EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — KFOX14 Investigates sits down with seven parents who say they've lost time with their children and have had to fight to parent in a broken child custody system.
Every parent's story is unique, but the results remain the same -- they've been deprived of lawful time with their children.
And in most cases, they say nothing was done about it.
“I haven’t seen my daughter since August of 2014,” said William Denend.
“I haven't seen two of my daughters since a year ago,” said Melissa Cole.
“Easter weekend of last year,” said Dennis Saienni.
“This April, it will be three years,” said David Nevarez.
Time is what these parents say they've lost with their children.
“Hopelessness. It's anger its frustration,” said Nevarez.
“I’m not the father I want to be to him. I do want to be more,” said Frankie Rogers.
“It makes me sad. I'm under depression,” said Cole.
“I have a hole in my soul and there is nothing you can do about it,” said Saienni.
In a system they feel is stacked against them.
Six out of the seven parents tell us they’ve called police at some point to help with an interference of child custody matter.
Two had their cases referred to the district attorney’s office. One case resulted in an indictment.
“Interference happens in plain view of uniformed officers, but they won’t make an arrest because they know the D.A. won't do anything with it. It’s a waste of time,” said Mark Krieger.
Interference with child custody is a state jail felony, but KFOX14 Investigates obtained records showing:
Of the more than 4,000 reports taken by the El Paso Police Department for child custody interference from 2016 to 2018,
229 were presented to the district attorney's office.
The D.A. then indicted 11 of those cases.
“You just empowered that person,” said Saienni.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza told us in a statement t
hat these cases are best resolved in family court.
“The family law court has the ability to hold a party, the mom or the dad, in contempt of court and have them jailed for violations of the court order,” said Esparza.
But these dads say they've taken dozens of police reports for interference with custody to family court and nothing happens.
Dennis Saienni’s ex-wife was indicted last year for interference with child custody.
But as they await trial, he still hasn’t been able to see his son
“Interference with child custody is not a civil matter, it's that simple,” said Saienni.
Rogers says his custody battle over one of his sons has been complicated across state lines, despite the divorce decree stating the child could not be moved outside of El Paso.
“The state that starts the custody agreement is supposed to maintain it,” said Rogers.
Andrew McRae became an activist when he wasn't able to see his son.
He has since come to a better arrangement with his son's mother and is now helping other parents through the process.
“There is no incentive to make sure parents see their kids,” he said.
He says the state's focus is collecting child support payments without any regard for visitation.
“If you go on to the AG’s office it says, ‘What we can do is help you get child support. What we can't do is help you see your kids,’” said McRae.
The federal government incentivizes states to collect child support.
Which parents say has turned family court into a money machine, without regard for visitation.
“The judge wants to hear the child support issues and ignore visitation,” said McRae.
“You’re less than a person sometimes,” said Nevarez.
KFOX14 Investigates interviewed Krieger in 2014. He had been given primary custody during his divorce.
But his child's mother continued to keep the children.
He regained 100 percent custody when his ex-wife was arrested for a different crime.
“We have a very similar/parallel system that makes it a requirement for kids to attend school. There's no reason we can't make it a requirement for kids to visit their parents based on a court order,” said Krieger.
These parents understand why some don't fight.
“It cost me 14 years. Anger, frustration, sadness. I’m lucky I never wanted to put a gun to my head. I can see why the average dad gives up,” said Nevarez.
They believe, instead of enabling parents to break the law, there are ways to improve the system
“Once it gets out there that you are going to get in trouble for doing it, there aren't going to be as many cases,” said McRae.
These parents say they're joining with others across Texas to bring this issue to legislators' attention this session.