Family law litigants frequently misunderstand the role the Office of Attorney General (OAG) plays in cases. Far too many people think the OAG works for them. Many people treat the OAG as their personal pro bono lawyer. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, right?
The Texas Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division
The Child Support Division of the Texas OAG carries out one single task: It collects child support. The reasoning is simple. A non-custodial parent should help support his or her child. The custodial parent shouldn’t bear all of the financial burden of raising a child. When a non-custodial parent fails to support his or her child, Texas must help fill the financial gap to support the child.
That means in addition to free public school and free bus service to school, the taxpayers also fund Medicaid for the child. Likewise, programs like WIC, TANF, CHIPs, food stamps, and much more get their funding from the State. But why are the taxpayers on the hook when a parent should be supporting the child? Enter the OAG. When the non-custodial parent pays support, the likelihood that taxpayers must support the child diminishes.
Who Does The OAG Represent in Court?
The OAG represents the State of Texas. As to the parents in a case, the OAG’s job is to stay neutral. The OAG initiates cases when a parent applies for state benefits. Parents can also file for child support with the OAG, who will then file a case.
Mistaken Role #1
Often the custodial parent mistakenly believes the OAG works for him or her. In some ways, the OAG’s mission aligns with the desires of the custodial parent. The custodial parent needs child support from the other parent, and the OAG wants to collect child support from the other parent. However, that’s where the alignment ends.
There are a couple of serious risks for these parents. First, the OAG cares about child support. That’s it. Any other issues regarding the child like possession and access are outside of the OAG’s wheelhouse. Second, while the individual OAG attorneys are supposed to stay neutral, they sometimes do try to advocate for the custodial parent. This is fine until the non-custodial parent’s lawyer calls the OAG on their error. A good family lawyer will keep the OAG attorney in line with the law. When that happens, the custodial parent, who thought he or she had a free lawyer, suddenly realizes he or she is standing alone in front of the judge.
If you enter child support proceedings with the OAG “on your side”, keep your eyes open for the other parent to hire a lawyer. When that happens, you need to find your own lawyer too. Your lawyer will advocate for you. Failure to retain your own lawyer will result in the other parent and his lawyer at one table, the OAG on a different table, and yourself alone at your table in front of the judge.
Mistaken Role #2
The non-custodial parent often mistakes the OAG’s role as well. First, he or she believes the OAG is neutral when the individual OAG attorney is actually advocating for the custodial parent. For example, in court recently, we saw an OAG interact with an unrepresented non-custodial parent. The OAG advised the parent on a visitation schedule with the child that was worse than what the parent already had. We couldn’t believe it! First, the OAG has no business advising either parent about visitation schedules. Second, this behavior was clearly biased toward the mom at the father’s expense. The father wasn’t our client, so we could only watch in disbelief when he lost significant visitation with his kids and gained a much larger child support burden. All from a “neutral” OAG.
How To Deal With The OAG
Hire a lawyer. A good family lawyer will hold the OAG to its burden. Competent family lawyers understand the proper role of the OAG and will protect their clients from government overreach. The OAG is supposed to be neutral, but the individual attorneys often pick a side. For a look at how to find a lawyer see our blog here.
Custodial parents should not make the mistake of believing the OAG will advocate for them in court. When the other parent shows up with a good attorney, the OAG won’t be able to affirmatively help either parent.
Non-custodial parents should not make the mistake of believing the OAG is neutral—even when they say they are. The OAG’s job is to collect child support. That’s what they do. Your life and circumstances are not their problem. You need a lawyer who advocates for you.
Youngblood Law, PLLC is a Fort Worth, Texas family law firm focusing on helping good people who are trapped in bad relationships find the freedom to pursue their new happily ever after . This essay is intended for educational use only, and is not a replacement for competent legal counsel. If you are facing a family law matter, we recommend obtaining competent legal counsel like Youngblood Law, PLLC. For more information contact us at 817-601-5345, find us on the web at www.youngblood-law.com.
Paul Youngblood #beforeyournext #lawfw #youngbloodlaw