Texans late on child support could be denied vehicle registration, but turning away drivers is left to county offices

Paxton and Getz

The Texas Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division, which utilizes a number of tools to enforce payment of child support and to encourage evaders to pay up, has now indicated it plans to add another tool to its enforcement toolbox, but Jefferson County Tax Assessor-Collector Alison Getz worries that implementation of the new initiative could cause problems for parents behind on payments and for her staff, as well.

According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, his office’s Child Support Division (CSD) is “the most successful and cost-effective program in the nation.” The division reportedly handles 1.5 million child support cases, serving 1.7 million children, and collects $12.26 for every $1 spent to operate the program. It collected $3.8 billion in child support in federal fiscal year 2015.

Unfortunately for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the children it serves, that number is dwarfed by the estimated $11 billion Texas parents owe in back child support.

According to information from the state’s CSD, if a noncustodial parent gets behind in child support payments, “he or she is subject to enforcement measures to collect regular and past-due payments.” In the past, CSD employed collection methods that included denial or revocation of driver’s and professional licenses; court-ordered wage withholding; interception of federal income tax refunds, lottery winnings or other money due from state or federal sources; filing suit; filing a lien; and even filing criminal charges in extreme cases.

Now, the Texas OAG plans to deny vehicle registration renewal to parents who are significantly in arrears in their child support payments. Denial of vehicle registration is not new, becoming law in March 2015, but it is something the OAG has now decided to pursue.

Starting with December 2016 renewals, parents more than six months delinquent on child support payments could be denied vehicle registration in the state of Texas.

Getz said starting soon, her office would be expected to enforce Paxton’s directive, and her staff would have to be the ones to face past-due parents and tell them they cannot renew their vehicle registration.

“I am concerned about it because all we do is carry out the mandates of the Texas legislature, and I’m afraid that people will think it’s our idea … and get mad at us,” Getz suggested. “We have nothing to do with it.”

A state-run database holds all the information. If someone owes delinquent child support after missing six consecutive months, the state flags that person in the database. That leaves the county tax collector-assessor’s staff with no choice other than to deny renewal. Anyone denied registration for delinquent child support would have to deal directly with the state attorney general’s Child Support Division.

“We can’t override it,” Getz asserted. “It’s in the system.”

Getz said she believes the OAG should pursue payments from parents overdue on child support, but feels the new rule would place an undue burden on her staff.

“I’m all for people paying their child support,” Getz asserted. “They should pay it. I’m just not sure our office should be a part of the process.

“The bottom line is, we’re not law enforcers. We’re simply the mechanism for doing the process for vehicle registration.” Getz also said numerous parties have expressed concern that denying vehicle registration to parents already potentially facing financial hardship – which in some cases could be the reason they are delinquent in child support payments in the first place – would exacerbate the problem.

“I appreciate they are trying to hold people accountable, but some people are saying, ‘How are you going to pay child support if you can’t get to work?’ It’s a tough situation.” The new initiative is set to commence with vehicle registration renewals starting in December.