Dealing with the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General

by Marissa Balius

The Attorney General of Texas is the child support collection agency in the State of Texas. Dealing with the child support division of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) can be a frustrating process even for the most experienced attorney. Here are some tips that will help you with the process:

 

  1. Know your OAG number. You need to provide it on all communications with the OAG. It is your identification number with their office. The number should also be on all communication they send you.
  2. If the OAG is reporting you have a child support arrearage (back support payments) and you believe that the information they are reporting is wrong, ask for a child support arrearage calculation from their office. This document will show each payment due, each payment made and any interest that has accrued on the account. Take this payment record and every court order that required you to pay or receive child support to your own attorney to review.
  3. When you call or go into the Attorney General’s office, write the name and title of the person helping you and take good notes of your conversation for future reference. In my experience, they do not always keep good records, and inevitably you will get conflicting information.
  4. The OAG is not a neutral party. If they are involved in your case they have an interest! Discussions you have with anyone in their office are not protected by attorney-client privilege and can be used against you in court.
  5. If you are served with a legal document filed by the Attorney General or receive a Notice of Child Support Review Conference, hire an attorney immediately. DO NOT go to court or attend a Child Support Review Conference without your own attorney. You need your own representative to explain the legal process and advocate for you. If you are unable to retain counsel before your first court appearance or Child Support Review appointment, be careful about what you sign. They may have you sign an appearance of counsel or waiver of service or other document that may seem harmless at the time but may adversely affect your case.
  6. Each child support office has a customer liaison and each region has an ombudsman, a liaison between the public and the child support office that tries to resolve customer complaints. If you are not getting action or the results you and your attorney deem appropriate, ask for the ombudsman’s name and contact information. Lastly, if all else fails, contact your state senator and representative. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area state congressmen have a lot of leverage in dealing with the child support office and in my experience they can get the ball rolling when all else fails.
  7. The OAG sends out a variety of letters: DO NOT DISCARD THEM. Keep everything you receive as many of the letters have time frames to respond, hearing dates and in-office appointment dates and times. The OAG has the power to ruin your credit, garnish your wages and levy your bank accounts; any correspondence you receive is important!
  8. Don’t count on their employees for legal advice! By law, they should not be giving legal advice to either parent, and the information they provide is not always accurate.

If you need an expert to help you navigate through a case with the Attorney General’s office please contact me via email at mbalius@ahrlawfirm.com or by phone at 214-423-5100.

Marissa Balius knows the ins and outs of the Texas Attorney General’s office. She is an experienced family law litigator with sixteen years of experience, including ten years as an Assistant Attorney General in the Child Support Division.

Three Things You Should Not Do in a Divorce

Curtis Harrison is a Plano-based attorney with the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach. He is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law and is a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

After sixteen years of practicing family law in and out of the courtroom I like to think I’ve seen or heard just about everything. Of course, that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that clients have a hard time surprising me anymore. And I have noticed over the years that even the most gentle and considerate of people fall prey to the universal human instinct for survival when faced with a divorce. This instinct can temporarily override common decency, parental wisdom, and even rationality.

Why is this? Almost without exception, folks facing the prospect of a separation or divorce feel extraordinary pressures. Those pressures are usually rooted in fear: fear the unknown; fear of the perceived lack of control over the future; and fear of how decisions others make during the divorce will affect them. These fears drive many divorcing couples to make terrible mistakes that will haunt them and their children for years to come. Some of the mistakes are made long before either spouse consults with a divorce attorney.

While the list of “do’s and don’ts” is long and detailed, here are three fundamental things you should not do in a divorce:

  1. Don’t involve the kids
  2. Don’t make unilateral decisions
  3. Don’t “over-lawyer”

Don’t Involve the Kids

Although this should be obvious, it is one of the most of the common – and by far the most tragic – mistake that I see couples make. Examples abound:

  • Mom and Dad cannot or will not contain their so-called “adult conversations” (arguing) in the presence of the children.
  • Dad picks up the kids to take them for the weekend and Mom tells the children she will miss them terribly instead of encouraging them to have a great time.
  • Mom is forced to tighten the budget at home out of necessity while Dad, who has recently moved into a bachelor-pad apartment, starts lavishing the children with Wii’s, off-road bicycles, and trips to Disney.

All of these examples, and countless others, place the children squarely on the chessboard of the divorce. The parents — whether they realize it or not — have made their own children the pawns in the chess match. And we all know what happens to the pawns in chess.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions

Cleaning out bank accounts, buying a new car, and leaving town with the kids are all examples of decisions most people would never consider making without discussing with their spouse. Yet, faced with divorce, that little voice in our head we call common sense seems to take a vacation. Making important decisions that affect others without discussing it with them virtually guarantees you a quick trip to the courthouse for a contested hearing.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Over-Lawyer

You can tell a lot from a name.

I frequently meet with potential clients who have already been served with a divorce suit and I have learned that you can discern a great deal about how ugly and expensive a divorce is going to be simply by looking to see who the other lawyer is. Individual lawyers have individualized reputations, and if a spouse wants to hire a Rambo-style litigator it is not difficult to find one.

Why do people in this day still seek out that kind of lawyers? Fear, grief, and anger are powerful emotions. Those emotions often drive otherwise rational people to make decisions that are not in their own best interests, much less in the best interest of their family. Ironically, folks who seek out the Rambos typically do so either to (i) get their “fair share”; or to (ii) get their pound of flesh. There really aren’t any other reasons.

The irony is that they will pay a $25,000 initial retainer to Rambo to fight for a larger piece of what is left over after he has picked over the carcass of your estate instead of seeking out an attorney with a reputation for problem solving that charges significantly less. As for getting the pound of flesh, nothing is free: Every pound of flesh you “acquire” will cost you something. That something could be the nest egg,  the children’s emotional well-being, or bitterness in the person’s heart that reduces  his or her quality of life for years to come.

Don’t do it.

Fortunately, there are qualified professionals in the industry who are trained to help couples end their marriage without scorching each other, the children, or the estate. If you would like more information about available options when it comes to divorce, including the Collaborative Law option, please feel free to visit our website, or contact me by email.

Divorce – Rights vs. Results, by Curtis Harrison

People facing divorce usually want to know what their rights are. Who will get the children? How much child support can be expected? Who is responsible for the credit card debt? What happens to the house? The 401(k)? The list of questions goes on and on.

Yet, the core of these questions is not really about rights. Rather, it is fear of an unknown result. This distinction highlights one of the many advantages of the collaborative method of resolving family law issues:  Spouses become the decision-makers instead of a judge.

It is a novel approach, but it is also supremely intuitive. After all, who better to make decisions regarding a divorcing couple’s children and their finances than the spouses themselves? Even through the pain and the other negative emotions that accompany a divorce, divorcing couples can still make better choices for themselves and their children than a judge or jury. This is where the professional team comes in to help guide the couple through an otherwise overwhelming process. And when the question turns to “What are my rights?” the trained collaborative team of lawyers and neutrals will be there to restore the focus to achieving a result that both spouses find acceptable and in their children’s best interests.

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