Frequently Asked Questions

Safety Concerns

I don’t want the child to see one or both birth parents anymore, even though the court order gives them visitation rights.

The current court order continues until the judge approves a modification. All parties under a court order are required to follow the order. Failure to follow the order, with certain exceptions, can result in contempt of the court’s order, and the punishment could include fines and jail time. If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected). If the parent shows up for visitation and is intoxicated or showing other signs of danger, call the police and report the incident.

If you and the parents are having a disagreement, see if the parties will voluntarily go to mediation or ask the court to order all parties into mediation. Read more about mediation here: Mediation and Mediation Alternatives.

Your next step may be to seek a protective order and modification of the current order to a more restrictive schedule. Talk to an attorney about your options, call the Access and Visitation hotline, or visit www.texaslawhelp.org for do-it-yourself forms.

I am concerned about the safety of my grandchild.

If you think the child is in serious and immediate danger by continuing to live with a parent (or parents), call 9-1-1 in the case of an emergency. Call Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

You may also be able to get emergency relief in the form of a protective order and follow up with a suit to modify conservatorship.

It is possible for a grandparent or other non-parent to become a managing conservator. It can be very difficult, especially if you want to be the ONLY managing conservator. The Texas Family Code says that a parent or both parents should always be a managing conservator unless it is not in the child’s best interest (because it would significantly hurt the child’s physical health or emotional development). You must prove to the court that living with you is in the child’s best interest.

A court may be more likely to appoint you managing conservator if:

  • the parent has voluntarily given up the child to you or some other person or agency; or
  • both of the child’s parents are dead.

There may be other reasons as well. Contact an attorney for advice and assistance. An attorney can help you file a motion to modify the court order. Read more about motions to modify. Also, check with your local law library for the forms to file the motion to modify yourself or go to www.texaslawhelp.org. The process will be much easier if the parent agrees that you should become the managing conservator.

What should I do if I think the other parent (or someone who lives with the other parent) may be a danger to my child?

If the danger is immediate, call 911. If the danger is not immediate or serious, talk to the other parent about your concerns. Do not make the issue personal; put the focus on keeping your child safe. Think about what the other parent could do to make you more comfortable with the situation, and come up with a plan together.

If the other parent does not listen to your concerns, and the danger is immediate; call law enforcement. If the danger is not immediate, a protective order may be appropriate. Follow the protective order with a request that the court modify your visitation order. If you think that the child is in serious and immediate danger, contact 911(in the case of an emergency) and/or Child Protective Services at 1 (800)-252-5400 if you believe the child is being abused or neglected.

Talk with an attorney about your options.

Does a protective order affect a visitation order?

A current protective order (not expired) addressing parenting time or visitation takes precedence over another court order. If you have a protective order that addressed parenting time and the protective order has expired, another valid order is the controlling order. If you have a current order giving you visitation rights or access to your child, an expired protective order does not affect those rights.

If there is no court order, an expired protective order is evidence of a history or pattern of family violence. If the protective order is less than 2 years old, the judge must consider it. If it is more than 2 years old, it is an option the judge may consider.

How will my concerns about my safety be handled if I apply for or get referred to the child support system?

If you are planning to leave an abusive relationship, you should be aware that violence and abuse often escalates during periods of separation and when someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

Information about the child support process in Texas is provided to help survivors of family violence with information to make informed choices about paternity establishment, child support, conservatorship (custody), access, and visitation. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

CAUTION — Online Safety: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

 

  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and talk to someone who can help you think through your options, safety plan with you, and talk about your concerns. The Hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, every day at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233). For the deaf and hearing impaired: 1 (800)-787-3224 (TTY).
  • Create a safety plan before you leave, file for divorce, or apply for child support. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to keep yourself and your children safe. You can learn more about safety planning and ways to think through the steps you need to take before you leave the relationship by calling the Hotline or by visiting their website at: http://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/
  • Reevaluate your safety plan as your situation and / or safety concerns change.
  • Consider calling your local family violence program or local hotline to safety plan, to find out about what services would be available for you and your children, including emergency shelter if you need it. Your local program may also be able to provide you with an advocate to possibly go with you to child support court. If you are interested in having an advocate assist you through the child support process, some family violence programs across Texas can provide you with that support. For more information about services in your area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-(800) 799-SAFE or go to the Texas Council on Family Violence service provider search page.
  • If safe to do so, talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises.
  • Tell the Attorney General’s Office about your safety concerns when you apply for child support. The OAG can put a Family Violence Indicator on your case in order to route your case to court to provide some safety measures and can ask for a Nondisclosure Finding from the Judge that will keep your address confidential in court records.
  • If you are assigned to appear for a Child Support Review Process (CSRP), then your case IS NOT yet marked as a family violence case. If there has been a history of domestic violence or other abuse in your relationship with the other parent, you should inform the Attorney General’s Office. If you report the past violence, a family violence indicator will be placed on your case, and you will not be asked to participate in a CSRP. This means that you will go in front of the judge, instead, and he or she will decide how to set up visitation.
  • Prepare and safety plan in advance for the different phases of the child support process.
    • after the other parent being served / notified about the child support case and leading up to the court date
    • the actual court hearing
    • directly following the hearing

    See the Get Child Support Safely website for more information about preparing for court and the court process.

