A new Texas law broadly expands the options parents have for enforcing
orders pertaining to children. A new law effective September 1, 2015,
provides that a court may enforce “any provision” of either
a temporary or final order rendered in a suit regarding a child. Further,
the new law goes on to expand the availability of contempt of court to
“any provisions” of either a temporary or final order rendered
in a suit regarding a child.
The law also broadens the definition of a “temporary order”
under the statute to include a temporary restraining order, standing order,
injunction, and any other temporary order rendered by a court.
Contempt of court is a very strong remedy, usually involving jail time
for the accused if he or she is found to have violated a court order.
The length of jail time may be up to 6 months. Prior to this new law being
passed, contempt was typically only available for enforcement of certain
types of family law orders such as child support and possession orders.
This new expansion of the law appears to open up contempt remedies to
other types of provisions that would not traditionally have been enforceable
For example, some court orders regarding children may order a parent to
pay for college expenses of a child. Because the law in Texas does not
require a parent to support a child beyond the later of the 18th birthday or graduation from high school, the parent cannot be required
to pay college expenses, making such an order a debt under Texas law.
(Child support is not a “debt” under the law, making it subject
to enforcement by contempt and jail time.) A debt cannot be enforced by
contempt and jail time according to the Texas Constitutions.
The Texas Constitution provides, “No person shall ever be imprisoned
Tex. Const. art. I, §18. Therefore, the failure to comply with an order to pay a debt is not contempt
punishable by imprisonment.
Ex Parte Hall, 854 S.W.2d 656, 658 (Tex. 1993)(orig. proceeding). An adjudicated debt may be enforced
by other legal processes, such as execution or attachment of property,
but not by imprisonment of the debtor.
In re Nunu, 960 S.W.2d 649, 650 (Tex. 1997).
So an order to pay college expenses would be a debt under the law, not
enforceable by contempt. But, the new law purports to expand contempt
to include other types of orders that would or should not be subject to
jail time. I do not think that the new law will magically apply to the
example I give. The Texas Constitution still trumps the Texas Family Code.
But, there will be a lawyer out there who asks for it and a judge who
The remedy for a party who is jailed for contempt for violation of an order
that should not otherwise be subject to contempt/jail enforcement must
challenge that confinement through a writ of habeas corpus proceeding
to the court of appeals. Writs of habeas corpus are very difficult to
win because the contempt order or the order being enforced must be shown
to be wholly void, but jailing someone in violation of the Texas Constitution
would come under that category.
See the enrolled version here.