Custody Dispute Highlights Unanswered Child Custody Interference Violations in El Paso
As a divorced father, you are keenly aware of the role you fill in your child’s life. You are aware of the custody agreement in place and how much parenting time you have. You know how your child feels about you, and you love them enough to do anything it takes to maintain that role in their life.
However, in cases of high conflict, you may find yourself on the outside looking in, when it comes to your child’s life.
During these circumstances, it is imperative that you have a family law attorney who understands the challenging plight that fathers face before, during, and after the divorce process. You need to contact them, so that they can fight for your interests. Your place in your child’s life needs to remain secure.
Some fathers do not fight. They feel pigeon-holed by a system that allows their co-parent to dictate the parenting time, despite a court-ordered custody arrangement that differs. They may face resistance from law enforcement officials, who are unable to do anything, due to state or municipal regulations. They end up missing precious moments in their child’s life as a result, and the child is left wondering if their father abandoned them.
For fathers in El Paso, Texas, this is their unfortunate reality.
Christopher Dunphy is a father to his 5-year-old daughter, Rosie, and he told KFOX14 in El Paso that despite having court-ordered parenting time during the first, third, and fifth weekend of the month with his current wife in Austin, his ex-wife refuses to honor the agreement.
“I want my daughter to have a stable home, a loving home to grow up, to know she will have nothing to worry about,” he said.
However, Dunphy was sent a letter from El Paso District Attorney Jamie Esparza’s office stating they would not file formal charges, nor prosecute the case after Dunphy reported the mother’s interference with child custody in 2018.
This refusal to prosecute came at a shock for Dunphy, who intimately understood the details of the case. As it turns out, 2018 records from Child Protective Services stated that caseworkers were concerned about the pattern of domestic violence between the mother in question and her present boyfriend.
The boyfriend was arrested on family violence charges in 2017 and 2018, according the prison records, and in 2018, he was convicted of both family violence and violating a protective order. He was sentenced to 100 days in jail.
Dunphy is another parent facing similar circumstances. According to records obtained by KFOX14 in El Paso, over 4,000 reports were taken by the El Paso Police Department for child custody interference from 2016 to 2018.
Despite the number of reports, only 229 cases were presented to the district attorney’s office, and only 11 individuals were indicted, despite child custody interference being a state jail felony in the state of Texas that can result in two years of prison time.
One incident with Dunphy and his co-parent resulted in a police presence. Dunphy attempted to pick his daughter up from daycare, and the daycare was unsure if they could relinquish custody of her. While the police were getting to the daycare, Dunphy’s ex-wife arrived and took her.
The officer at the scene stated that he could not physically prevent the mother from taking the child, and that when confronted with the prospect of a report filed against her, the mother did not care.
This is not the first time that El Paso officials have been confronted with issues surrounding criminal custody interference. In 2014, KFOX14 in El Paso ran a special report detailing the attitude that law enforcement officials have taken toward these offenses.
KFOX14 was provided a written policy that said they will review every report dealing with child custody interference and that it would be treated the same as any other criminal investigation. However, the city police department, county sheriff department, and district attorney’s office could not produce records of any arrests for the crime.
KFOX14’s investigation detailed emails dated back to July 2012 between two El Paso County Sheriff’s Department officials that stated that deputies were told by Esparza’s office that “they don’t waste their time with civil matters” and that they feared administrative action if they referred any case.
Esparza was asked by KFOX14 about the emails, in which he responded the following:
“Wow, I don’t think that’s accurate.”
He stated that his office was referred more than 70 nonarrest cases for child custody interference in 2013, but only accepted one of them.
“In many cases that we decline, it’s going to be because the order was technically violated, so technically, you did break the law, but the violation is minor,” Esparza said. “Sometimes, they call police because the child is an hour late.”
He was then asked about bringing interference charges to prosecution.
“That’s a really good question,” he said. “My numbers indicate we take very few of these cases, so my guess is we’ve probably prosecuted a handful of cases where there was a plea or some resolution short of dismissal or decline.”
Esparza expressed distress over the complicated nature that child custody cases and interference charges entails.
“It’s tough, because it’s in a very gray area, because technically, it’s a felony,” he said to KFOX14. “It’s just, is it really smart for us to be enforcing the family court order, when the family law judge can be doing that, and not having to use the criminal system?”
A felony is a felony
Dunphy’s case, the cases of the parents of El Paso, and cases across the country feature active, responsible, and loving parents who only wish to be a part of their child’s life. These parents are denied that court-ordered opportunity by their co-parents, who are allowed to commit felony offenses, due to penal system unwilling to involve itself in what they deem to be civil disputes.
Whether or not a felony is considered by the law enforcement official to be minor or not, it does not change the violation, and it does not restore the time that the parent lost in being an active presence in their child’s life.