It takes courage to homeschool, and it takes even more courage to homeschool as a single mom. When Kristen heard about homeschooling and the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) from her Uber driver one day, she took this courageous step and began homeschooling her son as a divorced single parent.
She became a member of THSC, but she had no idea that a little after two years of homeschooling, she would be in the midst of a nightmare that would seriously threaten her ability and freedom to homeschool her child as she was legally entitled.
Homeschooling in Texas may be entirely legal, but apparently that doesn’t stop government bureaucrats from punishing innocent families for it. This is precisely what happened to Kristen.
When Kristen was told that her child support payments were being canceled because her homeschool was not an “accredited” homeschool is when she contacted THSC for help. THSC contacted homeschool dad John Schmude, local attorney and former Harris County Judge, to represent Kristen.
After Kristen’s divorce several years ago, the court ordered that she receive child support payments. For a single parent, these payments are often necessary for their livelihood. The local Office of Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for collecting and distributing these payments.
When Kristen’s son began having trouble in public school, Kristen withdrew him to homeschool. While homeschooling, he was able to improve substantially.
Texas Family Code Section 154.002 requires that child support payments be made until either: 1) The child turns 18, or 2) the child graduates from high school, whichever event happens later.
In fact, the law is clearly settled on this point. More than a dozen times per year THSC sends letters on behalf of THSC members to local OAG offices around the state. These letters explain that the family is still homeschooling and that they are entitled to continued child support payments. Before Kristen, the OAG always did the right thing and continued child support payments, usually without any complications.
However, Kristen’s story played out differently.
THSC wrote a letter to the OAG Child Support Division dated June 16, 2019, explaining that Kristen and her son were still eligible to receive child support payments until her son graduated from high school.
Although the OAG’s office initially told Kristen that her child support payments would continue, shortly after this time the payments stopped and Kristen was served with papers indicating that her ex-husband was contesting the child support payments. A hearing before the local judge had been scheduled for October 15, 2019.
Kristen went into the local OAG office to inquire about what was the problem. That’s where she discovered that she had been targeted because of her homeschooling.
The local OAG told Kristen that they had unilaterally canceled her child support payments, without a hearing, because she was not an accredited homeschool (which does not exist in Texas). This is in clear contradiction to the language in Texas law entitling Kristen to continued child support payments, as well as precedent from Texas appellate courts and even a legal memo from the OAG’s office itself making it clear that homeschooling in Texas qualifies a family to continue receiving child support payments, just as public school does.
Nevertheless, the OAG’s office, who is responsible only for collecting and distributing child support payments, instead took it upon itself to usurp the role of the court (and the entire purpose of the upcoming October 15, 2019, hearing) and unilaterally canceled Kristen’s child support payments because she homeschooled her son.
Removing virtually any semblance of legal due process, Kristen was informed that she would be required to show up at the October 15, 2019, hearing and prove why her payments should be reinstated. Kristen and her attorney, homeschool dad and former Harris County Judge John Schmude, arrived at the court for the hearing. Instead of getting the child support payments reinstated, they were told that the hearing had, unbeknownst to them, been postponed for a month and the OAG’s office had never informed them.
John Schmude described the OAG’s conduct as “egregious” and said that he had “never seen anything like it” during his time as a judge and an attorney.
THSC sent a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton about the conduct of the local OAG’s office, asking him to intervene. Unfortunately, the court again postponed the hearing date, resetting it for January 10, 2020.
Attorney John Schmude accompanied her to court on January 10 and made the case that according to state law and OAG policy that Kristen and her son were entitled to child support until homeschool graduation.
Although Kristen had to wait 3 extra months for her hearing and was required to request back child-support payments which should never have been canceled in the first place, justice ultimately prevailed.
The judge ruled in Kristen’s favor and ordered that child support payments must be reinstated, as well as help with medical expenses, until their son graduates from their homeschool high school program.
In March, not only did child support payments resume, but over $6,000 in back-pay began to be paid to Kristen and her son. In the end, we can all be inspired by Kristen’s courage, and we should never underestimate what we can learn in an Uber.