Law Enforcement, Child Safety, and Visitation Disagreements
Child Protective Services (CPS)
Here, learn about possible outcomes if you call law enforcement about custody and visitation disputes. If a child seems to be in danger, it is common for the police to make a report to CPS. If you believe that a crime is being committed or that a child is at risk of immediate harm, you can call your local law enforcement and ask them to do a welfare check or respond to a criminal situation. You can call 9-1-1 for emergency situations and 3-1-1 for non-emergency situations.
Does law enforcement get involved with disagreements about visitation?
Generally, no. Law enforcement will usually consider these disagreements to be a civil matter, and not something that they do. There are considerable difficulties with enforcing these orders on the spot, and police are not always able to accurately interpret the language of a court order, especially if it was not clearly written. Law enforcement may not consider this to be their job—if no one is in danger or is breaking a law that is a priority for them, then they may think it best to stay out of it and let a family court decide the matter.
Enforcing the Order
Every final conservatorship order in Texas is supposed to say:
NOTICE TO ANY PEACE OFFICER OF THE STATE OF TEXAS: YOU MAY USE REASONABLE EFFORTS TO ENFORCE THE TERMS OF CHILD CUSTODY SPECIFIED IN THIS ORDER.
Based on this language, an officer may choose to tell the parties what to do and expect it done, such as telling one parent to let the other parent take the children according to the court-ordered visitation schedule. If a parent refuses to cooperate with law enforcement, there may be serious consequences.
If law enforcement does get involved, they might ask to see a court order, so do have a certified copy of your court orders available.
Charging a Person with a Crime
An example of a crime that a person could be charged with for not following a visitation order is Interference with Child Custody, a state jail felony. Law enforcement may decide whether to use this and will sometimes threaten to arrest a parent who refuses to follow the visitation order.
There could also be other charges brought against a parent who refuses to cooperate with law enforcement, such as Interference with Public Duties or any other charge that involves getting in the way of law enforcement while they are trying to do their job. Although people are not frequently arrested for violating visitation orders, these charges are sometimes used in different areas of the state.
Make a Police Report
Sometimes law enforcement will say that they cannot help because it is a civil matter, but they will make a police report in order to create a written record of what happened.
This record can be helpful if you want to enforce an order and needs to prove that the other parent did not follow the order.
Conduct a Welfare Check
Law enforcement may choose to treat the situation as a simple welfare check; this generally means that they will go to the other parent’s residence to check on the child and make sure everyone is safe. If no one is at the home or no one answers the door, there is usually nothing else the police can do to complete a welfare check.
What should I do if there is an emergency that involves the safety of a child?
If there is an immediate risk to a child’s safety, the fastest way to respond is to call and report it to law enforcement. Anyone can call 911 and report an emergency. Examples of an emergency may include a young child left home alone, active violence taking place toward a child or another adult while the child is present, or a child in the car with someone who is driving while intoxicated.
All Texans are required by law to report child abuse and neglect to Statewide Intake (CPS) as soon as they find out about it. Although CPS can respond quickly to child abuse and neglect, it will not be as fast as law enforcement. In emergency situations where there has been child abuse and neglect, it may be appropriate to report to law enforcement and CPS.
I want help and information on dealing with Child Protective Services.
Child Protective Services (CPS)
CPS InvestigationsThis article explains CPS investigations.
CPS TimelineAn overview of the timeline of Child Protective Services involvement.
Child Custody and ConservatorshipLearn about Texas custody orders.