Divorce cases rarely make national headlines unless they involve high-profile figures. You may have heard about one Dallas divorce case that is all over the news, however.
The case involves a couple and their 7-year-old child. The mother claims that the child, born a male, has come out as transgender and prefers a female name.
The father disagrees and is seeking sole custody. He claims that the child “still acts like a boy” around him and launched a website collecting funds to help fight for his son.
Conservative news sites and even high-ranking Texas politicians have weighed in on the matter. Attorney General Ken Paxton has claimed that he wants state agencies to investigate the mother for child abuse. Rand Paul has also claimed that this case involves child abuse.
Judge Rules on a Texas Mother’s Claim That Her Child is Transgender
The judge presiding over the case reported that she could find no instances of “child abuse, neglect, or family violence.” She also scolded the father for seeking funds through a website he created in his plea to gain full custody.
Both parents were awarded joint custody and were strongly encouraged to use the child’s preferred name and pronouns. The child’s mother was given the ability to make “medical and psychological decisions” for all of their children together.
This story is a reminder for everyone to look over Texas child abuse laws and understand what is and is not child abuse.
Educators and healthcare professionals are required by law to report signs of child abuse. Falsely claiming that a child is being abused can put an innocent person behind bars for a long time. Furthermore, the penalties for child abuse go well beyond incarceration.
Acts Considered Child Abuse According to Texas Law
Child abuse is a broad term in Texas and across the United States. It constitutes a wide range of acts or omissions that cause physical, mental or emotional injury to the child.
Common Acts of Child Abuse
These acts or omissions tend to severely affect a “child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.” Acts that are considered child abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Physical violence or putting the child at risk of physical violence
- Causing mental anguish via repeated threats, insults, or by withholding love and support
- Sexual abuse, or letting sexual abuse happen
- Allowing the child to use controlled substances
A parent does not ever even have to touch a child or commit a specific act to be charged with child abuse or neglect.
Common Acts of Child Neglect
Texas defines neglect as: “the leaving of a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, without arranging for necessary care for the child, and the demonstration of an intent not to return by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator of the child…”
Starving a child or failing to provide them with medical attention, for example, could be considered child neglect.
Felony Child Abuse Charges
Generally, child abuse is charged as child endangerment or injury to a child. Both of these crimes are considered felonies in the state of Texas.
Additionally, the offender may be charged with family violence depending on the relationship between the child and the offender.
Penalties for Child Abuse in Texas
The definition of child abuse is broad, and there is no one sentence tied to a child abuse conviction. Judges may issue criminal or civil penalties depending on the nature of the crime.
Many factors play into the judge’s decision, including the nature of the crime and the amount of damage done to the child. Penalties may include:
- Jail time
- Fines, restitution, or child support
- Loss of child custody
The offender may also be given a protective order with its own terms. If the crime was severe enough, the parent may not be able to contact or be near the child indefinitely.
Texas Child Abuse Central Registry
In addition, the state of Texas keeps a registry of individuals who have been found guilty of child abuse or neglect. Employers may request access to this registry before making hiring decisions.
Alleged offenders may be listed on the registry until their case is closed. If the person has been found not guilty of child abuse, they will no longer appear on the registry.
Additional Penalties for Felony Crimes
Felony crimes are more serious than misdemeanor crimes. Offenders could end up behind bars for years after a felony conviction. Beyond incarceration, felons could also face lifelong penalties, including:
- A prohibition from serving on a jury or running for public office
- Loss of the right to bear arms
- Insurmountable barriers when seeking employment, applying for financial aid, and finding a place to live
Defenses for Child Abuse in Texas
The case in Dallas was just one example. If you have been accused of child abuse, you may be able to retain custody of your children and avoid a criminal conviction – but you have to take the issue incredibly seriously. Talk to a Texas criminal attorney as soon as possible for more information on building a strong defense strategy.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.