Unfortunately when discussing divorce and family law issues sometimes people reveal potentially damaging information about their behavior and attitudes toward their children or, more commonly, their stepchildren. In my practice, I have encountered individuals so riddled with grief and despair threaten to kidnap and even kill their young children in a desperate attempt to change their situation. What they may not realize is that I have a legal obligation as an attorney to report abuse or neglect as well as potential abuse or neglect. The Texas Family Code makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a lawyer to fail to report incidences of child abuse or neglect. In fact, if it is shown that a legal professional intended to conceal the abuse or neglect, he or she faces a state jail felony.
Lawyers are held to the same standard as teachers, doctors, nurses, and daycare workers under Chapter 261 of the Family Code. We must report suspected abuse within 48 hours to a law enforcement agency or the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. We are entrusted by the state to look out for the well being of those who cannot speak up for themselves. Children are a vulnerable population, and when lawyers fail to act out of a desire to protect our clients, we are violating our duty to the state of Texas. A client or prospective client who has harmed a child or threatened to harm a child and let a legal professional know about it has opened himself up to prosecution. If the lawyer remains silent, his or her life and livelihood could be on the line.
Although we are trusted advisers and counselors, we are also officers of the court and representatives of the state. We have duties to be truthful and honest in our dealings with clients and with the public. It can sometimes to be difficult to balance our obligations to the client to protect his or her privacy with the duty to report child abuse and neglect. Reporting these incidents could cause problems for the client, but not reporting could result in criminal penalties for us. It is my policy to let clients know my legal obligations during family law cases. Transparency is important to building trust in any relationship, but the public at large should also know about what an attorney's duties are in these cases. For questions about this or any other family law issues, please give us at call at (713) 574-8626.
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