The Dirty Trick of Using Children as Weapons in Your Texas Divorce

One of the saddest things I have observed during Texas divorce proceedings is when parents start to use their children as weapons. This can take several different forms:

  1. Withholding the children altogether from the other parent
  2. Making visitation contingent on paying support or some other factor
  3. Running away with the children to another city or state
  4. Engaging in parental alienation
  5. Crying Regarding Family Violence
  6. Coaching the children to lie

In today’s blog we will discuss some of these dirty tricks as well as the steps that can be taken should your ex start to do some of these things.

Withholding your Children

Unfortunately, during Texas divorce proceedings, parents can let their feelings toward their ex cloud their judgement. Sometimes these feelings cause them to play games to punish their ex out of anger or fear. The thing I observe most frequently is parents withholding the children from the other parent and failing to consider what is in the best interest of their children.

The excuse I hear for this is generally they do not want to let the other parent have the children because they are afraid that the other parent will not give them back. They engage in the very same activity they fear from the other parent.

You React to Spousal Starving

Maybe you decide to react to your spouse’s bad behavior of cleaning out the joint bank account and leaving you broke. As you result, you decide to get back at them by not allowing them time with the children.

First, if a court order that addresses custody and visitation rights is in place and a spouse does not comply with the order, he or she can be held in contempt and even end up in jail.

Withholding children by either parent is not a good idea:

  1. The court does not like when parents withhold children from each other
  2. It violates standing orders in counties that have them
  3. If there is an existing temporary order, this would be a violation of that order

When there is no order or agreement in place things become more complicated. This is usually the problem at the beginning of cases. If a parent engages in using the children as pawns prior to an order being in place, a judge will take that into account and there very well may be consequences.

Extreme Circumstances

Withholding children should be avoided unless there are extreme circumstances. These circumstances could include family violence or other concerns regarding a parent endangering children.

Other activities may rise to the level where withholding the children may be permissible. It would be a good idea to discuss any concerns with a Texas divorce lawyer.

Visitation Contingent on Paying Support

In many people’s minds, time with children is somehow contingent on the payment of child support. Prior to a court order, there is nothing telling parents what they can and cannot do.

As we discussed above, courts do not like when parents decide to withhold the children from the other parent. Lack of support is not a good excuse. Withholding children may well get a parent in trouble. Lack of support is something a court will look at once the parties are in front of the judge for a hearing. However, a judge will not accept that as an excuse for withholding the children.

Once there are orders in place, the lack of connection between support and visitation becomes much clearer.

Texas Family Code Section 105.006 requests every Parenting Order to include the following language in capitalized bold type:


In fact, judges are not even permitted to order support but disallow any physical access to the child when they deem it to be in the “best interest of the child.” This usually happens in severe cases such as abuse or some sort of child endangerment.

Running Away with the Children

This is one of the more frustrating situations that can have significant legal consequences if ignored. There are two different scenarios that our office encounters regarding parents who abscond with the children:

  1. Before divorce paperwork is filed and
  2. After divorce paperwork is filed.

Before Paperwork Filed with the Court

Prior to a divorce, unless there are court orders regarding the children, parents are free to do what they want with the children, including run away with them. This causes a great deal of problems with the parent whose children were just taken away.

Usually the parents are extremely upset when we meet them and want to know what they can do about it. We explain the next step involves filing paperwork and getting some orders in place, letting them know what their rights are, and when it’s their time to have the children.

If the parent did not ignore the bad behavior of the ex and files in time, we can usually force that parent to move back to the area. However, if they waited too long, they may have to go fight the custody battle where their ex moved to which could include travelling to a new state or country.

After Paperwork is Filed with the Court

If you’re in the middle of a divorce or a child custody dispute, it is a very bad idea to run away with the children because:

  1. If there are court orders, you may no longer have the right to relocate with the child.
  2. If you ignore a pending case, the other parent may be able to get orders appointing themselves as the primary parent. These orders may also severely limit your access to the child.

