In Texas, typically the most efficient way for enforcing child custody and support orders is through the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) and/or the Texas Attorney General's Child Support Division. This brief primer describes the basics for doing so.
The Origins of the Domestic Relations Office
In Texas, the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) is a part of the district court system, and its origins can be traced back to the establishment of the Texas Family Code in 1973. The Family Code established guidelines for determining child custody and support and created the framework for the DRO to assist the courts in implementing these guidelines.
Over the years, the roles and responsibilities of the DRO in Texas have evolved and expanded to include a range of services related to child custody and support, as well as services related to domestic violence prevention and intervention.
Today, the DRO plays a critical role in helping to resolve issues related to child custody and support and ensuring that the best interests of the child are always the primary consideration in any decision made by the court.
Specifically, in Texas, the DRO is primarily responsible for assisting the courts in the following ways:
1) Conducting investigations: The DRO can investigate issues related to child custody and support and report their findings to the court.
2) Providing mediation: The DRO can provide mediation services to help parents resolve disputes related to child custody and support.
3) Enforcing court orders: The DRO can enforce court orders related to child custody and support, including collecting and distributing child support payments.
4) Monitoring visitation: The DRO can monitor visitation and exchange of children between parents and report any violations to the court.
How Parties Acquire the Assistance of the DRO in Texas
In Texas, the DRO is typically located within the local district court or family court. While the specific structure of the DRO may vary somewhat depending on the local court system, it is generally staffed by a team of attorneys and other professionals who are trained in family law and related areas. These professionals work closely with judges to provide recommendations and guidance on issues related to child support, child custody, and other matters that come before the court.
Parties to a pending family law case in Texas needing assistance with issues related to child support, child custody, or other matters, can often contact the DRO directly to discuss their situation and get advice on the best course of action.
Parties can also request the assistance of the DRO by filing a motion with the court handling their case. This motion should include a request for the DRO's services, along with specific details about the issues or disputes that need to be addressed.
Once the court receives the motion, it will review the request and determine whether the DRO's services are necessary and appropriate in the case. If the court decides that the DRO's assistance is warranted, it will issue an order referring the case to the DRO.
After the case has been referred to the DRO, the DRO will typically conduct an investigation and provide a report to the court. This report will include recommendations for resolving any disputes related to child custody or support, and may also include other information or recommendations related to the case, such as recommendations for parenting plans, visitation schedules, or counseling services.
How Judges Use the Recommendations of the DRO
The extent to which judges in Texas adopt the recommendations of the DRO can vary depending on the specific case and circumstances involved. However, in general, judges in Texas tend to give significant weight to the recommendations made by the DRO.
The DRO's recommendations are typically based on thorough investigations and assessments of the situation and are meant to provide the court with valuable information and guidance in making decisions related to child custody and support.
While judges are not required to adopt the DRO's recommendations, they are required to consider them along with other relevant evidence and factors in making their decisions. In many cases, judges will rely heavily on the DRO's recommendations, particularly if they are based on a comprehensive assessment of the situation and supported by relevant evidence.
It's worth noting that the ultimate decision about child custody and support rests with the court, and judges are obligated to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child, regardless of any recommendations made by the DRO.
The Role and Responsibilities of the Texas Attorney General Office’s Child Support Division
In addition to the Domestic Relations Office (DRO), the Texas Attorney General's office also plays an important role in enforcing child support orders, among other issues as stated below.
The Texas Attorney General's Child Support Division was established in 1975, following the passage of the federal Child Support Enforcement and Paternity Establishment Program. This program provided federal funding to states to develop and implement child support enforcement programs, with the goal of ensuring that children receive the financial support they need from their parents.
In Texas, the Child Support Division is responsible for enforcing court-ordered child support, establishing paternity, and locating absent parents in cases where child support is owed. The division also provides other services related to child support, such as help with establishing and modifying child support orders and can assist with locating absent parents and establishing paternity.
The Attorney General's office has the authority to take a range of actions to collect past due child support, including wage garnishment, seizure of property, and suspension of driver's licenses and other professional licenses.
Like the DRO, parties facing the above-stated issues can directly contact the Attorney General's Child Support Division to discuss their situation and get advice on the best course of action.
The Texas Domestic Relations Office (DRO) compared with the Texas Attorney’s General Office
While the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) and the Texas Attorney General's Child Support Division can both assist with child support issues, the specific circumstances of each case will determine which agency is the most appropriate to contact.
The DRO typically becomes involved in child support issues on the outset of divorce and child custody cases. Its main function is to investigate the parties' financial circumstances and make recommendations to the court regarding the amount and structure of child support payments based on the best interests of the child. Like the Attorney General’s Office, however, the DRO can also assist with enforcing court orders related to child support, including collecting and distributing child support payments.
The Attorney General's Child Support Division, on the other hand, is primarily responsible for enforcing child support orders that have already been established by a court, regardless of whether the case is part of a divorce or child custody case. The Child Support Division can also help locate absent parents, establish paternity, and enforce child support orders through a range of legal and administrative actions.
Although both agencies can aid in enforcing child support orders each agency has different expertise and resources that can be useful in different situations. As stated above, the DRO, for example, is often better equipped to investigate the parties' financial circumstances and make recommendations regarding child support payments. The Attorney General's Child Support Division, on the other hand, is typically better equipped to locate absent parents and enforce pre-existing child support orders through administrative and legal channels.
Ultimately, the specific circumstances of each case will determine which agency is the most appropriate to contact.
If you are unsure which agency to contact, you can reach out directly to both the DRO and the Attorney General's Child Support Division to discuss your situation and get advice on the best course of action. In some cases, it may be appropriate to seek the assistance of both agencies.
It's also worth noting that while the Attorney General's office can be a valuable resource for enforcing child support orders, parties to a child support case may also want to consider seeking the advice and assistance of an attorney. An attorney can provide guidance and representation throughout the legal process and can help to ensure that the party's rights and interests are protected.