  • Bring any current or prior protective orders with you, if available.
Things to know about court:
  • You will not be provided with an attorney for your child support hearing.  In court, there will be an Assistant Attorney General (AAG) present, but this attorney represents the best interest of the state and the best interest of the child(ren).  The AAG does not represent you or the other parent.   
  • You are not required to have an attorney with you at child support court hearings, but if you would like legal representation, you have to find your own attorney. If there has been a history of family violence, find an attorney who is knowledgeable in both family law and family violence matters. You may be eligible for an attorney through your local Legal Aid provider. To access information about this potential option, go to http://texaslawhelp.org/find-legal-help.
  • At court, you should not be required to negotiate in the same room or at the same table as the other parent.
  • Keep in mind that even though the OAG will take steps to keep parents separated at court, you may still see the other parent and may have to be in the same waiting area.
  • If a hearing is required, you may also have to stand before the judge near the other parent. Also, keep in mind that you will be required to testify about the family violence in front of the judge with the abuser present.
  • The child support order established by the court will address paternity (if necessary), child support, medical support, custody (conservatorship) and visitation (possession and access).
    • For visitation orders, consider requesting the exchange of children at a safe exchange site or via a neutral third party, if needed.
    • The court may also order supervised visitation. Supervised visits can be held at a professional facility that has trained staff to supervise visits, if available in your area, or if you and the other parent can agree upon a neutral third party, that third party can supervise visits. See the next section for more information on this topic.
Options for Parenting Time/Visitation

standard possession order may not be in the best interest of your child if the other parent has acted violently in the past. Texas law says that a court must consider past instances of family violence or sexual abuse in determining whether to deny, restrict, or limit parenting time with a child.

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation: if the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

Supervised Visitation: allows the other parent to visit with his or her children, but requires that all visits be supervised by another adult. The adult can be a friend or family member, or supervision can be provided by a professional agency that provides the service for a fee. Call your local domestic violence shelter or other advocacy group to find out about the services in your area. You can also find a listing of supervised visitation options online [these centers often charge for their services]:

Denied, Limited or Restricted Parenting Time/Possession/Visitation

If the threat of violence to your children is too great to permit visitation with the other parent, you can ask the judge to deny, limit or restrict visitation. You will need to provide evidence that domestic violence or abuse has occurred during the two years before your case started. The Texas Family Code, Section 153.004, requires the court to consider such evidence in the appointment of conservators and in making decisions regarding custody, access and visitation. A judge is more likely to grant supervised visitation than no visitation at all unless you can show that your situation is extreme. Be prepared to bring proof that supports your request. Even if you plan to ask for no visitation, prepare a backup plan for supervised visitation that includes a list of possible supervisors. Think about which days of the week and times that visitation will work best for your child. Think about two or three possible locations for the exchange. If you do not feel safe or comfortable with the other parent coming to your house, suggest that the exchange take place at a safe, public place.

I am worried about my safety if I file for child support.

f you are planning to leave a relationship, be aware that physical violence often escalates during periods of separation and around the time that someone files for divorce or child support. This can be true even if the relationship was not previously physically violent.

If you are worried about your safety, take these steps to protect yourself:

Talk to family and friends about what is going on so that they can be prepared to help you and your family if the need arises. You can get child support safely.

Office of Attorney General – Stay Safe, Get Support video

The child’s parent wants the child back, but I don’t think it is a good idea.

Depending on the level of threat to the child, refusing to return the child might be a valid option if you think the child is in imminent danger. If possible, speak with an attorney about your situation before taking any action. For general legal information, call 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.

Talk with the parent about your concerns, and try to work out a solution that allows the child to stay with you. If the parent has been away a long time, talk about making any transition as easy on the child as possible. You could offer to take the child to the new home for progressively longer visits to the new home for a gradual transition.

If talking to the parent doesn’t work and the danger to the child is immediate, call 9-1-1 (for an emergency) or CPS at 1 (800)-252-5400 (if you suspect the child is being abused or neglected).

Tips for Court

Have a Plan.

It will be easier if you know the details of the plan you want and have a backup plan. Get a calendar and mark up an ideal parenting schedule so you can see what it looks like.  The Office of the Attorney General publishes such a calendar called the My Sticker Calendar (PDF download). Then, note the areas you are willing to change and the ones you feel are too important to change. Prepare one or two best alternatives to your plan. Practice explaining your plan saying it aloud, if you have time to do so.

Bring Evidence.

Although it is OK if your testimony is the only evidence that visitation should be limited, having more evidence to support your request can be very helpful and make you feel better prepared. Examples of evidence include:

  • Copies of threatening text messages, emails, letters, or voicemail
  • A list of threats (including date, place and time, and what happened) that you can show the judge
  • Friends and family with knowledge of past abuse or violence who are willing to testify at court
  • Pictures of injuries, including bruises
  • Medical records showing past history of abuse
  • Police records and other criminal records

Bring all of this evidence with you to court. Bring extra copies of everything, if possible.

