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Report finds inconsistent enforcement of child custody charges

The unfortunate reality for some divorced parents is that they may encounter difficulties seeing their children despite the existence of court orders expressly granting them custody or visitation rights.

Interestingly, while the Texas Penal Code has a provision in place to hold parents accountable for interfering with child custody, a recent report by an El Paso-based television station found that police departments across the state are actually failing to enforce them.

Section 25.03 of the Texas Penal Code provides that interference with child custody occurs when "the person 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." The crime is classified as a state jail felony punishable by up to two years of incarceration.

Acting on a tip from the local attorney that police departments across the state are choosing to treat interference with child custody as a civil matter as opposed to a criminal matter, the television station requested written policies and 2012 arrest figures from the five largest police departments in the Lone Star State.  

Shockingly, the television station discovered that the police departments in El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin either had no written policies in place for interference with child custody and/or made relatively few arrests for the crime in 2012.

"For some reason, and I don't know the reason, it's the policy across the state of Texas to not enforce interference with child custody," said the attorney who tipped off the television station.

According to experts, when police departments choose to treat these matters as civil rather than criminal, its fathers who typically suffer the most. Here, they may see their visitation rights denied over and over again, losing out on precious time with their children that they can never get back despite their best efforts.

"I know it's illegal to interfere with the lawful custody of a child, and most officers will simply explain that it's a civil matter, they can't help it's beyond their jurisdiction, the most they can do is file a report," said one frustrated father.

It remains to be seen what impact this rather eye-opening story will have. Here's hoping that it will cause police officials and district attorneys across the state to perhaps change their approach.

Those fathers with concerns about child custody, visitation rights or relocations here in Texas should strongly consider speaking with an experienced fathers' rights attorney dedicated to protecting their best interests in negotiations and contested hearings.

Source: KFOX-14, "Special report: Interference with child custody not enforced in Texas," Bill Melugin, Feb. 3, 2014; Texas Penal Code, "Sec. 25.03," 2014

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