Child Custody Disputes Parent-Child Relationship

Interference with Child Custody in Texas: Civil or Criminal Matter?

Although we often think of interference with child custody to be purely a civil matter, as one Texas state lawmaker found out recently, it’s both:

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez was indicted in a bitter, child custody dispute with an ex-wife who once filed to run against him for office.

Martinez, D-Weslaco, surrendered to law enforcement authorities Friday on an interfering with child custody charge and was then released on a personal recognizance bond, his attorney, Fernando Mancias, confirmed Monday. Martinez has been embroiled in an extensive child custody battle with his ex-wife, Jessica Reyes, over a visitation schedule for their son, Kuentin.

Clients often ask me whether they can call the police if the other parent somehow violates the child custody order by not turning their child over to them.  The problem with the question is that there is a difference between what the law says and how it’s enforced.  Generally, most law enforcement officers do have the power to enforce a Texas child custody order.  Many law enforcement officers, however, are reluctant to get involved in such disputes.  The universal line my clients hear from the officer is, “This is a civil matter.  Talk to your attorney.”  We usually then plan on filing a motion to enforce the order.

This news story, however, illustrates an instance where criminal charges can be used:

Although the Weslaco police officers responded to the initial complaint, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office took over the case.

District Attorney Rene Guerra said he presented the case to a grand jury after Reyes approached him about numerous complaints she’s made over noncompliance with visitation rights. Guerra said Martinez was not allowing visitation on the dates that were assigned by the court order.

But he said prosecutors pursued the issue — rather than sorting it out in family court — because of a lack of progress on the case. Court records indicate an extensive legal battle between Reyes and Martinez, spanning several cases and eight years.

“A lot of the judges are not doing their job,” Guerra said. “There’s too many people saying too many things in the courtroom, and sometimes judges don’t want to decide.”

The candid nature of the district attorney’s assessment of the family courts here is very surprising.  I doubt we have reached this point in Harris County, but the lesson to be learned here is that criminal charges are a tool that can be used.  Whether it is used or not often depends largely on the priorities of law enforcement and prosecutors.  In the meantime, however, a good Texas child custody attorney can assist you in resolving your child custody disputes through civil tools, such as motions for enforcement.

If you have a Texas child custody dispute, contact our Houston child custody attorney, Bobby L. Warren, at 713-579-9702.