Be prepared to talk with the judge.

Write down everything you want to say before you get to court. List any evidence you have to support what happened and why you are making your request. This will help you remember everything, stay on track and reduce your nervousness. This is your time to explain what happened that justifies your request for a specific visitation order.

Going in front of a judge can be scary and intimidating. A judge’s time is limited but the judge wants to hear your story and get enough information to make a decision.     Judges want to hear from each party and have to ask very direct questions to make sure they understand. Sometimes judges do not hear everything correctly, especially if both parties are talking at once. The judge does not want you to agree to something just because you want it over, or because the judge asks you hard questions. Judges know the parties are nervous and may have a hard time telling their story. Focus on your goal: ensuring you and your child are safe. A court order can be difficult to change once a judge signs it.

Ask for more time.

If the judge asks for additional evidence that you don’t have, it is OK to ask for time to gather the evidence. Ask the judge to consider resetting the case, or entering a temporary order to give you the time you need. Although the request may not be granted, it does not hurt to ask.

Take a friend.

Although your friend or family member may not get to stand in front of the judge with you, he or she can come into the courthouse with you and provide support, make you feel safer, and help you stay calm.

Have an advocate.

This may not be possible for everyone, but if you have an advocate (specifically, an attorney) to help you through the process, it may not seem so hard. Contact your local domestic violence program and find out what services it offers. An advocate can help you develop a safety plan for you and your children for before, during, and after court. Find information about local programs by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224, or online at: Texas Council on Family Violence – Service Provider Search.

If you are planning to leave the relationship
  • Think of a safe place to go if an argument occurs – avoid rooms with no exits (bathroom), or rooms with weapons (kitchen).
  • Think about and make a list of safe people to contact.
  • Keep change with you at all times.
  • Memorize all important numbers.
  • Establish a “code word” or “sign” so that family, friends, teachers or co-workers know when to call for help.
  • Decide how you can act around the abuser to keep him or her calm. It is usually best not to argue or threaten, although every relationship is different. Remember, you have the right to live without fear and violence.
  • Think about what you will say to your partner he or she becomes violent.

Be careful about searching for information or resources online in case your internet activity is being monitored.

If you have left the relationship
  • Change your phone number and screen all calls.
  • Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer.
  • Change locks, if the batterer has a key.
  • Avoid staying alone.
  • Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner.
  • If you must meet your former partner, do it in a public place.
  • Vary your routine.
  • Notify school and work contacts.
  • Call a shelter for survivors of domestic violence.

When you leave the relationship, take important papers and documents with you so you can apply for benefits or take legal action. If you are thinking of leaving, make a copy of the important documents and put them in a secure place. Important documents include Social Security cards and birth certificates for you and your children; marriage license; leases or deeds in your name or both your and your partner’s names; checkbook; charge cards; bank statements and charge account statements; insurance policies; proof of income for you and your spouse (pay stubs or W-2’s); and any documentation of past incidents of abuse (photos, police reports, medical records, etc.).

Planning to escape

Often, it is not practical or possible to leave the abuser immediately. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, think about setting up a separate bank account in your own name. Make extra sets of keys to leave with a friend or relative. You may want to rent your own post office box so that you can continue to receive mail. Make a list of people’s phone numbers who could help you. Make a list of emergency shelters and their phone numbers. Buy a cell phone or save up some change for pay phone calls. Don’t try to leave while the abuser is with you. Plan on a time when the abuser is away from home (for example, at work).

Obtain a protective order

A protective order is a court order that can protect you from someone who has been violent or threatened to be violent. Sometimes, applying for a protective order is a safe plan, but other times it may escalate the violence. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or a local family violence program to talk about your options.

If you have been recently threatened or assaulted and think it is safe to get a protective order, contact the local district or county attorney and request a protective order. There are also forms online you can use to request a protective order:

TexasLawHelp.org – Free Protective Order Kit

Keep in mind that each county has its own eligibility requirements for a protective order.

Once your protective order is granted, always keep it with you. Call the police immediately if the abuser violates the protective order. Make sure your friends, neighbors, and relatives know you have a protective order. If the protective order involves your children, make a copy for their school or daycare.

Being safe in your own home

If the abuser has left your home, keep all windows locked at all times. Change the door locks and add additional security measures like dead bolts or an electronic monitoring system.

Develop a safety plan with your children so they know what to do and where to go if the abuser causes problems.

Make sure the children’s school or day care provider has a list of approved persons to pick up the children.

Make sure your friends and neighbors know that the abuser no longer lives with you so they can report it if the abuser returns.

If you have moved away from the abuser, don’t contact or call from your home and never say where you are living, get an unlisted telephone number, and block your cell number.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline will help with your safety planning and answer your questions about dealing with domestic violence at 1 (800)-799-7233 or 1 (800)-787-3224 (TTY).

The The Texas Council on Family Violence also has information.