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Safety concerns in Texas child support cases

It is not uncommon (unfortunately) to find parents like you who are concerned about the safety of your children and yourself. Families like yours will go to great lengths to ensure that they are safe from a family member or former partner who has behaved violently towards them. However, if this person is a parent to your child then you have little choice but to move forward with a child support case if you are in need of the support.

Doing something as benign as applying for food stamps or Medicaid for your child can trigger a child support case to be filed by the Office of the Attorney General. That’s right- you don’t even have to file the case to have a child support case started on your behalf in the family courts of your home county. Keep in mind, however, that the Office of the Attorney General does not represent you. Their interests are to protect the state of Texas from paying for benefits for your child unnecessarily and to make sure your child has a basic amount of support from their mom and dad. The result of the child support case may be that you end up getting paid money but that is not the primary goal as far as the Office of the Attorney General is concerned.

You will not be provided with an attorney in a Texas child support court. You may have no idea about the legal system or even know what to do when you get to court. However, this is not a criminal case or a case where your parental rights may be terminated so the judge is not obligated to provide you with an attorney. The Attorney General, unsurprisingly, will have an attorney present but that lawyer represents the State of Texas. Do not get confused about this.

Can visitation exchanges occur at a place other than your residence?

I am writing this blog post from the perspective of the custodial parent. You are the custodial parent of your child if your child resides with you primarily and you are responsible for the day in and day out care for your child. Custodial parents have the right to receive and disburse child support payments for the benefit of their child.

Part of being the custodial parent is that your child’s non-custodial parent is responsible for the majority of the driving associated with pickups and drop-offs. In most family court orders the pickup and drop-off location will be your home. This gives things some predictability and also ensures consistency in the schedule for your child. For the most part, this is a nice thing for the custodial parent of a child. This means less time on the road and less hassle in getting from point A to point B.

However, this is not such a nice thing when you consider that if your child’s other parent is a safety threat to you or your child, you may not want him or her to be able to get near your home. If you have a significant other or are remarried this is a particularly combustible situation, to be sure. Is there any way to avoid putting yourself and your child into a situation like this?

A safe exchange spot may be agreed to or ordered by the judge. This means that a neutral, third-party location may be selected for exchanges to occur. Many folks use grocery store or restaurant parking lots as their preferred pick-up and drop-off zone. Still, others agree to have exchanges occur at police stations or substations. I have had clients videotape all exchanges to ensure proper protocol is followed. Whether or not this will leave a mark on their child developmentally is anyone's guess. Imagine a scenario where every time you say your parents are together they were taping the other to ensure that no funny business goes on.

Supervised visitation as a method to safeguard parents and children

Supervised visitation may also be ordered in your case. These visitation sessions can be held at a facility that caters to families like yours. These facilities have staff who are trained in administering supervised visits. Many times a third party can be agreed to supervise these visits. It doesn’t happen very often, but if you have a relative that your ex-spouse can trust that person may end up being a viable candidate to supervise visitation sessions and/or custody exchanges.

What are your options as far as visitation is concerned?

There are as many options for creating a visitation schedule as there are families in Texas. No two families are exactly alike, and likewise, you will not find many visitation orders that exactly resemble one another.

A Standard Possession Order (SPO) is what many families have in their court orders (or at least a variation on the SPO). However, if you have an ex-spouse or ex-partner who has acted violently with you or your child’s other parent in the past then it probably isn’t in the best interests of your child to have visitation this frequently.

There is a fair amount of coordination that is required for parents when visitation occurs in this way. Personal contact for you and the other parent is not a wise idea in all likelihood. Incidents of family violence or sexual abuse must be considered, by law, when a judge determines what sort of visitation structure is appropriate and in the best interests of your child.

If there is a significant threat of violence to your children or you then it may be the case that any level of visitation with the other parent is too much. You can ask the judge in child support court to deny or restrict visitation by a significant amount. This will be asking a lot (relatively speaking) from a family court judge so the burden is on you to produce evidence that shows domestic violence has occurred during the prior two-year period before your family case was filed. A judge must consider this type of evidence when deciding regarding primary conservatorship.

