HOUSTON, Texas – Arriving at your ex’s home to pick up your children, and they are either: not home, not ready, not willing, or your ex is not willing to let you see your children.
This is an issue facing thousands of Texans almost daily. Sadly, the Texas Legislature has not adequately armed these parents with any more than a civil lawsuit in already clogged Texas courts. But, a group of mothers and fathers are seeking to make significant changes in Texas at a grassroots level.
Led by the Children & Families Advocacy Fund of Texas, a group of mothers and fathers attended a DA sponsored roundtable discussion today on Interference with Child Custody (Ref. Texas Penal Code 25.03). Harris County Assistant District Attorney Carvana Cloud, and several dozen local law enforcement agencies discussed reasonable options in place of a missing legislative answer.
The issue of Interference with Child Custody prompted CFAFT Board Member, Michael Turi, who also heads up the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization of North Texas, to embark on a study of how law enforcement deals with the issue of Interference with Child Custody and found some shocking statistics.
After collecting data from 727 police departments and DAs and Sheriffs departments from all 254 counties over ten years, Turi and his team found there were 1.25 million divorces in Texas. These divorces affected over 1 million children across our state. Four of the five largest cities in Texas had zero arrests for the ten year period of our study. Of the 700 largest cities and towns 595 had no arrests at all in ten years.
“The Legislators in Austin took no input from law enforcement or the Department of Justice in writing this law,” said Turi. “This [law], as written, does not serve law enforcement, Justice or the many parents and children of Texas,” he added.
Today, as a result, tens of thousands of parents and children do not have their court-ordered possession time because one parent decides against it.
“This is the first step to parental alienation against the other parent,” said Turi.
What solutions exist?
Currently, the only solution to this issue given by the legislature is State Jail Felony. The cost and optics of District Attorney’s arresting custodial parents for denying visitation is not one many are ready to take on. The penalty in the eyes of many is not justified.
In July 2018, State Representative Richard Raymond convened a round table discussion group on this topic. Along with 8-9 District Attorneys the DA Association Executive Director, members of the Governor’s Staff and various advocates. At this meeting, each DA acknowledged that the issue is not going away and is, in fact, a growing concern.
Some solutions did arise from that meeting. Webb County’s representative outlined a novel solution, which has been in effect on a small scale since 2009.
1. Non-custodial parent arrives for child transfer. If denied, or child not available, non-custodial calls Law Enforcement.
2. A patrol officer will take a report.
3. If the custodial parent receives three reports within a “short period,” it is up to the non-custodial parent to take these reports to the District Attorney’s office.
4. DA reviews the reports and verifies possession Orders.
5. DA calls the custodial parent in for a meeting.
6. The custodial parent is given a warning and letter stating the consequences of continuing to deny possession.
Estimates are more than 98% of cases never go beyond this point.
Guadalupe Co. has since initiated its program, but is more hesitant to send patrol officers out to take a report.
1. Guadalupe Co will take reports from non-custodial parents at the Police station.
2. A non-custodial parent making reports is required to submit a copy of Judge’s Orders.
3. Every credible report is taken and logged into the computer.
4. Computer flags custodial parent when three reports within a given time frame are submitted.
5. Once a file is flagged by law enforcement for a violation, it is sent to District Attorney.
6. The District Attorney verifies the Judges Orders and sends out a certified letter to the custodial parent and a copy to the police department.
7. If the problem continues next police report triggers a second incident report to DA and a warrant is issued.
Both Counties Report
Minimal time spent on an ICC case.
It is easier to get a case through the grand jury because of the documented history.
The defendant has fewer options to oppose prosecution after a documented history of abuse of the law.
Through attorneys and word-of-mouth, word has spread that this statute is now getting enforced.
We hope that every county in Texas will adopt a similar approach and we can reunite children and parents across the state. Our efforts today were the first in many with Harris County.
Please pass this along with to anyone who needs to read this. We are in this fight for the long haul and hope you will join our efforts.