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What is an Emergency, and What Do You Do?
Family law emergencies cause stress, tension, and fear. Especially when kids are involved, the need for immediate help is obvious. But what resources are available for people facing family law crisis?
Defining an Emergency
An emergency exists when something is an immediate threat to your life, liberty, or property. When you or others are in immediate danger, ALWAYS call 911 before calling your lawyer.
If there is a true emergency, please refer to the contact information below, depending on the type of emergency:
For Sexual and Domestic Violence Emergencies:
If you have been assaulted or you are in fear for your safety or the safety of your child, please call the police. You can also contact your local battered-person’s shelter:
One Safe Place
For domestic violence help
For Mental Health Emergencies:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
MHMR of Tarrant County
Common Family Law Crises
Keep in mind that none of the following work for your attorney: the police, CPS, the judge, the court staff, opposing counsel, or your ex. Lawyers can only do their work when the courthouse is open, so on the weekends or nights the best thing to do in case of emergency is to make sure you and your children are safe. This is the number one priority. Your family law case comes in second place to your safety. After you and the children are safe, then document what happened for your lawyer.
Situation #1: Police called against you
The best thing to do is to wait for the police to arrive, and if possible, have a copy of your order to give to the officer. Stay calm and be cooperative with the officer. Do not engage in further argument with your ex. Get the officer’s card. Take photos of any damage. Also take photos of injuries or bruises.
Make notes of everything that led up to the event, what happened when the police arrived, and what happened after the police left for your attorney. Be ready to provide this information and documentation to your attorney’s office on the next business day. If you need to speak with your attorney about the incident and how it will or will not affect your case, call the office on the next business day to schedule an appointment.
Remember: The police do not work for your lawyer. And even if you have an ongoing legal case, you still have every right to call the police as you ever would have.
Situation #2: CPS is here
CPS has contacted you or has showed up at your door. Ideally, you should have your attorney present before speaking with CPS because anything you say can be used against you. However, most of the time, your attorney is not able to be present in an emergency situation. CPS is usually there because there has been an allegation of abuse or neglect of your child.
If your attorney is unable to be there, then cooperate, but do not overshare. Give them the information they need to know that the child is safe and cared for. Feel free to give them your attorney’s contact information, and let the CPS caseworker know that further communications should be through your attorney. If the caseworker wants to speak with the children, let them.
During a CPS investigation, CPS may feel that the children should be temporarily cared for by another friend or family member. They may want you to sign a family agreement allowing this. Ideally you should discuss this with your attorney prior to signing any agreement and the ramifications of an agreement. If this occurs over a weekend or holiday when you cannot meet with your attorney, it is okay to agree to let the children stay with a third party for the shortest time possible until you can meet with your attorney and your attorney can discuss and negotiate with CPS.
Situation #3: Ex violates visitation schedule
Your ex is violating the visitation schedule or threatening to. This is NOT an emergency requiring immediate legal help unless the children are in danger. If the children are in danger, then call 911 immediately. For example, if the other parent is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol while in possession of the children, or if you are aware of abuse, then call the police.
However, if your ex is threatening to violate court orders without a good reason, this is not an emergency requiring immediate help. Sometimes there are situations that are out of your control and out of your spouse’s control. You should try to be as flexible and understanding as possible.
For planning purposes, consider what steps you will take IF your ex violates the order. For example, call or text him/her (not excessively), email your ex asking about the situation, contact family members, friends or neighbors.
If necessary, you can call the police for a well-being check on the children if you know where they are or where they are supposed to be. Give your ex the benefit of the doubt if possible, ASK and do not accuse, keep calm and stay reasonable, do not upset or involve the kids. Then, be sure to document all of your efforts and a short summary of what happened, and provide it to your attorney’s office on the next business day.
Note: the police will likely not get involved in a family law case. They will not take possession of the children for you or force your ex to give the kids to you.
Situation #4: Ex not paying child support
Your ex has not paid child support by the date ordered. This is not an emergency requiring immediate help. Though technically the child support is normally due on the 1st of the month, the court is going to allow them to make the payment at any point during the month.
Ideally, all child support and medical support payments are being made through the State Disbursement Center so that the State is tracking the amounts and dates paid. If the payments are not being made through the State Disbursement Center, contact your attorney’s office for help changing this. If the payments are not being made through the State Disbursement Center, it is up to you to keep a very good log of exactly when payments are made and how much is paid. You should keep a spreadsheet and have the bank statements easily accessible. This will be very helpful for your attorney if enforcement is necessary.
Situation #5: Ex is tweeting, calling and telling lies about me
Do not engage. Kindly ask your ex to stop sharing this information. If your ex does not, keep records of everything you become aware of. You should take screen shots and print outs of social media, screen shots of text conversations, write down what witnesses have told you. You may want to gather all of this information and provide it to your attorney’s office at one time, rather than piecemeal, if possible.
Keep in mind too, that people try to entrap each other in inflammatory text chains all the time. Do not engage when your ex tries to engage in a hateful text chain or Facebook Message thread. Do keep screen shots of the whole conversation. Some messenger apps allow for deleting individual messages, so it is important to be able to produce a complete record if the messages come up in court.
It is very difficult to obtain records from Facebook, Craigslist, Twitter, etc., so it is important for you to document this when you see it. If your ex deletes the posts or tweets, it will be hard to reproduce the offensive messages.
In summary, no matter what happens, remember to be calm, document what you can, and provide the information to your attorney’s office on the next business day. If you need to discuss this with your attorney, contact the office to schedule an appointment with the attorney. When you contact the office, be prepared to tell the staff what is going on and what you need to discuss with the attorney.
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