Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Didn’t Know I Had a Child?

Do I Have to Pay Child Support if I Didn't Know I Had a Child? Imagine going years without knowing you are the biological parent of a child. This scenario can sound shocking and unique, but it happens more often than you think. It is safe to assume that if a parent knew about a child, they would be involved in the child’s life. However, if a parent was unaware that the child existed, is the parent required to pay retroactive child support? If the court does decide the parent is liable for retroactive child support, when does the support start? Will it start from the child’s birth, or the day the parent found out about the child?

These are all very intricate questions, and a San Antonio child support attorney can help you work out the possible outcomes. Texas has back child support laws that will withhold child support payments from parents who are behind. When a parent is behind and failing to pay owed child support, the state can withhold paychecks and taxes. Understanding the different terms and legalities of retroactive child support is essential to know what to expect when you find out you have a child.

Establishing paternity in Texas

While you can be the biological parent of a child, this does not mean you are automatically the child’s legal guardian. A paternity test establishing you to be the biological parent may not be enough to require child support. If another man legally signed the birth certificate as the father and has been caring for the child, the court may not award retroactive child support. Texas Family Code does not outline paternity as sufficient evidence to begin paying child support. The custodial parent must first file a petition for current child support and retroactive child support.

Establishing paternity is essential, but it may not be the final factor in your child support order. Based on the evidence presented, it is left up to the judge to determine whether child support is appropriate, whether current or retroactive.

What is retroactive child support?

The court may award retroactive child support under specific circumstances. This support is paid by the non-custodial parent for the time that they did not provide financial assistance to their child. Both parents are legally required to support their child financially, regardless of their relationship status. When one parent refuses to pay, the other can file a court order to force retroactive child support payments. Essentially, the custodial parent is reimbursed for their expenses caring for the child alone. Under Sec. 154.009 of the Texas Family Code, “The court may order a parent to pay retroactive child support if the parent:

  1. has not previously been ordered to pay support for the child; and
  2. was not a party to a suit in which support was ordered.”

In all cases, the final decision rests with the judge. The court is not required to order retroactive payments, and the judge can use discretion. The judge will look at all aspects of the case before deciding on retroactive payments.

This is positive news for fathers who did not know their child existed. As a father, you will have the opportunity to show the court why you should not have to provide retroactive or back child support for a child you did not know about. Our San Antonio attorneys are here to represent you and advocate for your case.

What if I am ordered to pay back child support?

If you believe you may be required to pay retroactive child support for a child you knew nothing about, it is crucial to speak to an attorney before making any decisions. Even if you have seen other case results, this does not mean you will have the same outcome. The family law judge will consider several factors when making a retroactive child support decision:

  • If the non-custodial parent was aware of the child and the financial responsibility to care for the child
  • If the custodial parent informed or attempted to notify the non-custodial parent of child support and/or the existence of the child
  • The current financial picture of both parents
  • The financial picture of the non-custodial parent during the period of non-payment
  • Any support that has already been provided
  • If a child support order will place an undue financial burden on the paying parent

Retroactive child support can begin at different periods. In some cases, it can start when the two parents separated. In other cases, it starts when the child is born. Or, it can start when the non-custodial parent finds out about the child. Every case is different, and your San Antonio child support attorney can help determine  how much child support for which you may be responsible.

Is there a child support statute of limitations?

When there is no existing court order in place, retroactive child support in Texas can only be awarded for four years prior. However, there may be exceptions to this time frame. There is also a statute of limitations for when a person can seek retroactive child support. The statue is 10 years from the 18th birthday of the child. Remember, this is only if an existing child support order is in place. These child support cases are often very complex and few and far between. Child support payments end when the child turns 18 or finishes high school, whichever comes first.

If you are facing child support orders, whether current or retroactive, you need a professional on your side. Many parents assume they do not have any options and agree to pay amounts they cannot realistically afford. Gable Grimshaw PLLC is skilled with a variety of child support issues and is here to help. Schedule a consultation today by calling our office at 210-761-5687 or by submitting our contact form.