division, told the newspaper. “We also saw parents who pay child support apply for downward modification,” meaning they tried to get their obligatory payments reduced.

The government typically collects from unwilling parents by withholding wages, tax refunds, lottery winnings or suspending professional licenses, among other wage garnishment methods.

The attorney general’s office reported the vast majority of parents who have custody rights are women, and in Texas 48 percent of single mothers live in poverty, according to recent census data.

Profiled in the Chronicle, one of Texas’ top child support payment evaders is a 60-year-old bus driver who owes more than $179,000 to his two sons and is believed to have fled to Mexico. The man, Tomas Roman, was pulled over by police in 2003 on a traffic violation and arrested for failure to pay child support. He spent six months in jail, but he never paid up, the Chronicle reported.

Family law experts say parents’ delayed or incomplete support produces “irreversible consequences” for children.

“Children are already going through a lot of stress when parents separate. When you add the potential financial hardship or parents’ enmity, it becomes very tough on a child,” said Bob Sanborn, president of Children At Risk, an advocacy group for children and education, in the Chronicle.

Texas lags in the percentage of overdue support it collects, according to an analysis of federal data by The Dallas Morning News. Delinquent cases and amounts owed are rising faster in Texas than in many other states, the data showed.

Texas distributed about $2.7 billion in child support in fiscal 2009 – more than any other state. Yet that number masks average performance when accounting for all of the money owed there.

Texas collected about two-thirds of all child support owed last year, ranking it 17th, according to The News‘ analysis. The state ranks 30th when all past delinquent support is included. By 2002, the state ranked 10th and 42nd, respectively, in those categories, the analysis showed.

And the amount of child support owed in Texas is rising faster than in other states.

Child support due nationally has increased about 11 percent since 2005, federal statistics show. But the amount due in Texas rose almost five times faster during the same period.

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