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Facing difficult safety issues regarding a Texas family law matter? Read this blog post

The safety and well-being of you and your child are the most important things in your life. If you begin a family law case and ask a judge to make decisions for your child, he or she will do so keeping the best interests of your child in mind. The entire family law process is designed to arrive at outcomes that allow your child to be in the best position possible to be safe and to thrive in their young life.

In your life, if your child's other parent presents a real risk of harm to your child then you likely will not want your child to see him or her. There may even be court orders in place that state you have to allow your child to see that parent based on a visitation schedule. Therefore, you may find yourself in a tough position- needing to choose between the safety of your child and abiding by the terms of a court order.

Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to address many of the most important safety issues that are relevant to family law cases in Texas.

What to do if you don’t want your child to see their other parent but an order says you have to?

Let’s explore the topic I raised just a moment ago in the introduction to today’s blog post. Suppose that you have a court order in place from a prior divorce or child custody case that obligates you to allow your child to see their other parent on a certain schedule. If that is the case, then you are bound to follow that order unless and until the order is modified by a judge. So, if you are refusing to allow your child to see their other parent for any reason, you technically in violation of that court order.

You are required to follow the court order, this much we know. If you knowingly violate a court order you are subject to being held in contempt of court. The punishments associated with being held in contempt can include monetary fines, being assessed attorney’s fees and even serving time in jail (for extreme situations).

An option that you have available to you is to talk to your child's other parent to see if you can sort out whatever issues you have with him or her. Sometimes all it takes is a simple expression of your concern to find out that you have nothing to worry about. Setting boundaries and receiving assurances that he or she will act appropriately and not present any risk of harm to your child can give you a greater peace of mind that you may have had previously.

However, if there is an immediate danger to your child that the other parent presents you should call 9-1-1 or Child Protective Services, depending on the immediacy of the threat presented to your child. For instance, if your child's other parent shows up for a visitation session intoxicated then you should call the police before he or she can get your child in their vehicle. In that case, you can also report your child's other parent to Child Protective Services due to that parent engaging in neglectful behavior.

What if your ex-spouse and/or their partner is a threat to your child?

Once your family law case is over with there isn't much you can do to keep your ex-spouse or ex-significant other from getting involved romantically with another person. About the only protection, you have in your orders is something to the tune of if your child's other parent begins a relationship with a registered sex offender then you need to be notified. Otherwise, the judge has no right to tell the other parent who they can and cannot have a relationship with.

This all becomes relevant when and if your child’s other parent begins a relationship with a person that not only do you not approve of or like, but that person is a threat to your child’s safety. If your ex-spouse becomes a threat then you have twice as many elements to be concerned with. Again, if any danger is perceived by you to be immediate, you need to call 9-1-1. If you are in doubt, call 9-1-1. The last thing you want to do is ignore your instincts and not call the authorities when you should have.

Otherwise, you should make a good faith effort to speak to the other parent about the situation that is giving you cause for concern. It would be very issued to make this a personal battle between you and the other parent. Believe me, many parents choose to go that route and the end result is not pretty. People get defensive when you question them about their relationship choices. People get especially defensive when the person questioning them is a former spouse.

You should couch every conversation you have with your concern for your child. Saying things like, “I don’t think…” or “If I were you…” are sure-fire ways to have that conversation go badly, accomplish nothing and at the end of the day you have no peace of mind and your child still faces a risk of harm. Remember that your ex-spouse wants your child to be safe as well. If you have heard something from your child about their new partner’s behavior it is your duty to relay that your ex-spouse. Once you tell her it is her responsibility to act on it.

What I will tell clients to do is to work with me to come up with a solution that does not involve going to court. What do you think a reasonable response would be to your concerns? You can start off small and then work your way towards something that protects your child and allows your ex-spouse to maintain some autonomy over their personal life.

If your ex-spouse does not listen to you or is unreceptive to your ideas, then you have two options. You can call 9-1-1 if the situation is an emergency or you can contact Child Protective Services and they will investigate the situation further as long as there is sufficient evidence to show that what you say is substantiated. Follow up by requesting a protective order through a court and then a modification of the prior orders if you have sufficient evidence and cause.

What impact does a protective order have on a visitation order?

A valid protective order that addresses parenting time or visitation takes precedence over a typical family court order. However, if your protective order has expired then the court order is still controlling. If you are going to court now and have had a protective order against the other parent in the past two years a judge must consider that past order as evidence.

Filing for child support through a private attorney or the Attorney General? Read this first

Leaving an abusive relationship is sometimes more difficult than many people would imagine. If you are in the process of planning an exit from that sort of relationship then you should know that violence can sometimes accompany a breakup. This can happen even if you have had no history of violence in your relationship.

What do you need to know about child support court?

You are not going to be provided with an attorney in child support court. There will be at least one attorney in your hearing, the Assistant Attorney General. That lawyer represents the best interests of the state and of your child. He or she may do things that benefit you, or may even appear to be making arguments that are in your favor. However, you are not their client and they owe you nothing as far as representing or advising you.

There is no requirement that you have an attorney representing you in child support court. You will need to hire a private attorney to represent you if you would like. A family law attorney should be able to handle child support matters and the protective order request that may be important in a case like yours. Through local shelters and assistance ministries, you may be able to receive free or significantly reduced legal bills or medical bills.

You will more than likely come into contact with your child's other parent in court. It is not as if you will be sitting next to him or her, but you will probably see her- especially if you go before the judge for a hearing. If you are needing to present testimony about a history of family violence, then you should be prepared to answer questions or give a statement in front of your child's other parent. A child support order will cover subjects in addition to child support like custody, visitation, medical support, and conservatorship.

What about if it is your grandchild’s safety that you are concerned with?

As a grandparent, you have fewer rights to act on behalf of a child than you might imagine. The best thing that you do is to monitor the situation with your grandchild and parents closely and call 9-1-1 if you believe there is a serious risk of immediate harm. Protective orders can be sought through courts and modifications to custody orders can be achieved, but those require some hoops to jump through for grandparents. You are best served by hiring an experienced family law attorney if that is the route you wish to take.

You are able to become the managing conservator of your grandchild. This means that you would take on the primary responsibility of caring for him or her on a day in and day out basis. In the event that you want to be the only managing conservator of your grandchild, it will be especially difficult to do in Texas. There is a presumption in our state that parents act in the best interests of their child in whatever they do. Part of that presumption impacts the belief that both of your grandchild’s parents should always be managing conservators of him or her. In order to overcome that presumption, you must be able to show that it is in your grandchild's best interests to live with you.

When would you have the best opportunity to win primary custody of your grandchild?

In the event that one of your grandchild’s parents has voluntarily given up your child to you or both of your child grandchild’s parents are deceased, then you would have the best opportunity possible to win primary custody of him or her from a family court. As I mentioned a moment ago, however, if this is a route that you wish to take it is advisable that you hire an attorney to represent and guide you through this process. It is difficult enough to be able to establish that you have the standing necessary to make these arguments to a judge, not mention actually winning the case and convincing a judge to send the child home with you.

In need of additional information about family violence and visitation? Check out tomorrow’s blog post

If you are interested in learning more about this topic please head back to our blog tomorrow. We will be writing more about this subject in hopes of providing you with some perspective on this important subject.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about today’s blog post subject matter please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations here in our office six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and receive direct feedback from an experienced family law attorney.

Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to represent clients in all of the family courts in southeast Texas. We aim to help clients achieve their goals and to put their interests first in everything that we do.

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