KFOX14 Investigates: Child Custody laws not being enforced in El Paso

    KFOX14 Investigates: Child Custody laws not being enforced in El Paso <p>{/p}

    Fathers across Texas say they are fighting to see their children because their child's mother won't follow court orders, which is a felony in Texas.

    Parents say a lack of enforcement when it comes to child custody is keeping them from their kids.

    This is an issue KFOX14 Investigates first reported on in 2014, but dads tell us they continue to have difficulty seeing their children.

    KFOX14 Investigates followed one father as he tries to get his rightful court visitation and examine a broken system keeping families apart.

    “My daughter is 5 years old,” said Christopher Dunphy.

    It's hard for Dunphy to even talk about his 5-year-old daughter, Rosie.

    “She's a very outgoing, smart little girl,” he said before tearing up. “I need a minute,” he said.

    Dunphy and his wife live in Austin, but he drives to El Paso for his court-ordered visitation with his daughter.

    The order states he gets the first, third and fifth weekend of the month

    “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.

    But he said, his daughter's mother has refused to honor the agreement.

    Last year El Paso police took a report for the mother's interference with child custody.

    But Dunphy received a letter from the district attorney's office saying, they would not prosecute the case or file formal charges.

    “Did you even look at the case?” said Dunphy.

    2018 records from Child Protective Services show caseworkers are concerned about a pattern of domestic violence between the mother and her boyfriend.

    CPS said the children are at “substantial risk.”

    Jail records show the boyfriend was arrested on family violence charges in 2017 and 2018.

    In 2018 he was convicted of family violence and violating a protective order and sentenced to 100 days in jail.

    Still, Dunphy can't see his daughter.

    He's not the only father facing this problem.

    Records obtained by KFOX14 Investigates show there were more than 4,000 reports taken by the El Paso Police Department for child custody interference from 2016 to 2018.

    Of those cases, 229 were presented to the district attorney's office

    Only 11 were indicted.

    That's just 5 percent of cases presented.

    “I’m stuck in this limbo where I’m just trying to see my daughter,” said Dunphy.

    Dunphy's court orders state any peace officer can enforce the order.

    Interfering with child custody is a state jail felony in Texas, you can be locked up for two years.

    But dads in El Paso say it’s not being enforced.

    Dunphy said the police told him, “They said, ‘it's a civil matter; the DA says we can't do anything.’”

    KFOX14 Investigates went with Dunphy as he tried to pick up Rosie from daycare. The daycare wasn't sure if it could release her to him. As they waited for police, the mother showed up.

    Once police arrived, officers read the agreement

    “I can't physically force her, but I will write a report for interference with child custody,” the officer told Dunphy.

    The officer told Dunphy he can't physically force the mother to comply with the court order.

    “I told her to relinquish her, and if she doesn't I will write a report against her, and she said she doesn't care,” the officer told Dunphy.

    KFOX14 Investigates first reported on this issue in 2014.

    Back then district attorney Jaime Esparza told us it's a gray area.

    “There is a fine line between when the civil misconduct becomes criminal,” he said.

    Five years later, its still an issue so we asked Esparza’s office why so few of these cases are being prosecuted. His office said he was unavailable to comment this week.

    “When are you going to enforce the law? It's a criminal offense, you're allowing parents to get away with this,” said Dunphy.

    The mother didn't even let Rosie hug her dad, as she took her out of the daycare and past our cameras.

    Dunphy knows he's not alone in trying to get time with his child and fighting to father.

    “In your own backyard, fathers fighting to see their children and you're allowing these parents to break the law,” said Dunphy.

    State Sen. Jose Rodriguez said he's aware of some of these issues, we sat down with him to find out what can be done to enforce the law. That’s next week on KFOX14 Investigates.

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