Adult Daughter Entitled to Child-Support Arrearages from Father after Mother’s Death

iStock-952098878-300x200When child support goes unpaid, Texas child-support cases can sometimes go on for years after the obligation would otherwise have terminated. A Texas appeals court recently considered what happens when one parent dies before the past-due child support has been paid.

The parents had a daughter together during their marriage and divorced in 1976.  The father failed to pay child support as ordered at times.  The trial court found him in contempt in 1987 and ordered him to pay $200 per month in support with additional amounts for a specified time going toward the arrearages.

Adult Daughter Files Child-Support Suit After Mother’s Death

In 2010, the adult daughter filed a petition regarding the unpaid support after her mother’s death. She asked the court to render judgment for the past due child support and to make her the obligee for the arrearages.

The father argued the trial court did not have jurisdiction to grant the relief sought. He also argued the daughter was not the legal obligee of the support that had been awarded to her mother.

The trial court’s order, signed in 2011, stated the father had failed to file a verified motion to stay the daughter’s notice of application for judicial writ of withholding within ten days.  The court found, as a matter of law, that the child-support arrearages were $153,513.98. The order further stated that it rendered a judgment and confirmation of arrears under Tex. Fam. Code §157.323 and §158.309. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the daughter and ordered that the arrearages would be payable through a judicial writ of withholding from earnings. The father did not appeal at the time.

Daughter Files Second Suit After Continued Non-Payment

The daughter later petitioned for the suspension of the father’s driver’s license due to failure to pay child support.  She alternatively asked the court to clarify its order to specify a repayment schedule.  The court suspended the father’s driver’s license.

The father petitioned for it to be reinstated and sought to have the judgment declared void in 2019. He argued the trial court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to issue the 2011 order or to suspend his license.  He argued the daughter’s request to be named the obligee was based on Tex. Fam. Code Section § 154.013(c), but that subsection only applies to current child support.  He also argued the court did not have jurisdiction to render a cumulative money judgment for child support pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 157.005(b). The trial court reinstated his driver’s license but denied his request with regard to the 2011 order.

Father Appeals Trial Court’s Order

The father appealed, asking the appeals court to determine if the judgment was void as a matter of law.  He argued the trial court could not name the daughter obligee because Tex. Fam. Code § 154.013(c) only authorizes the court to name the child obligee of “current child support.” He argued this language meant the court could only make the adult child the obligee upon the obligee parent’s death to the extent the adult child remained eligible for child support beyond the age of 18 until she graduated high school.  The court noted that the father’s argument was effectively that his obligation to pay the child support ended when the mother died before those amounts were paid.

Appeals Court Affirms Trial Court’s Order

The appeals court also pointed out that the daughter’s position was not actually based on subsection (c). She cited subsection (c), but instead quoted subsections (a) and (d).  The appeals court acknowledged that subsection (c) refers to “current child support,” but subsection (a), which states child support obligations continue as an obligation to the child after the death of the obligee, applies to child support generally. The father’s obligation to pay the arrearages did not terminate upon the mother’s death but instead continued as an obligation to the daughter pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.013(a). The trial court therefore was authorized to name the daughter as obligee pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.013(a).

The father argued that the Texas Estates Code specifically provides that an arrearages order is an asset of the estate and that an adult child must have authority from the probate court to see the payment. He did not, however, cite to specific provisions of the Estates Code in support of his position.  The appeals court pointed again to Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.013(a) and to case law that stated arrearages did not have to go through the estate because the child becomes the obligee under subsection (a).

The father also argued the court had lost jurisdiction over the child support pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 157.005. He argued this section includes a 10-year limitation for seeking a judgment for child support arrearages.  He argued that the court did not have jurisdiction to issue the 2011 order more than 10 years after the daughter’s eighteenth birthday.

The appeals court noted that Tex. Fam. Code § 157.005(b) applies to “cumulative money judgments.” The daughter petitioned for a judgment for past-due child support, but she also applied for notice of judicial writ of withholding.  She did not, however, seek a cumulative money judgment under Tex. Fam. Code § 157.263, nor did the trial court grant such relief in 2011.  The appeals court found the 10-year limitations period in Tex. Fam. Code § 157.005(b) did not apply.

The appeals court further concluded that the trial court was authorized to render a judgment determining child-support arrearages under § 157.323 and issue a judicial writ of withholding. The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Collecting Past-Due Child Support Can be Difficult – Call McClure Law Group Today to Assist You

If you have been dealing with unpaid child support, you should contact a skilled Texas child support attorney for advice. Schedule a consultation with McClure Law Group by calling our office at 214.692.8200.

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