Originally published by Kelly McClure.
The Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for certain child support services, including collecting and enforcing Texas child support orders. Recipients of certain public assistance programs may automatically qualify for the OAG’s child support services, but others have to apply for the services. The OAG has a variety of ways to enforce child support, including filing liens, issuing writs of withholdings to the parent’s employer, suspending driver’s licenses, and intercepting tax refunds or other money from state or federal sources.
In a recent case, a father challenged the OAG’s enforcement actions against him. The father was ordered to pay child support beginning in December 1996. The court also issued an Order Enforcing Child Support Obligation in October 1999, including a cumulative money judgment for $15,000 plus interest against the father in favor of the Attorney General.
In 2015, the OAG sent a notice of child support lien to the father’s bank and issued administrative writs of withholding to his employers. The OAG also filed a petition with the State Office of Administrative Hearings for the father’s driver’s license suspension.
The father filed a motion alleging the OAG violated provisions of the Texas Family Code because it failed to obtain a cumulative money judgment within 10 years of the child becoming an adult. The OAG did not appear at the hearing. The trial court lifted the driver’s license suspension, rescinded the writs of withholding, declared the child support liens void, and ordered no further wage withholding.
The OAG filed a restricted appeal. The OAG argued the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the driver’s license suspension because the relevant statute required the father to file his petition for review in Travis County district court. A proceeding regarding the suspension of a parent’s driver’s license for failure to pay child support is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act. The Administrative Procedure Act requires a person seeking judicial review of a contested case to file the petition in a Travis County district court unless another statute provides otherwise. TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. § 2001.176.
The father did not file his petition in a Travis County district court. The OAG argued that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the issue. The appeals court, however, found that that the statute did not grant Travis County district court with exclusive jurisdiction, but instead provided a mandatory venue. Mandatory venue, the court noted, may be waived if a party fails to make a timely objection. The OAG had not made a timely objection.
The OAG also argued the trial court had exceeded its subject matter jurisdiction in enjoining additional administrative writs of withholding. Under TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. § 22.002(c), only the Texas supreme court has the authority to issue a writ of mandamus or injunction against an officer of Texas’s executive departments to order or compel performance of a duty state law authorizes the officer to perform. The appeals court noted the OAG is an officer of the executive department and is authorized to enforce and collect child support through administrative writs of withholding. Thus, only the supreme court could enjoin the OAG from issuing such writs in this case. The appeals court found that the portion of the order stating that “no further wages be withheld in this cause…” constituted an injunction.
The appeals court vacated the part of the trial court’s order that enjoined the OAG from issuing additional administrative writs of withholding and affirmed the rest of the order.
The OAG will become involved in certain cases involving public assistance. Although parents in other cases may seek the OAG’s assistance, parents should be aware of what OAG enforcement entails. Once the OAG is involved, the parents are not able to choose which enforcement actions will be taken. If you are facing a child support issue, an experienced Texas child support attorney can help you consider your options and protect your rights. Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up an appointment.