This means that you need to show a judge proof that supports your request to outright deny visitation with your children or to severely restrict visitation if it is ultimately allowed to occur. Supervised visitation is much more likely to be awarded than no visitation at all. However, extreme situations often call for extreme orders from a judge so do not discount the possibility that a denial of visitation for your child’s other parent could occur if the risk of harm to your kids is significant enough.

Have a backup plan in place in case a request for no visitation is denied. Who would you like to select as a supervisor of your child’s visitation sessions with the other parent? Is there someone who you think would have your child’s best interests at heart but would not be undesirable in the eyes of the other parent? If you can strike a balance between the two that would be the ideal situation. Where would you like the visitation exchanges to occur? Again, have a couple of different ideas to submit to the court. A public place is probably the most appropriate location if there is a history of violence in your home.

What exactly is supervised visitation?

We have used the term “supervised visitation” a few times today in our blog post but I have yet to tell you exactly what it is. You can probably figure out generally speaking what supervised visitation is just by looking at the term but I want to provide you with a little more information about what exactly supervised visitation means for families in Texas.

Supervised visitation allows your child’s other parent to visit with your child but it requires that all of their visits be supervised by a third party adult. This means that you are not able to act as the supervisor, although I’m not sure that you would want to be put into that situation in the first place. A family member, a family friend, or a supervisor at a supervision facility are all common choices for families when it comes to this subject. If you use a facility that does visitation supervision for a business, then you ought to know that these sessions are not free.

What should you do when you get your court date?

The biggest thing to keep in mind when you find out that you have a court date upcoming in your case is that you need to have a plan. Wandering into court (especially if you do not have an attorney) is a very bad idea. So you should work with your attorney well before your hearing date(s) to achieve a plan and a backup plan to accomplish whatever goals you have set out for yourselves.

Knowing the details of your plan in advance of the hearing will allow you to pinpoint weaknesses of your strategy and counteract them if and when your child's other parent/their attorney presents contrasting stories or evidence. You should have a calendar with a drawn-out plan of when the visitation sessions will occur and what the drop-off/pick-up will look like for your family.

Then, you ought to decide what you can negotiate and what elements of the plan are non-negotiable as far as you are concerned. Work with your attorney to explain the plan so you understand what you are asking for and how to defend the plan if called upon by the judge.

The evidence that you bring can be your words alone. You would not be the first person to go to court without any documentary evidence. However, I have found that having some degree of documentary evidence can really enhance a person’s case. What sort of evidence should you consider bringing to court?

One thing that I am almost certain that you have are old text messages between you and your child’s other parents that are violent in nature. For some reason, violent people tend to issue threats in writing- so use those text messages against him or her. Email or voicemails can also be used to show that person’s propensity to turn violent at a moment’s notice.

You can also bring friends and family members who have either witnessed violent acts or have heard threats of violence against you or your child. These should not be people that you have told about incidents like this. Rather, these are people that should be able to testify to their personal knowledge of violence that was instigated by the other parent.

Photos of injuries (that your attorney can authenticate as being accurate representations of past injuries), medical records showing injuries sustained and police reports that were collected as a result of past violence should also be brought to court. Multiple copies of each of these pieces of evidence would be ideal.

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Other Articles you may be interested in:

  1. Miscellaneous pieces of advice regarding your Child Protective Services investigation
  2. CPS and how The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC can help
  3. Child Custody Basics in Texas
  4. Texas Child Visitation Modification
  5. 10 Quick Tips About Parental Visitation
  6. Texas Parental Visitation – Texas Standard Possession Orders in Harris and Montgomery County, Texas – Part 1
  7. Supervised Visitation in a Texas Divorce: Can it happen to me?
  8. Texas Parental Relocation
  9. Geographic Restrictions in Child Visitation Orders in Texas
  10. 5 Things You Need to Know About Family Violence in Texas

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