After a divorce or child custody hearing, the non-primary parent is typically ordered to pay child support to the primary parent. We describe how that support is calculated here. But, what if that parent does not pay the child support as ordered? How is the order enforced?

Child custody orders will also say when the child is supposed to be with each parent. What happens if one parent disobeys the order, for example, by not returning the child after a visit at the right time and place? How is this order enforced?

There are ways of enforcing these orders through the courts, including fines, “make-up” time, and even jail. Read on to see your options if you find yourself in this situation.

Child Support Enforcement

If the other parent has not paid child support as ordered, you can ask the court to hold him or her in contempt. This is a formal finding by the court that this person has violated a court order. If a person was ordered to pay child support and did not pay as ordered, it is likely the court would find him or her in contempt.

There are two main defenses available in this situation — voluntary relinquishment and inability to pay.

First, if the primary parent voluntarily relinquished possession of the child to the other parent, then that parent is excused from paying child support. To use this defense, you would have to show that there was an actual agreement between the parents to leave the child with you beyond normal visitation.

Second, if the parent ordered to pay simply cannot pay for financial reasons, he may be excused. Courts are naturally skeptical of people saying they cannot pay, so you must be prepared to show that you have made every effort to find a job, borrow money, sell things, or take other actions to meet your obligations if you want to use this defense.


Once it is established the person is in contempt of court for failure to pay child support, you can ask for punishment. The most serious punishment in this situation is of course jail. Judges will order people to jail for failure to pay child support, especially if there is a lot owed or if it seems like the person is not really trying to pay.

Another common punishment is called “suspended commitment”. This is when the judge orders jail time, but then immediately suspends the jail time with the understanding that the jail time will be completely forgiven as long as certain conditions are met. For example, the judge might order someone to pay off the balance owed within a certain amount of time in order to avoid having to serve the jail sentence. This serves as a powerful incentive to get the person to pay.

The courts can also order the person to pay a fine and to pay your attorneys’ fees. This amount will get added to the child support obligation, so that the person has even more money he has to pay.

Enforcing Visitation Orders

Enforcing orders of possession and access (visitation) is similar to enforcing orders of child support. In both cases, you go to the court and ask that the offending parent be held in contempt.

Just as with child support, there are two main defenses available: voluntary relinquishment and inability to comply. Voluntary relinquishment means the other parent agreed to give you more time under the order. Inability to comply means that there was some circumstance that made it impossible to comply with the order.

The punishments available for violating a visitation order are also similar to those for violating a child support order, with one important different. Just as above, these orders can be enforced with jail time, suspended commitment, and orders to pay fines and attorneys’ fees.

The one additional punishment available, and perhaps the most common, is “make-up time”. Just as it sounds, this means the court will order that you are given additional time with your child to make up for the time lost. The Texas Family Code says the make up time is supposed to be of the same type and duration as the time lost. So, one denied weekend should be remedied with one additional weekend.

Contact Our San Antonio Enforcement Lawyer Today

If the other parent of your child is violating the court order, you are entitled to relief under the law. The court can help you collect the money you are owed or award you additional time to make up for lost visitation. Contact the experienced attorneys at Salmon Haas Law today and let us help you with your child custody and support enforcement case.

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