Can a sex offender be around family? That’s a question a father from Nebraska was asking a few years back, and he didn’t get the answer he wanted. This story first made headlines back in 2015, and it still makes me sick to my stomach today.
When we first published this blog, we didn’t weigh in on the case from a Texas law perspective, so we’ve added insight for parents who need to take legal steps to protect their children from sex offenders in Texas. Let’s first look back at this bizarre and befuddling Nebraska case: Man loses custody battle for kids living with sex offender.
How can a sex offender be around family without putting children at risk?
There isn’t anything most parents wouldn’t do for their children. When their safety is at risk, parents usually consider their protection a do or die situation. A few years back, a Nebraska father’s attempts to keep his daughters safe left him without hope and struggling to make sense of the situation.
The Nebraska father sought custody of his two teenage daughters after learning that their stepfather, who they lived with, was a registered sex offender. According to court documents, the stepfather was found guilty of the attempted sexual assault in 2003 of his teenage stepdaughter from a previous marriage, for which he spent four years in prison. Upon learning that the registered sex offender was stepfather to his children, the Nebraska dad wanted full custody.
After court proceedings, a three-judge panel found that there was no inherent danger to the teenage girls living with the sex offender and that custody would remain unchanged. This decision came after a heavy consideration was given to the girls’ mental health provider who admittedly didn’t normally work with adults and had never met the stepfather in person. The ruling understandably came as a shock to the girls’ father.
According to the original AP article, while there is justification in the eyes of the Nebraska family courts to request a change in custody if one parent lives with a registered sex offender, final discretion is left to the judge. As upsetting as it may be to parents, if a judge determines the children are not at risk, they may order custody stay the same.
Since the names of the family members in this case were kept confidential to protect the privacy of the daughters, we can only hope the three-judge panel in this case made the right decision.
Can a registered sex offender get custody in Texas?
There is no law in Texas that prohibits a registered sex offender from getting custody in Texas. Now, if someone is convicted and sent to prison for being a sex offender, they obviously can’t get custody because they are imprisoned. So, can a sex offender get custody? Not if they are incarcerated.
There are also some provisions that prohibit a parent from getting custody if they murdered or sexually assaulted a child’s other parent or committed an offense of a sexual or otherwise egregious nature against their child. But again, there is no specific statute that prohibits a sex offender from getting custody of his or her child.
When can a registered sex offender have custody? In Texas, it is up to the discretion of the judge to consider what potential risks the child could face if the registered sex offender parent were awarded some custody or possession. The judge will take into account the egregious nature of the crime, when it occurred and what has transpired since. Above all, Texas judges will consider what is in the best interest of the child, and whether having a relationship with both parents, at least to some degree, would benefit the child.
Do sex offenders lose parental rights? They often do. If your child’s other parent goes to prison for being a sex offender—even if they’re going to be incarcerated for a long time—that’s the time to take legal steps to protect your child for the long-term. An attorney can explain what you can do to prohibit or extremely limit visitation by the parent upon release and put other restrictions in place regarding proximity.
Can my ex get custody if she or he is in a relationship with a registered sex offender in Texas?
If you’re in a situation similar to the Nebraska case, what can you do and expect if you live in Texas? First of all, most mediated settlement agreements pertaining to child custody in Texas do include language that requires parties to inform each other if they plan to or are residing with a registered sex offender.
Once you have been informed (or find out by other means) that your ex is in fact residing with a sex offender, you can file a motion to request a child custody modification. After 15+ years as a family law attorney in Dallas / Fort Worth, I just haven’t seen judges willing to risk a child being endangered by being in close proximity to a sex offender.
If you are a parent who plans on going in front of an elected official and trying to push the narrative that you need to have your new sex offender boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse around your child, you can expect an uphill battle. It can be very challenging to get the court to understand or take the risk that the sex offender has in fact been “cured” or rehabilitated. Judges tend to believe sex offenders have a more repetitive nature in committing their crimes, compared to other forms of criminality.
While I believe most Texas judges don’t want to risk endangering a child and tend to believe sex offenders can rarely be rehabilitated, the courts generally do want to preserve the fundamental idea of co-parenting. Even when a parent has a resounding fear that their child is in danger, whether that fear is warranted or not, it’s very hard to get the courts to agree to a provision that would eliminate the other parent’s rights and access altogether.
Again, the state of Texas believes it is typically best for a child to have a relationship with both parents. If your ex is dating or residing with a sex offender, you can request that provisions be put in place that would only allow your ex to have visitation when the sex offender isn’t present. You could also ask to restrict or eliminate overnight visitation as long as the sex offender is in the picture. At the end of the day, it will be up to the judge to determine what is in the best interest of the child and rule accordingly.
Our family lawyers can answer your questions about child custody
If you have questions about divorcing a sex offender or want to know can a sex offender be around family in your particular situation, contact us. Our experienced family law attorneys can review the facts in your case and recommend steps to take to protect your child.
If you live in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and would like to speak with a lawyer at our firm about child custody in Texas, you can call the Sisemore Law Firm at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.