Delinquent Child Support, Child Custody and Texas Common Law Marriage

Beaumont, Texas Family Law Attorney Sonya Coffman answers family law questions submitted by KFDM news viewers including:

  • How far behind on child support does my ex have to get before the Attorney General will do something?
  • What are the requirements to be common law married (informally married) in Texas?
  • What would cause a mother not to have custody of her child?


In a recent statistic, one million parents in Texas pay child support. Of those parents, almost half are delinquent by at least one month or more. The attorney general's office collected 3.5 billion dollars last year by withholding wages and tax refunds, and suspending licenses. But, the backlog persists. Is there anything more that can be done? Live at Five's family attorney, Sonya Coffman, joins us now with more. And, I know you get questions all the time. Is there anything more that really can be done? Well, the attorney general obviously does a great job collecting child support. People sometimes think maybe they don't move quite fast enough, and they choose to go through a private attorney. But, basically the remedies available to a private attorney are the same as those available to the attorney general, and the attorney general does it without charge. So, I always suggest that people start there. One additional thing besides what you mentioned, however, is that the judge can put someone in jail for not paying child support, and that gets people's attention. But, it's a catch-twenty-two, because if someone can't work, they can't pay child support. So, it's often a tough call for the court to make as to what's the right thing there. And, there was another statistic that that you sent me as well. I think - What, twenty-eight percent of single moms live in poverty? Actually, I read the Houston Chronicle. It's a forty-eight percent of single moms that live at the poverty level. So, that makes that problem all the more serious. All right. Well, let's get on to some of our questions that people posted on our KFDM news Facebook page. This person says, "My ex-wife is behind on child support. How far behind will she have to get before the A.G. will finally do something?" You know, I don't know if the A.G. has a barometer that they measure that by, but I think they have to prioritize, because as you said, about four-hundred and sixty-thousand people are behind. So, you just have to work with them and be patient, and that will eventually get to your case. Okay. "Do you have to file for divorce if you file taxes together, but were never married? We've filed married jointly for seven years now." That's a good question. I think what this viewer's asking is, "What are the requirements to be common law married in Texas, or informally married as some people say?" There are three requirements. One is an agreement to be married. Two is that they cohabitate in the state of Texas, which obviously they've done. And, thirdly, it is that they held out, or represented to others that they were married. So, by filing joint taxes, they have held out to others that they are married. So, I suspect that there are at least two of the three requirements there to prove common law marriage. Okay, another question. "What would cause a mother not to have custody of her child?" It could be any number of things, but the court looks at the best interest of the child, and the parenting abilities of each parent. Every common thing we see all too often today are issues of substance abuse. That's a very common thing. But, any number of reasons. "Why does it seem the A.G. works in favor of deadbeat dads?" Oh, gosh. I don't know that you can really answer that one. Another question. "I had a very good friend of mine who is going through a divorce who has four kids. Her husband up and moved to Midland. She went, and was miserable - became unhappy in the marriage, left her husband last weekend. He gave her a little money to get home to Louisiana, where she has been trying to find a job to support the kids. He's already filed for divorce, and she has to appear in court Tuesday in Midland for the custody hearing. However, she has no lawyer. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I suggest that this lady contact the pro bono office, perhaps, in Midland to see if she might qualify for a pro bono attorney. That's different from a court appointed attorney. There is no court appointed attorney in a civil matter, such as the divorce. One thing I would question is whether the husband has lived in Midland long enough to establish residency. You have to live in the county for ninety days before you can file suit. So, that may buy her some time. The divorce might be evaded until he's lived there that long, but that's the best I think she can do. All right. Sonya, as always, we appreciate you stopping by. Unfortunately we are out of time, but you can always visit our KFDM Facebook page. And, every month Sonya visits us and answers your questions on our KFDM news Facebook page.