It’s six pm on a Friday, and you’ve come to pick up your thirteen-year-old daughter for your week of visitation. When you walk up to your ex’s front step, you are greeted by the ex’s new spouse, who informs you that your daughter has volleyball practice, and that she doesn’t want to spend the weekend with you. “But,” you explain to the new spouse. “This is clearly a violation of my divorce decree, which entitles me to possession this weekend.”
Isn’t it illegal to violate the court order? And isn’t there a law against interfering with someone’s custody? Should I call law enforcement?
The above example, and scenarios like it, play out every weekend across Texas, and, every weekend, local law enforcement officers are forced to explain the difference between the criminal and family law justice systems. Whether you’re in Austin, Leander, Houston or Buda, the story will be the same.
The most likely response that the parent in the example above would receive from law enforcement is that the enforcement of the divorce decree or other custody order is a civil matter, and that the complaining parent will need to hire an attorney to enforce his or her rights under the decree. The officer may make an attempt to discuss the situation with the withholding parent, but the withholding parent will not be arrested on the scene unless he or she commits some criminal offense in the process.
But what about the new spouse informing you that you couldn’t take your daughter? Isn’t there a law against that? The answer is that, yes, Texas Penal Code §25.03 makes it a felony “when the person (withholding the child) knows that the person's taking or retention violates the express terms of a judgment or order, including a temporary order, of a court disposing of the child's custody.” It seems pretty clear that the new spouse has just committed a felony, right? Perhaps, but not until a court convicts them of it. As it stands, this section of the code, although on the books since 2005, remains woefully under-prosecuted by overloaded D.A.’s offices across the state.
While there are many parental rights groups around the state attempting to advocate and educate for stronger enforcement of Penal Code §25.03, the reality is that most police departments and sheriff’s offices in Texas train their officers and deputies to encourage custody issues to be resolved in family court with the assistance of attorneys.
At the Law Office of Brandon Bledsoe, we are sensitive to this painful reality, and we are poised to provide affordable service to potentially alienated parents. This is why we provide free twenty-minute consultations to discuss your issues and options. Please email us at email@example.com or call us at 512-944-3329 to set up a consultation. We’re here to help you enforce your rights.