Engaging in Parental Alienation

Another tactic some unscrupulous parents will engage in during a divorce is intentionally trying to alienate the children from the other spouse to hurt the other spouse or to decrease time the other parent has with the children.

Parental alienation can take many different forms including:

  1. Preventing contact between the other parent or preventing the ex to see the children more than a couple of hours a week supervised
  2. Intercepting phone calls and mail from the other parent
  3. Continuously and repeatedly talking badly to the children about the other parent
  4. Creating fear in the child regarding the other parent
  5. Acting hurt or betrayed when the other child wants to see the other parent or shows affection for the other parent.

These can be serious cases when parental alienation is involved. Generally, one of the first maneuvers is to get experts involved such as:

  1. Psychologists who are trained in spotting and dealing with alienation
  2. Amicus attorney to represent the child

Crying Wolf

Sadly, domestic violence can be an all too real thing for men people going through divorce in Texas. In many cases, domestic violence is the reason for the separation and Texas divorce proceedings. In other cases, the violence actually starts as a result of the divorce proceedings.

Texas Takes Domestic Violence Seriously

Texas takes domestic violence issues very seriously and our laws allow for victims to seek relief from a judge very quickly. A victim of domestic violence can be granted relief by:

  1. Being awarded possession of the marital home
  2. Obtaining a protective order against the aggressor
  3. The aggressor not being allowed with in so many feet of the marital home or the victim’s place of employment
  4. The aggressor losing the right to possess a firearm
  5. Temporary custody of the children
  6. The aggressor losing the presumption that joint custody of the children is in their best interest

Texas Domestic Violence Law as a Weapon

Unfortunately, the same law that is used to protect victims can be used as a weapon against an innocent party. This perhaps can be one of most serious and potentially damaging tactics in a divorce case.

A victim in Texas of domestic violence can:

  1. Have an ex-parte meeting with a judge (without the other spouse present), and if the judge believes the victim’s story, the victim can be granted emergency custody of the children.
  2. Later there will be a hearing in court within 10 days of the ex-parte order where evidence can be presented.
  3. However, the ex parte emergency custody order stays in place until that hearing.

Our office has not seen this manipulation of the Texas domestic violence laws often; however it is a dirty trick you should aware of.

It is something I bring up and caution clients about. Generally, I tell them if there is any question in their mind that their ex might make something up about them to:

  1. Remove themselves from the situation and do not be alone with their ex without witnesses.
  2. Record their interactions with their ex

One of the few things worse than going through a divorce proceeding is to be going through a divorce proceeding and having to defend against criminal charges.

Coaching the Children to Lie

Another tactic parents sometimes try is to coach their children to lie. This has come up in a few of my cases and, when discovered, it goes badly for the parent who is discovered. A couple of the ways I have observed parents being caught are when:

  1. There is an amicus involved or
  2. A judge has been asked to interview the child

In the case with the amicus, the amicus caught the mother coaching the children and placing recording devices on the children. The amicus in that case recommended the father not only be the primary parent for the children but also have sole managing conservatorship.

In the case with the judge, apparently one of the first questions the judge asked the children is what have your parents told you to tell me.

Divorce can be extremely hard on the children. They often do not understand the reasons for the divorce, feel caught in the middle, and many times wish the parents would get back together. When parents are focused on “winning,” they often lose sight of what is in the best interest of the children.

Unfortunately, coaching or prepping children is not a rare occurrence. The good news is that it is frequently discovered as in the above examples. If child testimony seems rehearsed and the children appear coached generally very little weight will be placed on their testimony.

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  2. Parental Alienation in Texas: What is it and What can it mean for your family?
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  12. Can I get child support while my Texas divorce is pending?
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Spring Divorce Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it’s important to speak with one of our Spring, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.

Our divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Spring, Texas, Cypress, Spring, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.

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