Updated on August 23, 2022
Following a divorce or separation, each parent will most likely be awarded custodial rights. A court order that outlines the parents’ rights and responsibilities regarding the children’s care, control, and custody is known as a custody or conservatorship order.
In Texas, custody is referred to as conservatorship, but many people still use the term “custody.” When a court issues a custody order, the parents are legally required to follow the order. If any parent fails to follow the terms of the custody order, they can be held responsible for the violation.
Do not hesitate to speak with a Harker Heights child custody attorney if your spouse has violated a custody order or has accused you of violating a custody order. An accusation of a custody violation is a serious legal matter that should not be ignored.
The Many Forms of Visitation Order Violations
The violation of a visitation order can take many forms, including the following actions:
Interfering with the parenting schedule and attempting to have the children more often than specified
Extending each visit beyond the limit set by the court
Picking up and dropping off children according to personal schedules and preferences (instead of in accordance with the court order)
Denying access to shared children altogether—or randomly allowing access
These are serious matters that negatively affect both you and your children. If your spouse is violating custody, addressing the issue with the court is well advised. Ignoring the problem and hoping that it will simply go away is almost certain not to help, and it may embolden your ex to amp up his or her efforts.
If you have been accused of these actions, contact a lawyer right away to protect your rights and avoid the serious consequences of a custody violation.
Enforcing a Visitation Order in Texas
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce is that you no longer live with your children around the clock. In addition, if your ex is not playing by the rules and is not complying with the child custody arrangements that were handed down by the court, it can make the matter incredibly challenging.
If you need to have your visitation order enforced by the court, it is time to consult with an experienced Harker Heights family law attorney.
The court handed down visitation orders, and if your ex is not following them, you are tasked with demonstrating this to the court. The best way to ensure this happens is by keeping track and documenting every time your ex deviates from the court-ordered visitation schedule.
Jotting down the events on a calendar is an excellent beginning, and if you have any corroborating evidence, such as your ex’s texts, voicemails, or social media posts, compile and coordinate the information. If you have a witness, such as a babysitter, parent of a playdate, or anyone else who is aware of your ex’s actions, he or she may help bolster your case.
Ask the Court for Enforcement
Once you have gathered your evidence and compiled it into your strongest case, it is time to ask the court to enforce the original order by compelling your ex to comply. At this point, your children’s other parent will have the opportunity to explain why he or she appears to be non-compliant.
Ultimately, the more robust your evidence and the clearer your argument, the better your chances that the court will take action to enforce your visitation orders.
Consequences of Violating a Custody Order
But what are the consequences of violating a custody order in Texas? The consequences of custody violations depend on the severity and circumstances of the violation. Typically, courts impose the following sanctions when a parent violates a custody order:
Issue a writ of habeas corpus ordering the violating parent to return the child
Impose criminal penalties
Hold the parent civilly liable for interfering with the other parent’s visitation or possessory rights
Writ of Habeas Corpus in Custody Order Violations
The term “habeas corpus” is Latin for “produce the body.” As its name implies, a writ of habeas corpus in child custody cases is used to require the offending parent to return the child to the parent who is entitled to possession.
The writ of habeas corpus may be an appropriate measure when one of the parents refuses to return the child to the other parent in violation of the custody order. A Texas court may also require a parent to return a child when the child is at imminent risk of physical or emotional harm.
Contempt of Court for Violating a Custody Order
One of the most common ways to enforce a child custody order is to hold the violating parent in contempt of court. A parent can be found in contempt of court for violating the terms of their custody order or failing to fulfill child support obligations in Texas.
The party filing a motion to enforce a custody order has the burden to prove that the other parent violated the terms of their child custody order. The court may refuse to find the parent who has violated the custody order in contempt of court if there is insufficient evidence of the alleged violation.
A Texas court may not hold a party in contempt of court if there is a lack of evidence to prove the violation or if the custody order does not contain specific provisions regarding the following information:
The identities of the parents and their children
The dates and times of visitation and possession
The geographic locations of exchanges and visits
Prohibited activities, including relocating with children to other cities, states, or countries
In Texas, a court is likely to hold a parent in contempt of court for violating a custody order if that parent attempts to interfere with the other parent’s visitation or possession rights. A court will not hold the non-complying parent in contempt if there is evidence to prove that the other parent encouraged the violation or otherwise made it impossible for the parent to comply with the order.
Under Texas Government Code § 21.002, penalties for being held in contempt of court include up to $500 in fines and confinement in a county jail for up to 6 months. Contact a lawyer for the legal defense you need to avoid contempt of court charges.
Criminal Consequences of Violating a Custody Order
A parent who violated a custody order may also face criminal penalties for the violation. Texas Penal Code § 25.03 specifically makes it a crime to interfere with child custody. The offense is a state jail felony.
You can face criminal penalties for interference with child custody under the following circumstances:
You knowingly take a child and are aware that taking the child violates the terms of a court order or judgment.
You have not been awarded custody of the child, but you take the child out of a specific geographic area without the court’s permission when a divorce is underway or when an application for “habeas corpus” has been filed.
You take a child outside of the country with the intent to deprive the other parent of their lawful possession or access to the child without that parent’s permission.
If you are facing criminal penalties for violating a child custody order in Texas, speak with a lawyer to determine what you can do to get the interference with child custody charges dismissed.
Civil Liability for Violating a Custody Order in Texas
In addition to criminal penalties, a non-compliant parent may face civil liability for interfering with the other parent’s possession and visitation rights. Texas Family Code § 42.002 provides that a person who takes a child or intentionally conceals the child’s whereabouts from the parent or guardian can be held liable for the damages incurred by that parent or guardian.
Accusations of Violating a Custody Order
While you may think that taking your child from the other parent in violation of a court order is the right thing to do, the other parent or the judge may not agree with you. You should be aware of the possible legal repercussions associated with violating the terms of a child custody order.
In addition to facing criminal and civil liability for violating a custody order, violating a custody order may impact your custody and visitation rights. For this reason, it is crucial to contact a family lawyer if you have been accused of violating a custody order.
An Experienced Harker Heights Divorce Attorney Can Help
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Harker Heights, Texas, is a focused divorce attorney who is well-positioned to skillfully advocate for your rights, no matter which side of the custody enforcement case you’re on. We are on your side, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for a FREE case review today.