Before Going to Court
To enforce a court order means that you are asking a judge to make another person follow an order. There are many ways to make a person do something – it usually involves some sort of punishment or threat of punishment. Parents are encouraged, and are required, to resolve disputes outside of court or in other ways before asking the court to get involved.
The OAG will help you set up and enforce the child support and medical support portion of an order; it cannot help you enforce the visitation portion of an order. Texas is one of a few states that establishes parenting/visitation orders as part of the child support establishment process. In most states, parents must pay a separate filing fee to get a parenting time order.
District or county courts handle visitation enforcement cases in Texas. Child support courts cannot handle these issues. Before going to court, you have several options:
- Try to work out the problem with the other parent. If you need help reaching an agreement, read about mediation and mediation alternatives here. You may also go to mediation voluntarily, or you may file a motion asking the court to send you and the other parent to mediation.
- Find an attorney to file a motion for enforcement on your behalf. You could hire a private attorney or find a legal aid attorney who can help you for free.
- Represent yourself in court using TexasLawHelp.org Visitation Kit
Mediators and Attorneys
The exchange of children for visitation can be frustrating for everyone involved. If you are having problems exercising your visitation rights, good records will assist you in court if you cannot solve the problems in mediation. If the exchanges are difficult, contact the other parent about meeting with a neutral third party to resolve on-going issues. Check your local listings for mediators or dispute resolution centers.
Your children want to see you. Children like to know who will pick them up. Parents can prevent surprises by letting the other parent know beforehand if someone else will be picking up or dropping off the child. Making a prior agreement is the only way your child will know who will pick them up or drop them off. Only court orders or subsequent changes adopted by the court are enforceable. The court cannot uphold an informal agreement.
If you need a copy of your court order, contact the clerk of the district court that heard your case. If you need help understanding your order, an attorney can explain it to you. Unless you qualify for free legal assistance from your local legal aid agency, the attorney will charge you a minimal fee for this service.
If you do not have an attorney, you can call an attorney toll free at the Access and Visitation hotline at 1 (866) 292-4636 between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Monday-Friday. Spanish-speaking attorneys are available. If there is a domestic relations office in the county that issued your order, contact it for assistance in interpreting the order and with enforcing visitation. Check your local listings for contact information. The domestic relations office will not have a copy of your court order.
A Domestic Relations Office can enforce parenting time
Check to see if your county has a domestic relations office (DRO) that enforces parenting time (possession) orders. A domestic relations office is a governmental entity available in some larger metropolitan counties. A DRO is called a “friend of the court” and can address court orders issued by the county or contiguous counties. The DRO does not represent either parent; its goal is to get both parties to follow their current court order. The DRO tries to help families reduce conflicts and cooperatively parent their child without external help. DROs require noncustodial parents to document a minimum number of attempts to follow the court order where the NCP was denied access to the child.
You may also go to mediation voluntarily or you may do it yourself and file a motion asking the court to send you and the other parent to mediation. See the YouTube video explaining family mediation in Texas.
This link takes you to TexasLawHelp.org Custody and Visitation Legal Resources page, where you can download free forms that may assist you.
A domestic relations office cannot modify your order for you. Read more about modification of visitation.
After you submit an application for enforcement services, an attorney will screen the application for eligibility. The attorney will help one or both eligible parents understand the order, and how to follow it.
Most DROs require both parents to make multiple efforts to resolve the issues before going to court. Efforts will include parent education classes for both parents, counseling if indicated; in-house mediation, and possibly supervised visitation or neutral exchanges of the child during a cooling down period.
If the noncustodial parent cooperates with the DRO and the custodial parent does not, the DRO could file a contempt motion. The DRO does not represent the CP or NCP but presents the case to the court for enforcement purposes. Although rare, a custodial parent could be jailed and/or sentenced to probation for refusing parenting time in accordance with the court order. Any or all of the services listed above could be court-ordered. Again, the goal is for parents to cooperatively parent their child instead of a court telling them what to do.
The OAG helps establish parenting orders but cannot enforce them. Parents can file a lawsuit asking the court to penalize the other parent for violating the court order. Most courts will order parents into mediation first. Penalties might include requiring the offending parent give you make-up parenting time, to pay fees and fines, or in serious cases, to go to jail or be placed on probation. You also may have the option of suing the other parent, and asking the court for damages. Damages could include attorney’s fees, other costs you’ve had to pay, or money to make up for problems the other parent caused.
Sometimes the problem is that the visitation schedule just doesn’t work for you, your child, or the other parent. People have very different schedules, and a standard visitation schedule may not fit your life. In this case, you can work out an alternate visitation schedule with the other parent.
Denial of Visitation Time
If you cannot reach an agreement, you can ask the court to change your visitation schedule so that it’s a better fit. This is called a modification. Learn more about how to modify a visitation/possession order. Keep a journal of dates and times you are denied time with your child(ren) as evidence to support your complaint. You must maintain an accurate journal to enforce your visitation/possession rights in court. Update the journal when the denial occurs while the events are fresh. A denial occurs when you physically go to the appointed place (as listed in the court order) to meet or pick up your child(ren) at the exact time ordered by the court, and you are denied access to your child(ren). If a reason is given for the denial, be sure to record that reason in this journal.
A denial does not include notification by phone or electronically before the scheduled date and time of the visit that you will be denied access. Record calls or texts in your journal every time they happen. You still need to go to the approved place for meeting and picking up your child(ren) at the exact time stated in the court order, and record the event if you want to seek enforcement of your visitation rights.
If possible, have a witness present at the denial. Ask someone who can be available to testify in court if necessary. Keep that person’s name, address, and phone number. It may not be a good idea to have the witness be your significant other or spouse. If the exchange site is at a commercial business, such as a fast food restaurant, buy an item and keep the receipt as evidence of the time and date you were there. Keep this receipt. A record of at least three denials within a brief time span is helpful if going to court.
If you are denied access to your child when you arrive, leave and record the denial. Do not cause a scene. Before the next scheduled date, contact the other parent to see if you can pick up the children at a convenient place other than that parent’s home, such as an aunt or grandparent’s home or a child friendly place of business.
The journal must include these items for the court:
- Date of denial
- Time of denial
- What occurred at the denial (i.e., no one answered the door, you were told to go away, you were told your child(ren) were not home, etc.)
- Names of any witnesses to the denial
If the court finds that there has been fighting, verbal abuse, or physical violence at the exchanges, the court may order you to exchange the children at a neutral site and may require one or both of you to pay the costs. Additionally, the court may prevent visitation when family violence is a risk.
You cannot claim you were denied visitation unless you actually appear in person at the pick-up location listed in your court order, even if the other parent has already told you that he or she will not be there or will not be giving you your child.